See more of the story

The 15 mural artists will flock to St. Paul like bats to Halloween. They come from as near as Minneapolis, and as far as Buenos Aires. All will be participating in the first-ever ChromaZone Mural & Art Festival in St. Paul's Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ).

Over the course of eight days, the artists will create 12 large outdoor murals on the sides of the CEZ buildings. From a fishy under­water scene to towering women, the art will provide a colorful entrée into this rough and tumble industrial pocket. Craft beer offerings and food from the Little Mekong Night Market, as well as artist talks, will add to the Sept. 7-14 fest, which wraps up with a free guided bus tour of the completed murals.

The event is the brainchild of Catherine Reid Day, who is also the chairwoman of the CEZ board of directors. Since the neighborhood's founding in 1992, when the city designated the area a cultural district, creative businesses have continued pouring in. But, said Day, even though "we are making in our studios and in our spaces, there's not a lot of evidence that you are in a creative neighborhood. Since our founding we have been struggling to change that."

She noticed that other U.S. mural festivals like Sacramento's Wide Open Walls and Louisville's Imagine 2020 Mural Festival seemed to be generating buzz. That's when the idea clicked.

"What if we do a mural fest?" she said. "Wouldn't that make a statement about what this neighborhood is all about?"

Day teamed up with Forecast Public Art founder Jack Becker, Forecast's Executive Director Theresa Sweetland and folks from Burlesque of North America. By last December, they had secured funding from two investors and were well on their way.

Art all over the walls

A former mattress factory building where King Koil Mattress company first started in 1898. A building that used to be a bustling sewing factory. Lots of semitrailer trucks and loading zones. The industrial labor of the Creative Enterprise Zone is apparent in its lack of residential housing, wide streets and big glass warehouse windows. The history of each business lives in its buildings, which have mostly changed owners over the years. Soon the outside walls will change, too — 15,000 square feet will be covered in art.

One of those building owners is Amanda LaGrange, CEO of social enterprise/electronics recycler Tech Dump at 860 Vandalia St. Its rough wall will soon be covered by the intensely colorful, twisting and bending graffiti-style letters of the international muralist Ewok. Now based in Orange County, Calif., he got his start adding graffiti to Minneapolis walls in the early 1990s.

"There was an out-there dream we had with the building, to take a boring warehouse on the outside and turn it into something special," LaGrange said.

When they heard about the ChromaZone opportunity to have an artist-painted mural, they jumped at the chance. They were selected.

Their dream came true when they learned Ewok was their "match." About 100 mural artists applied through an open call for the festival. Fifteen were selected by a panel of creative community members.

Rich Pakonen, owner of the Wycliff at 2327 Wycliff St., a new makerspace with 22 loading docks and nearly 200,000 square feet of space that was once the Fisher Nuts building, is also excited about the two five-story murals that will soon cover the exteriors.

"If you have a building that is this big concrete building, a mural is going to make that building look a lot different than a boring brick building," he said.

Artists get ready

Painting a huge mural seems like a daunting task, but Buenos Aires-based artist Mariela Arjas, who will be one of two artists painting the Wycliff, isn't worried.

For her first-ever visit to Minnesota, she plans to make murals that deal with femininity.

"I like to paint women a lot," she said. "There's something for me that's very important to show the image of an empowered woman as part of a question that I have of, what is it like to be a woman right now? What are the social dominant speeches that allow us to understand what femininity is?"

She also relates strongly to the topic of immigration, which includes changing every aspect of life — from home, relationship, location and family.

"It is a very common issue for South Americans or for Latin Americans or people from Third World countries who have the need to relocate themselves because our lives and the politics are very unstable," she said.

Arjas' theme is more political, but others are lighter, like local Minnesota artist Chuck U., whose work has a trippy '70s-style psychedelic vibe to it. He will dive deep into a 50-foot-tall and 17-foot-wide underwater theme.

"A lot of the graffiti artists can just do stuff, but I tend to plan stuff way in advance," he said. "I have all the colors picked out and everything done, and I'll project a rough outline onto the wall."

From there, the painting will begin, bringing more light and color to this gritty, industrial neighborhood — because, as the festival supporters know, public art, a welcoming neighborhood, and creative businesses go hand-in-hand.

"The Creative Enterprise Zone is really about artistic creative entrepreneurial companies, so it made sense to sponsor with them for the mural project," said Pakonen. "We want to bring in these creative companies."

Alicia Eler • 612-673-4437