When Salina Almanzar ’13, photography technician at her alma mater, was hired to paint a mural in a Lancaster neighborhood, she first considered the people who lived there.
“Sometimes, we put up murals as artists and say, ‘Oh, isn’t this great! This is my giant canvas and that’s all that matters,’ but in reality, we have to react to the community,” she said. “If the community doesn’t want a mural, as great an idea as I think it might be, then I shouldn’t do it.”
However, the community at Farnum and Conestoga streets wanted a mural for the Water Street Mission’s three-story warehouse wall, which extends along Culliton Park, but only after Almanzar and photographer Osmyn Josef Oree discussed the idea with the neighbors.
“The neighbors would complain about the wall. It’s like a physical boundary that reinforced some of the philosophical or social issues that were happening,” she said. “They literally felt they were being blocked by not being able to be visible to the city; they were not able to be heard.”
Americans for the Arts, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that supports artists, recognized the muralas one of the 50 most outstanding public artworks created in 2018. Lancaster Public Art commissioned the mural, which featured the faces of some of the neighbors. Two Dudes Painting, a company owned by Peter Barber ’90, supplied the paint.
“Every year they [Americans for the Arts] ask artists who do public art to submit what they’ve been working on,” Almanzar said. “I honestly forgot that I submitted to it. It was my first major project. I didn’t think it would get any recognition. I’m still shocked.”
Almanza was initially hired for community engagement through the arts as part of the Culliton Park’s renovation. The mural idea emerged from her conversations with the neighbors.
Water Street and Culliton Park “has a deep history of trauma,” she said. It attracted sex workers, crime, transients, and the homeless. According to Lancaster Online, the park is slated for a major renovation that includes improvements to the storm-water system in the area.
“There was a lot of tension between the renovation of the park and how neighbors were feeling ignored for so many years,” she said. “Suddenly, there’s this injection of money and nobody is talking about it. We felt like art would be a great vehicle to talk about those tensions openly; if this change is happening, how can we as a community gather around it and say what we want to actually see?”
The mural was temporary and part of it was removed after several weeks. Almanzar has another Lancaster Public Arts commission and is preparing to replace it later this summer with another mural after she again consulted with the neighbors.