Colors of the Community

Town of Vail’s Art in Public Places Program

Between the magnificent mountain views, palatial architecture and striking ski slopes, it seems impossible to make the Town of Vail any more breathtaking or beautiful. Molly Eppard’s job, however, is to do just that.

Eppard, an art history major and former art dealer, is the Art in Public Places Coordinator for the Town of Vail, and — via the work of a coterie of talented artists — she aims to not only beautify the town but cultivate a sense of community by representing its broad audience, from longtime locals to international visitors.

“Part of the success of the project is its diversity,” Eppard says. “Everyone might not like everything, but the hope is that everyone will like something.”

From concrete walls to smokestacks that, to Eppard, “looked like ugly paper towel tubes,” the Art in Public Places program is helping to color the Vail community.

Among the contributing artists are Olive Moya, Pedro Barrios and Kelsey Montague. Although these artists differ in their styles and approaches, they share common themes of color, community and charisma.

"Part of the success of the project is its diversity. Everyone might not like everything, but the hope is that everyone will like something." Molly Eppard

For Moya, when it came to art, the only logical choice was murals. “I love making work big,” she admits. “I’m not a delicate person.” Moya’s interest in murals began in college, where she confronted the traditional ideas that dictated what counted as “fine art.”

“I wanted to make something that I wasn’t necessarily selling,” she explains. “I wanted people who wouldn’t normally wander into an art space to be confronted by art.”

Enter murals. And not just any murals, either. Moya often creates her works in wheat paste. Once a way to cheaply and quickly adhere posters to walls with a flour and water mixture, the process now involves a wallpaper paste mixed with an acrylic medium to adhere pictures to a structure or wall.

Moya’s piece in the Vail Transportation Center features a collage of historic Vail ski and snowboard pictures in cheerful coexistence with her signature swoops and splashes of resplendent color. The piece is also covered with a tough, transparent coating as insurance against the elements, which, in this case, means splashes of cantina salsa.

Although artist Kelsey Montague’s piece in Vail also contends with the elements, she sees this as an opportunity. “It’s constantly changing,” she says. “That’s what I love so much about public art. Even the weather brings a different experience to a piece.”

Montague’s Vail piece, a prismatic scene of butterflies, flowers and interactive swings, is designed to evoke a sense of joy, even when Vail is its wintry, monochromatic white. “Even when it’s snowing, there’s this beautiful pop of color,” Montague adds. “I wanted to bring these beautiful Colorado colors and give them a place year-round.”

Montague is lifelong artist, the creator behind the popular #whatliftsyou wings that are the backdrop of many Instagram posts, and a fourth generation Coloradan. “I’ve traveled the world and drawn all over the place, but being able to draw in my home state is a point of pride for me,” she shares.

Pedro Barrios also graces Vail with his artistic vision. Together with Jaime Molina, the two form “The Worst Crew,” a name taken from the early stages of working together where under-preparedness led to designs drawn on napkins with a borrowed pen. This quickly shifted into a symbiosis where the two would separately pick out swatches for a piece and reconvene holding the same samples.

Color is one of the signature elements of the pieces Barrios and Molina create, which makes for a vibrant through-line in their pieces at Lionshead and the smokestacks outside Dobson Ice Arena.

For Barrios, whose Colorado journey started in Vail, the opportunity to create there was a special one. “We wanted the work to become a part of the landscape, the community as a whole,” he explains. “I feel honored to have worked in Vail. That place is so important to me and my life story.”

In “public art,” one half of the phrase is just as significant as the other — where the piece is just as important as the place and people it represents. “[The art] is always something that I want the community to be really proud of,” Montague says.

Barrios shares a similar sentiment: “The great thing about public art is that, once it’s finished, it’s not really ours anymore; it’s for the community to make theirs.”

But, what about during the painting process? Whether it’s encouragement, like the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from kids Barrios experienced as he painted the smokestacks, or less inspiring comments from passers-by, people are always contributing to a work-in-progress. “The ‘you missed a spot’ joke isn’t really funny anymore,” deadpans Moya.

Bad jokes aside, the public interaction is what shapes the murals and, ultimately, the community. “Stirring up something in somebody is what art is intended to do,” Barrios points out. Moya puts it this way: “Art is what makes us human. It’s what makes us special, you know?”