Cities evolve over time, and one of the most exciting periods of evolution is when a city undergoes a revitalization. Yuma, Arizona, a city in southwestern Arizona on the Mexican-American border recently experienced a transformation, during which dozens of pieces of public art were commissioned and added throughout the city. Visit Yuma’s Operations & Logistics Specialist, Alberto Chee, is an expert on Yuma’s art and recently got us up to speed with all the artistic happenings in Yuma.

Q: For those who aren’t familiar with Yuma’s art scene, tell us a bit about the public murals and how they came to be.

A: The huge push for art in our community really began during the revamp of our Historic Downtown area; we went through a beautification process to bring it back to its heyday while also bringing in modern elements. Since then, the City of Yuma has worked with local and even internationally renowned artists to bring murals and sculptors to the city landscape and has expanded outwards from the downtown area. Some pieces hint at the community’s past while some abstract pieces bring vibrant colors and modern design to historic facades giving our city some amazing contrast.

Striking a balance

Q: It sounds like some of your public art nods to Yuma’s past while some are modern, looking to the future. How did you strike that balance to create an artistic atmosphere that could do both?

A: Yuma is a very historic town, as one of the major crossing points for the Colorado River during the Gold Rush era; it has kept its tradition of being a hidden gem for many who are venturing to the coast. Our history runs deep here but like any growing city, innovation is integral to expand towards the future. That’s the main aim of our downtown beautification project — staying true to our heritage while showing our citizens and visitors that Yuma has its eyes on a bright future.  

Q: What a great balance! You mentioned that some artists who contributed pieces are locals, while some are internationally renowned. Do some live outside of Yuma, but have connections to the area? How were artists selected to contribute pieces to Yuma’s public art? 

A: Most of our public art has been commissioned through collaboration of different entities from non-profits, private property owners, local business, and individuals seeking to coordinate public art projects; and they’re all brought together or assisted by the City of Yuma’s Division of Arts and Culture. So, you could say our community really comes together to bring beauty to our city. For the most part the artists selected have a tie to either Arizona, or the Mexican heritage that surrounds the city. We’ve invited artists from Tijuana, San Diego, Guadalajara, and parts of the desert Southwest as well as locals to bring to life our heritage, history, and the feel of a border city. 

In our most recent project, the Art Center held a contest and asked the community to submit their artwork for the chance to display it on one of our many downtown trash enclosures. There were dozens of winners who have now made their mark on our expanding art scene. We also brought world-renowned muralist MOMO and his longtime friend and collaborator ELTONO to bring some color to our art center and historic theater. They were brought by the McKivergan Foundation with support of other local businesses like LG Paint, Grainger Supply and the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel to name a few.

Discover the art

Q: How exciting that different organizations within Yuma came together for beautification. Now that the art pieces can be found all over the city, how many are there? Is there a walking tour or another way for visitors to explore the art? 

A: There are more than 80 murals and sculptures in Yuma and about 20 of those are found right in the historic downtown area for easy walkability. The Yuma Art Center publishes their own city art map and public art guide on their website which contain a good number of the local art pieces with a little info on the artists. We also have an APP called “Visit Yuma, AZ!” which offers two premade art tours, one for the downtown area and our grand art tour which currently includes 78 pieces. More keep popping up all the time, though!

Q: How has Visit Yuma promoted the public art to visitors, and what has the response been?

A: In addition to the premade app tours, the visitor center hands out art maps published by The Yuma Art Center which people absolutely love. Also, in 2019, we dedicated our visitors guide to art and really highlighted our public murals which drove a lot of visitors to come experience them for themselves.

Impact on Yuma

Q: Has the revamped art scene changed Yuma’s character, or revealed a side that wasn’t prominent before?

A: It’s brought a fresh perspective to historic downtown which felt a little stuck in the past before and the overall city as more and more art keeps popping up around town. 

It’s definitely inspired locals to bring businesses that were unheard of in Yuma and express what their vision for the future is.

Q: Is there a single piece of art that has really gotten a strong response from visitors?

A: The piece that has really been a fan favorite is “Flor del Desierto” which is a mural on the back wall of a local grocery store Del Sol. It’s a very vibrant mural featuring mother nature holding a native desert jaguar that is at risk of extinction.  

Explore a revitalized and vibrant Yuma, AZ!

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