The Hope Wall Mural Project

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Video by Daniel Schuster/Jessie Schuster Photography

In summer 2021, Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. partnered with renowned Alaskan artist, Steve Gordon, to create an original, community-painted mural in downtown Anchorage. After the initial design was created by Gordon, members of the community were invited to Town Square Park to help paint the mural. Like a giant paint by number, volunteer painters filled in four-foot square sections of mural fabric with artists supervising the painting tables. After the panels were completed, Gordon and his Dream Team of volunteers mounted the panels on the western wall of the Hafling Building on the corner of 7th Avenue and E Street for all of Anchorage to enjoy.

In the words of the artist, Steve Gordon: “The explosion of botanical life that emerges in Alaska once the snow of winter has been burned away by the returning sun seemed an apt metaphor for the return of life post-Covid. Hope is an internal resource that sustains people during times of trial like a worldwide pandemic. The gathering together of all the different wildflowers shows the beauty that exists in our diversity as people from all walks of life gather together. The ribbons the birds carry to the light express the shared hopes of the community. What five words most express your core ideals? What kind of person would you like to become? What are your hopes for Anchorage? “The Hope Wall” is a reminder to the community of what we are for.” These thoughts were gathered from the community and were incorporated into the mural. 

Artist Statement: What is the concept of the Hope Wall?

The past few years have felt like I was living in a personal and  cultural “winter”. The political discourse in the national,  state and local elections had gotten into personal attacks,  blaming,  and name calling.  Political lines were drawn to determine if you were an enemy or not.  There was not a view towards the common good, dialog,  and working together to build a better future.  

When Covid hit in March of 2020 there was yet another “winter”-  a tearing of the social fabric.  For safety and health reasons people were discouraged from coming together,  from touching,  from sharing meals together from even working together.  Layered on top of that was the whole question of whether to mask or not mask,  health mandate or personal freedom.  This tore the social fabric even further within families, churches,  and whole communities. On a personal level my wife Karen was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma and my father who was 90 died of Covid and I was not able to travel to his funeral-  everything was virtual. My habit of inviting people for a lunch ended,  I stopped attending church in person,  thanksgiving and Christmas with family was all virtual.  There was loss upon loss the whole year.  It was a relationship winter.   

I wanted the Hope wall to bring people together to create something that was beautiful and on a grand scale.  I wanted people to feel empowered that together we can accomplish great things.  I wanted folks to have the opportunity to express their hopes for this community 

The image I choose for  hope is the return of Spring after a long winter.  My daughter Amy who was born in Anchorage was the model for the personification of Hope/ Spring.  She is clothed in flowers and ferns,  and is seated on a Devil’s Club throne.  She holds in her hands a globe of forget-me-nots representing the blue planet,  Earth.  Above her is the representation of the death of winter.  The pussy willows are one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring.  Even when the ground is covered in snow the pussy willow blooms.  The snow crystal’s geometry  is breaking apart and turning into rain.  

The background color in the mural  is a purplish blue grey-  the color of the Chugach mountains in the spring. Hope is needed when living in the “shadow of a mountain”.   Hope is an internal resource that gives a person the grit to persevere,  the anchor of hope to hold fast in a storm,  the buoyancy of a life preserver to keep yourself afloat in  deep waters.  It is in times of trial,  testing,  and difficulty that one needs hope. The shafts of gold represent light,  truth,  the divine.  The external light helps one to see beyond the present shadow and like the sun it is from above and gives life.  In Alaska as the sun returns it takes awhile for the sun to warm the ground but once conditions are right for botanical growth,  botanical life explodes.  I choose to represent that with a dozen different Alaskan wildflowers.  I liked the beauty in the diversity of colors,  shapes and sizes of flowers.  All are flourishing together.  

I wanted to give the community input into the design of the mural by posing the questions: What qualities would describe the kind of person that you hope to become. 

What qualities would describe the kind of community that you’d like to live in.  I wanted the people to answer these questions in five words or less.  These are the “seeds of change”. They represent the aspirations of what we are for,  the kind of community that we’d like to live in.  When these concepts are in focus and nurtured over time,  they will bear fruit and change the community for the better.   These core values become the warp threads that run through the whole tapestry of the community.   It will reweave the social fabric and create a place where all people are woven together,  connected to one another in meaningful ways  and flourishing in all their diversity.  These aspirational values are being carried above by local songbirds for all to see.  And like a prayer they are our hope of change.  

My hope for the paint day event itself is that folks from all across the community would come together and enjoy painting a design that is much bigger and impressive than anything that they could imagine or paint on their own.  That the participants would feel empowered by the experience,  knowing that they had a hand in creating it.  Finally I hope that the mural would remind people of the kind of community that we hope to create together.  

-Steve Gordon, lead artist and designer of the Hope Wall Mural

Process: How was the mural created?

The Hope Wall Mural Project involved a variety of partners, from local labor unions who donated a scissor lift for six weeks, to the building owners who provided the canvas for the creation, to the numerous businesses that donated materials, and finally, the community members who came out to paint and create the actual piece of art. 

Initially, ADP and Steve Gordon brought on Color Art Printing and Stephan Fine Arts to discuss the plans for the project and the initial design. These businesses brought ideas and connections that allowed our team to partner with Alaska Laborers’ Local #341 and Alaska Laborers’ Training School for a scissor lift rental, a key part of the mural’s installation. We also connected with Alaska Roof Restorations, a local business specializing in flat roof restoration, who generously donated the power wash, priming and base layer of paint for the giant mural wall. After the wall was prepped, the focus turned to hosting the Community Painting Workshop in Town Square Park, the heart of downtown. Partners from near and far all contributed to the success of the workshop, including the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Blaine’s Art Supply, Kaladi Brothers’ Coffee, The Kobuk, Moose’s Tooth Pizza, FireTap Alehouse, Clear Alaska Glacial water, Stephan Fine Art, Color Art Printing, Wild About Balloons, Anchorage Parks & Recreation and the Performing Arts Center. Over 500 community members came out to paint, and over 60 volunteers donated their time to help guide the community. 

Prior to the actual painting, Steve Gordon and his team divided the mural into pieces, tracing out these squares by hand onto seventy 4 foot by 4 foot panels. Gordon then created seventy paint kits: one for each specific square with the correct paint colors and design for the public to follow. This allowed even the most inexperienced community member to participate in the mural creation. 

Once the seventy panels had been painted by the community and touched up by Gordon, they were installed on the Hafling Building wall using a special adhesive. Gordon and his “Dream Team” of volunteers spent the better part of a week installing mural panels, each one taking about 20-30 minutes to properly adhere to the wall. Post-installation, Gordon applied an all-weather varnish over the mural to protect it from the Alaskan elements.