“Exuberant” describes the colorful outdoor mural that is being painted on an exterior wall of the Mesquite Campus.  On Saturday, May 17, about 40 community members gathered to help paint the mural that was the inspiration of Jean Watkins and volunteers at the Women’s History and Cultural Center.  WHCC is housed in the adjacent campus room.   The mural faces North Willow Street and the Mesquite Campus east parking area.

Mural designer Raquel Rae stencils outlines for the volunteers to
paint on the east wall of Mesquite Campus building.
(Photo by Jean Watkins)

Artist Raquel Rae was enlisted by City Councilwoman Annie Black to spearhead the project.

Rae planned and drew the gigantic sketch for a “paint by numbers” project where many painters could work together to create a flurry of butterflies and flowers on the blank wall had stood unadorned since it was built many years ago.  Rae is an elementary teacher who understands the importance of big, bold expressions.  As she worked from a generic flower garden concept,  she envisioned a joyful scene that would evoke happy reactions from everyone who passes by.

Rae reflected Jean Watkin’s intentions for this mural.  Much to the credit of Watkins, Black, and others, the mural took shape within about a couple months of the original conversations about its creation.  Those who know Mesquite’s notoriously slow reaction to suggestions of downtown beautification understand this to be “warp speed” for this town.  Talk of murals and other possible beautification projects have languished for years, often before breathing their last breath and expiring undone.

Jean Watkins gives her thoughts on this project, saying, “What I like about this mural is having the community involved in its creation.  I want it to be an asset to Mesquite that everyone can feel good about.”  She is quick to give credit to Carol Saldivar, a volunteer at WHCC, who saw a wall mural in another Nevada city that seemed to fit the uplifting vision Watkins was putting forth.

Jean Watkins (center) is flanked by many of the volunteers who showed
up to paint the Campus mural on May 17. (Photo by Jim Lavender)

Watkins showed Carol’s photo to Black, who is promoting general beautification projects for the City.  The idea of exterior city murals is not new, but is a widespread favorite that has characterized urban renaissance in cities as diverse as Ely, Nevada, Anchorage, Alaska and Medellin, Colombia.  Mesquite, in fact, has lovely public murals at its fine arts gallery, on the wall of Golden West Casino, and spirited Bulldog murals in the halls of Virgin Valley High School.

Watkins and Black, however, hope the addition of this new mural will be a catalyst for a city “makeover” to enliven Mesquite’s streetscape and help welcome visitors.

Murals focus attention on the good of a city and create a welcoming surprise for visitors and residents alike.  Seeing beauty in an unanticipated place sets a new expectation in everyone’s eyes.  Murals can rally public spirit.  Murals can be the inspiration that sparks other efforts toward city improvement.  Watkins says, “I want this to be a little snowball that gathers momentum and gets people to thinking of other walls to paint, other spots to beautify.”

When Nick Montoya was informed of the desire to paint the Campus building wall, he knew it was unprepared for that project.  He rounded up a group of volunteers to whitewash the wall so the nooks and crannies in the cinderblock would be less likely to soak up too much paint.  After two weeks of whitewash preparation, the wall was ready for the mural to go live.

Not so fast.  First, it was necessary to take the mural concept to the City for approval.  This is a City-owned building that requires proper procedures be followed in making changes.  At the May 14 council meeting, Black laid out the idea to her colleagues, showing a rendering of the proposed mural.   Council gave its unanimous approval to necessary permits so the project could go forward.

With that official stamp of approval, Raquel Rae went to work stenciling the pattern on the wall.  This job was done at night by projecting the rendering of the mural on the blank wall and outlining the flowers and butterflies in marking pen, numbering the proper areas where each color was to be applied.  Truly, this is a “paint by number” project that any helper can follow with ease.  Its graphic-style nature also makes it easier to maintain in the future.

Watkins put out an email to well over a hundred people, inviting all to help paint the wall on Saturday, May 17.  About 40 people answered her call!  Rae and Black had a well-organized assembly line in place when painters showed up: numbered cans of paint, lots of paint brushes and all the supplies needed to dive in and make this happen.

By 10am a surprisingly large portion of the flowers and butterflies mural had come to life, and it was time to call it a day.  Painting will continue through June and as long as it takes to complete this “work of HEART.”    Watkins and Black will be putting out calls for volunteers to return to their brushes after the Memorial Day holiday weekend is over.

“We plan to have the mural completed so it can be to the focal point gathering place for an event we are planning for September 26,” says Watkins.  “We will be staging a walk between the Women’s History and Cultural Center and City Hall to salute Nevada’s 2019 Legislature.  Nevada made history by being the first state to elect a women’s majority legislature in the U.S.  We wish to honor that achievement and provide inspiration for all women to be active participants and decision makers in our city and world.”

Watch for future announcements of painting days and the September 26 event.