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Colorado Chicano/a murals listed as 'endangered'

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognizes that local artwork needs protection.

DENVER — The National Trust for Historic Preservation on Wednesday announced Chicano/a Community Murals of Colorado as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2022.

Inclusion on the list, which the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit started in 1988, is a big deal for the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project.

"I really felt like finally, you know, we're being heard," said Lucha Martinez de Luna, who founded the project in 2018.

"It's significant because they [the murals] are very much under threat,” she said. “They're erased a lot. There's very few murals that were painted in the early '70s that still exist.”

Dawn DiPrince, who is the state historic preservation officer and executive director of History Colorado, said being listed as an Endangered Historic Place can prevent these murals and others from being painted over or destroyed.

"It's the first time murals have been included on the '11 Most Endangered' list,” DiPrince said. “I think it is an evolution of thinking what we preserve.”

In addition to murals being worn down over time, they are figuratively and literally being whitewashed by those who now own the buildings they were placed on, Martinez de Luna said.

RELATED: Mexican native mural in Denver painted over

RELATED: Group works to preserve murals depicting Chicano heritage in Denver

Video below: Full news conference on the announcement:

"In preservation, a mural in Colorado is classified only as paint on a wall,” she said. “They're not acknowledging the culture, and they're not acknowledging the history."

Her father, Emanuel Martinez, is considered the father of the mural movement in Colorado. In 1978, he painted a mural on the side of the recreation center in what is now called La Alma-Lincoln Park, at 11th Avenue and Mariposa Street in Denver.

"It beautifies the neighborhood, and it has a message that reflects a lot of the people that were here," he said. "It's something they can identify with and be proud of."

Martinez said that when the history and culture of his work aren’t acknowledged, it is painful.

"I do feel like it's history being erased," he said.

Martinez de Luna said some murals need to be saved for history and others saved for legacy – such as a mural at 27th and Larimer streets in Denver. Alicia Cardenas painted the mural in 2020. It depicts a statement on social justice and the pandemic through images of indigenous people.

Cardenas was one of five people killed late last year in a shooting spree by a man through parts of Denver and Lakewood.

RELATED: Alicia Cardenas was a 'mom to Broadway' in Denver

Credit: Tom Cole
Emanuel Martinez stands in front of a mural he created in 1978 in Denver.

"For me, it's really, really critical that we protect her memory, and this is the best way to do it – through her art," Martinez de Luna said. "… This is her. This was everything that was important to her at the moment she was painting this.”

Murals in San Luis and Pueblo and others around Denver are now on the endangered list, as well. DiPrince wants to have specific murals added to the State Historic Register, which would provide additional protections for preservation.

"When we lose things like Chicano murals, it's irreplaceable, and we lose whole chunks of cultural identity and really, in many cases, cultural celebration," DiPrince said.

Martinez de Luna said she hopes governments and private building owners will start to protect murals with this new national concern.

"The most important thing right now is the awareness," she said. "It is history. Murals, what they are is, they're essentially visual text."

To Martinez, murals have always been much more than paint on a wall.

"Never would've known that it would become a historical designation," he said. "They're important to keep for the community, you know, represents a part of history that we have to preserve and acknowledge."

RELATED: Larimer Square makes 'America's Most Endangered Historic Places' list

RELATED: Denver projects aim to protect city's Latino, Chicano history and culture

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