BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
Anthony Garcia Sr. is a Denver native, Globeville to be exact. He is a father, a philanthropist, an acclaimed street artist, an overall force in the Denver Art scene. He works with at-risk youth, makes art accessible to a wide audience and at the heart of his own art, is a story rich with culture and history. His bold, colorful murals blanked our state, enriching our views. He has a knack for improving the lives of others through his work and artistic vision. We were lucky to have the opportunity to talk about what inspires him.
Muralism is kind of the next evolution of graffiti. It starts with small tags and builds up to bigger pieces, then it turns to production walls. At the beginning I was just trying to find what that next step from graffiti was and murals were a big part of that, and I started painting walls. I started by asking people if I could paint their walls, in the beginning I did it for free for a long time. The more I did, eventually people started asking me how much one of my murals would cost. Eventually I was able to start charging people and finding grants.
My very first mural was in 1999 as part of the Art Street program, I was a student apprentice and it was my first experience doing public art. It was a big step for me and then I didn’t really circle back until maybe 2009, which was the same time I started Birdseed Collective. I didn’t really study art in school and I didn’t go to college. After the Art Street program, I didn’t know where to find other opportunities which is why it was almost a decade later that I painted another mural. I just kind of stopped doing art, I was working, trying to make a living. Sometimes those two worlds don’t always collide.
I reference the serape pattern, which is the Mexican style Southwestern blanket. The serape pattern is a reference to sunsets, so landscapes and straight lines, and horizon lines, the way light interacts with clouds. Just fractures of light in general have always intrigued me. I think of it more as creating movement and energy, rather than just a reference to the blanket, because there are all these other moving pieces. I love playing with color and creating gradience out of chaos. And just studying color and translating it to larger scale pieces on the wall.
Your work can be found all over the city and beyond metro Denver. Where can we find your designs?
I’m working on a big project at the National Western, new CSU Spur campus. That will be happening later this year, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also doing a large sculpture piece at the Denver Health campus. We’re really excited for these pieces; we’re hoping to get some high visibility traffic for these. You can also find my work at the Mission Ballroom, and if you’re headed west on 6th Ave, the Federal exit displays my work.
You founded Birdseed Collective with the goal of transforming the lives of artists, youth and communities through visionary art, civic projects and programs. Can you tell us more about this passion project?
We’ve always been a part of the community. “We” as in my family, as we grew up in the small neighborhood of Globeville. It’s very constricted on all sides, so everybody here is part of a very tightly-knit community. I grew up with a mom who was always involved in activism and non-profits. It was something that was always instilled in us. So, when we started Birdseed Collective, we were working with very talented artists with a goal to find opportunities for these creative people. We were lucky enough to have so many ties to the neighborhood. It was easy for us to make the connections and build from there. We had a goal of just painting murals at first, but it evolved into this huge organization, within a big facility, enabling us to offer food programming, like the Globeville Healthy Food Distribution Education & Preservation Program, providing job skills and experience in art direction. We didn’t have a space to showcase our artwork so we decided to create our own art gallery. We found a need, looked for opportunities and the organization evolved. We needed more space for artist studios and we now have our own building with ten artists now with a space to work. Birdseed is inclusive to artists, and also our neighbors and our community. We want everyone around us in our community doing well, to fill in those gaps as much as possible. As the neighborhood gets older, some of the older property owners have their homes slip through the cracks. Our community is trying to stay as close together and hold on for as long as possible. It’s important for us to keep the cultural and historical significance alive for as long as possible. So, our new neighbors will be able to connect to these neighbors. Many new people don’t know the history of these houses that have had 10+ people living there for their entire lives. They just see a house to flip that they leave as soon as they have a baby. We want to let these new neighbors know the people of our neighborhood. Having a space like the Globeville Community Center that we can use to keep everyone informed, to congregate, it’s kind of our last stand to keep this family together.
It means that people are starting to pay attention to the hard work we’ve been doing all these years. People have started recognizing who we are as an organization. We often keep our heads down during work and we don’t pay attention to the impact. This is just our lives and how we go about our day. But when we look up and see the power of our impact, it’s important. This award enables our community to see someone like myself that they grew up with win an award. I’m still in the neighborhood and accessible to them, and it broadens their horizons and makes them realize that they can do the same thing.
You have collaborated with some of our favorite local artists. What have been some of your favorite collab projects of the past? Do you have any future collaborations on the horizon?
Birdseed Collective and Alto Gallery have been collaborating with local and international artists from the beginning, which is an amazing experience for us. I see myself as more of a mover and a shaker, than a really talented artist, so I’m always in awe of my friends who are artists. I love to showcase their work and it’s important for me to have these platforms to do so.
Birdseed Collective owns one of our favorite local galleries, Alto. Can you tell us a bit more about this partnership?
Alto Gallery recently moved from our space on Tennyson to the new RiNo art park, which is really exciting. We’ve been around for six years now, and this new location is bringing us close to the Denver Pubic Library and now we’re working with RedLine, as they manage the studio spaces. All of these relationships help us grow as an organization. Now we’re not just another shop on Tennyson, now people are looking for us. We’re just a couple blocks from our community center, our studios are in Five Points and now I have a studio and Raymundo has a studio, this is just an amazing opportunity for us. Raymundo Munoz has been involved with Birdseed for nine years. He’s the director, co-founder and co-curator of Alto Gallery and he’s also a very talented print maker. He’s always been the quiet, behind-the-scenes guy, so we are so excited to showcase his work in our next exhibit. Ray shares the same vision, he is guided by the simple principle that art is a bridge, and that its greatest function is to connect people across time and space. Everyone loves Ray, but we’ve never been able to celebrate him like we are now, so this means a lot to us.
You are a sought-after artist, a philanthropist and a father driven by the goal of bringing together your community. Where do you find inspiration? What can we expect to see from you in the future?
The opportunities have been getting bigger. This upcoming project at the National Western campus is going to be the third biggest project we’ve had so far. To be able to paint this piece and have it technically be in our neighborhood, allows us to make connections to let our neighbors know that our people are still in the house. I’ll be traveling a bit this year, trying to expand my horizons, to learn more about similar organizations in other cities, and I’ll be able to paint in these cities and reconnect with artists nationally. I’ve been able to offer enough opportunities to other artists that now I have friends willing to offer me walls and opportunities as well.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Anthony! To learn more about Anthony’s organization, visit birdseedcollective.org, or see his vast collection of work on Instagram @birdseedanthony.