Hopi and Tohono O’odham artists enhance Flagstaff’s Murdoch Community Center
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A vision is finally coming together at the Murdoch Community Center in Flagstaff, in which black and Indigenous and LatinX cultures will be prominently displayed through dynamic painted murals on the entrance facing Butler Street.
The culmination of two years of planning, interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, social uprisings and political turmoil, Dr. Ricardo Guthrie and Hopi/Tewa artist Duane Koyawena joined with Tohono O’odham artist Dwayne Manuel to complete a set of new murals, which feature Indigenous icons and symbols gracing the entrance to the historic center in the Southside.
The enhancement and expansion of murals at the Murdoch was funded by the Flagstaff Arts Council and the city’s Beautification and Public Arts Commission over the past year — when COVID-19 made public arts and painting days practically impossible.
“The mural project represents an artistic coming-together of community,” Guthrie said. “We wanted to enhance the Indigenous, black and LatinX presence in the Southside and encourage others to look at the Murdoch as a place for racial harmony and reconciliation.”
The Murdoch Center sits on the site of the formerly segregated Dunbar School, and now sponsors cultural enrichment, a life size “Chess Park” and regular activities that will gradually open up as community members recover from pandemic isolation.
The west-facing wall features Wilson Riles, Katherine Hickman and other icons who represent “history painted on walls,” while depicting how Flagstaff’s most racially diverse neighborhood turned “segregation into congregation” — for black, Latino/a, Native American, Chinese American and working-class anglos who worked together in sawmills and businesses “south of the tracks.”
The south-facing mural entrance on Butler Street celebrates interracial harmony (through interlocking hands painted across the top of the wall), above a graphic Hopi Sun and water flowing images that suggest the continuities between Hopi, Tohono O’odham and other Indigenous cultures.
To the left and right of the entrance doors, additional “heroes/sheroes” portraits will be completed, as the Cleo Murdoch Community Center plans for a grand re-opening this fall with exhibits, First Friday Artwalk and a community food truck hosted by Candyman Caterers and the Southside Community Association under board president Deborah Harris.