Fresh Coat: Alley Cat Murals are restoring a mural at Roskruge K-8 Bilingual School

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY ALLISON MILLER
Photo Courtesy Allison Miller

A group of local artists is working to add character to public spaces all throughout the city.

Alley Cat Murals focuses on restoring historic murals that they feel sentimental about and reviving community spaces. A new project with Roskruge Bilingual K-8 School in the Tucson Unified School District is just that.

Allison Miller runs Alley Cat Murals and works with three lead artists: Racheal Rios, Robbie Lee Harris and Adelynn Olea.

“Primarily our focus is restoration, beautification and making art accessible to the entire community,” Miller said.

Before Miller worked with Alley Cat Murals, she found her passion for murals while she was a student at Tucson High School. Miller had a student job where she learned how to paint murals and do commercial art, which sparked her interest in murals. The view outside of Miller’s art class at Tucson High School was Roskruge’s wall.

“I always thought that mural looks a little unfinished and just asking for somebody to paint on top of it or add it, so it’s been a project stewing inside me year after year,” Miller said.

Olea also feels sentimental about Roskruge’s wall since she went to school there. Olea explained that she always noticed the wall was blank but originally it didn’t mean anything to her until she found her passion for art a couple of years ago.

Miller called Roskruge and got in contact with TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo. He thought the mural was a good idea, which led to the group being able to move forward on the project.

Their first step for the project was to survey the community and get feedback on the mural. They learned the most people wanted to keep the current mural and add to it. They also heard from the community to involve students,
especially students in the art class at Roskruge.

The students at Roskruge’s art class produced some art sketches and ideas for Alley Cat Murals to incorporate in their design. Recently, Miller picked up some of the sketches from students.

The next step for the project is for Miller to meet with the lead artists to come up with design options that incorporate the student sketches.

An idea they have right now is to grid the wall and assign each student their own square from the grid. That way the students can work on something small so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

“When they finish their square and they get to step back, they will be able to see that it became a part of that huge mural,” Olea said. “They will be able to say ‘I have done something’ and be able to see their cohesion with each other to make this mural happen.”

The organization is looking to coordinate a few paint days in late April or beginning of May. Miller explained that once they start the mural, they should have it finished quickly, especially with the help of the community during paint days.

“One of the biggest murals in town is Protecting Pollinators and we did it with TEP and the Desert Museum and it is huge,” Miller says. “We did it in six days because 120 people came out among those six days and just powerhoused through it.”

She explained that with this project, the community survey highlighted the culture that the community wants to see.

“That’s why we pick the muralists we picked because they have Indigenous roots, they have a tie to the school.” Miller said, “Adelynn was a middle school student there and went to Tucson High. We really care about these institutions not just for the glory of the wall, but because they developed us personally as artists.”

Miller also explained that there is a cultural element to this mural and why they selected the muralists they did.

“We do want more opportunities to go to women,” Miller said. “We do want more opportunities to go to people of color and that is what the team is made of at this point.”

The group is also working to raise funds for this project through their GoFundMe page., which has exceeded its goal of $7,000.

Miller started with Alley Cat Murals after working at nonprofits and trying to incorporate her love for murals. Miller started as a volunteer coordinator and worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Desert Museum.

“They were all very generous in planning community projects around my desire to paint murals, so a lot of murals in town are associated with the Desert Museum or the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation,” Miller said.

Miller continues to be an avid volunteer and has done a few restoration pieces to revive historic murals. Miller decided to take a different approach with Alley Cat Murals by promoting some of her favorite muralists who were not getting enough space.

“I think sometimes space can be monopolized by some of the more prevalent artists, so I really look to highlight some up-and-comers that need space and that’s kind of what we’re doing here,” Miller said.

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