In the course of less than a week, a small team of locals have successfully thought up, planned, and (nearly) finished painting a new piece of public art in downtown Juneau. Located on an exterior back wall of Taku Lanes, the bowling alley on Willoughby Avenue, the new mural is a great example of DIY public art, and a testament to creative thinking on at least four levels.
First, there’s the creative vision of Agi Bellagh, who looked at the bowling alley’s blank back wall and saw an opportunity for art.
There’s the innovation and enthusiasm of local artist and educator Heather Ridgway, who connected Bellagh with young local artist Jestoni Feliciano and knew how to make the project happen.
There’s the artistic vision of Feliciano, a recent Juneau Douglas High School grad, who created the bold, graphic design for the mural and is now painting it with the assistance of his friend, Adriana Botelho.
And there’s the cooperation of the building’s owners, Cindy and Barry Stuart, who set aside their reservations about the project after hearing Bellagh’s pitch and seeing photos of Feliciano’s work. The Stuarts also donated paint for the project, as did Kathy Hill of local environmental group Turning the Tides.
Bellagh said the art project “came together as a result of a chain reaction of creative ideas sparking out from all the people involved.”
“It was an idea, and it wouldn’t have grown into a finished project if people hadn’t responded so positively,” she said.
Bellagh lives in an apartment near the bowling alley with her teenage sons. After setting up a basketball hoop for them by the back of the building, she had the idea for turning the wall behind the hoop into a mural, and began discussing it with her kids. The goal was to “match the purpose of the place with a mood that fit the teenage hangout,” she said.
“(My sons and their friends) were spending quite a bit of time here, and I was taking pictures and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to have art behind it,’” she said.
Bellagh, a special needs teacher who works at Glacier Valley Elementary School, thought it would be fitting to have the artwork done by another teen, so she got out her son’s 2013 JDHS yearbook and came across a drawing Feliciano had done for his AP art class with Tom Manning.
“I was amazed at the quality of his work,” she said. But she didn’t know the 18-year-old, or how to reach him. So she called Ridgway, a friend and local artist who teaches art at TMHS.
“Heather has vast experience with creating murals, and she knows the community of artists. She has a great connection with them,” Bellagh said.
Ridgway did know Feliciano, and called him. Once he agreed to the project, she helped get things started by plotting out the design on the wall, using an overhead projector she’d taped to the top of her car. It took some trial and error (and fancy driving) to get it in exactly the right spot, she said, but it worked.
Ridgway called her role in the project a combination of logistical support and cheerleading.
“I kept promising people ‘It’s not that hard to do this thing!’” she said, adding that she was happy for the chance to help bring attention to the work of a young artist.
“Above all, I love the idea of supporting local youth art and seeing their vision around town.”
The design of the mural came from a drawing Feliciano’s had done in Tom Manning’s AP art class last year. The image, which has cubist influences, shows two faces and a series of connected geometric shapes, and is one of three in a series. Another work from the group was on view at the Rookery this past spring as part of the Senior Art Show.
Prior to beginning the mural, Feliciano hadn’t attempted anything this big, but said he welcomed the challenge. In getting the piece painted, he enlisted the aid of his friend Adriana Botelho, a JDHS senior as of this year. Botelho, also an art student who will be enrolled in AP ceramics this coming year, said she didn’t hesitate to get involved.
“I got a text from Jestoni, ‘Hey, do you want to help?’ And I jumped at the opportunity,” she said.
Looking up at the 25-foot ladder she had just been working from she said, “Unfortunately I’m afraid of heights. Working up there can get intimidating. But you’ve just got to do it.”
The team has been working on the mural over the past week and were nearly finished as of Wednesday, less than a week after Bellagh set the process in motion.
Feliciano said he’s happy with the way the design is coming out.
“It made me more confident to do something else,” he said. “We’ve got the technique down.”
Nothing would have happened without the involvement of the owners of Taku Lanes, the Stuarts. Cindy Stuart said she and her husband are happy to be involved in a project that supports local youth.
“We were a little nervous about it at first but then we got to thinking about it and thought, you know it’s a great idea,” she said, adding that Bellagh was a great saleswoman.
Friends who work in the Federal Building have a great view of the process in action, Cindy Stuart said, and a few have already called to voice their approval. The mural is best viewed from the Federal Building parking lot and adjacent alleyway.
Bolstered by the ongoing improvements to the neighborhood, including the recently opened Heritage Coffee storefront next door, the Stuarts recently finished repainting the entire building, which used to be bright blue and is now off white. The business has been a bowling alley since 1958.
“It was amazing, once we started painting the building, how many people actually came in, ‘I didn’t even know this place was a bowling alley!’ ... You start doing something to the outside and people start coming inside.”
Next up: a retro-inspired sign for the front of the building. Feliciano said he might be the one to paint it, adding that if he did, it would be with the help of the other three members of his current artistic team — Bellagh, Ridgway and Botelho.