In the heart of downtown Seattle, the historic Skinner Building houses The 5th Avenue Theatre. Known for hosting a wide range of theater productions and motion pictures since its grand opening in 1926, The 5th Avenue Theatre remains a cherished landmark in the city. In 2023, it added another jewel to its crown: a vibrant mural that encapsulates the spirit of the arts, community, and self-care. This mural was created by commissioned artists Bryophidyte Tro-Sutherland (Instagram – @witching_bone) and Thaddeus Angel McMurray (Instagram – @t.angel210), two members of Urban ArtWorks’ Base Crew.

Base Crew is a program that provides paid year-round mentorship and training for teens who have completed the Mural Apprentice Program and wish to deepen their arts and design experience. This program serves as a pathway for youth to become future muralists, teaching artists, and arts leaders. Through the Base Crew program, young artists like Bryophidite and Thaddeus are supported in achieving their artistic goals while simultaneously giving back to the community. Ultimately, the program envisions opening pathways for personal and professional growth and providing a scaffold for future leadership opportunities at Urban ArtWorks and beyond.

The mural Bry and Ted designed includes a variety of elements, such as a graduation certificate and a message that says, “Dear Lovely, we are so proud of all your time spent pursuing your dreams. Stay safe and take time for yourself.” Additional images include a person engaging in various self-care activities with their dog, juxtaposed with imagery of the stage and the pursuit of personal goals.

Every great work of art begins with an idea, so the artists started by brainstorming concepts and collaborating with the theater to ensure their vision aligned with the venue’s character. Bry brought a foundational concept to the table, which served as the starting point. From there, they incorporated abstract shapes and themes that the theater desired, crafting a mural that beautifully blended their artistic vision with the venue’s unique atmosphere.

Creating a mural of this scale comes with its fair share of challenges. One of the unexpected hurdles was the height of the theater’s walls, which were taller than initially accounted for. The collaborative process between Base Crew and The 5th Avenue Theatre was a lesson in teamwork. Guided by established guidelines and a shared vision, the artists swiftly moved from concept to execution. Their ability to work together seamlessly, bouncing ideas off each other and making decisions promptly, was instrumental in bringing their vision to life.

Public art holds a unique power to engage and connect with communities. Base Crew’s mural has left a lasting impression on both the actors and theater crews who use that space at The 5th Avenue Theater. The mural has received praise and appreciation, reflecting the hard work and dedication poured into its creation.

Aviona Rodriguez Brown, Associate Director of Engagement at The 5th Avenue Theatre, had this to say about the murals:

“The first group to see this was the tour of 1776, which is a cast of non-binary and female-bodied folks. And they were very impressed. And they were like, ‘Are there any other murals in the building? ‘Where are all the murals and other art?’ So that, in itself, was one of the catalysts that got us to commission the second mural from Urban ArtWorks. And then our current cast for The Little Mermaid, a lot of those folks are returning actors who’ve been in our space, so some folks have reached out like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t even know this was here. I came to get fitted and just saw a brand new piece of art.’ And so, lots of surprise, lots of praise for the art. And a lot of folks who have never been in this space before, the new actors, feel really welcomed to see art that reflects themselves.”

The Base Crew’s mural is a celebration of self-care. It conveys the importance of taking time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures and nurturing oneself, symbolized by the heartwarming image of a person and their dog. The mural incorporates various artistic techniques and materials to create depth and dimension. Swirl designs and intricate patterns give the mural a dynamic and visually captivating quality. Real-life people were used to bring the characters to life, adding a personal touch that resonates with viewers.

We had a few questions for Bry and Ted, and we wanted to share their answers with you:

Were there any unexpected surprises or moments of inspiration that influenced the mural’s final design?

“We had our teaching artist, Laku Nagami here painting with us, and I think that he inspired us a lot. There were a lot of moments where we both were sitting off, just out there painting, and we’re like, ‘God, that looks so good. I’m gonna help.’ Just having other people around to contribute to it or say things about it, or even sending photos to people. I think that was satisfying. It felt like it was worth the work.” – Ted

Were there any particular messages or emotions you wanted to convey through your mural?

“I think self-care is the biggest thing. Taking time and just enjoying it. I think that’s kind of like where the dog came from, if you can’t take care of yourself for yourself.” – Bry

“This is more like, like an abstract idea I was kind of thinking of in my car, like, the more that I do murals, the more that I realized, this kind of overarching societal idea that art isn’t important, is not real. And like even someone walking here for the first time and then feeling welcomed and then smiling and walking with less of a heavy energy, that makes a real difference, like art really does make a big difference.” – Ted

Can you discuss any artistic techniques or materials you used that you believe added to the special dimensions of the mural?

“I was particularly proud of the swirl designs and the extra spaces. I was really excited to see how that turned out from the draft onto the wall.” – Bry

“To mention our teaching artist, Laku, again, there was a lot of me and him trading off, like standing in certain poses together to figure out the anatomy. And I like to think that it didn’t come out as bad as it started. Like we definitely moved it along. So I would say the character features.” – Ted

Why do you think public art is important to communities?

“I think that there’s a certain aspect of life, like the human condition, looking at something and being like somebody else has been here and put time and effort and love into this. So this is a good place to spend my time, and a place that has been well-loved. I think it’s powerful that someone else left a mark here. Someone else has been here, so you feel a sense of companionship.” – Ted

“I would also say inspiration. Just the sharing of art. Giving other people ideas and maybe they start working on something or putting it into their art.” – Bry

What advice would you give to aspiring mural artists who hope to create meaningful public art?

“If you sit there and you think about the place that you’re going to be painting, the meaning comes really easily. Most places that are craving public art crave it because they really need it. Like the places that I’ve done murals in my time with Urban ArtWorks, like a tiny home village for income-restricted people, and a mural that was about youth shooting. If you put yourself in the shoes of the people that are gonna be viewing this, it’s really easy to find a connection to the community, trying to imagine what you think those people would want to see. Really listen to the community. If you don’t have someone to talk to and bounce ideas off, who’s in that community, just looking into it, see who’s there, what they’re loving, talk to them if you can, but really get input from the people you’re painting for. I think that’s the most fun part about it, getting the feedback on what you want to see here. What has this place made you feel like? What do you want to feel when you’re here? I think that’s a really important aspect of it.” – Ted

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