Wesley Fawcett Creigh moved to Tucson in 2005 and has been involved in border issues as an activist and artist. But her most recent project, "Painting by Numbers: Women in AZ Detention Centers, Bringing Numerical Statistics to Life," which came about through a Tucson Pima Arts Council award, has received the most attention. She's always looking for that perfect mural space to call attention to issues and bring the community together. The Weekly recently spoke with Fawcett Creigh about murals and public art and, specifically, about the challenges of finding spaces to devote to that art. For more on her work, visit wesleyfawcettcreigh.wordpress.com.
What are you working on right now?
Well, actually some haunted house stuff at Old Tucson Studios and Buckelew Farms. It's outside the city and offers me a good perspective. But at some point I need to get back to a project I started this year with my cousin Nicole Disante, a mural on the wall outside the Whistle Stop Depot. They have an adobe perimeter wall, about 40 feet. We've been developing something and are in stage one right now. As we find time, and it cools off, we will be getting back to it. It's my favorite new space in Tucson, so I use any excuse to get there.
How did that project come about?
I approached Nancy (Bender) and Carl (Carlton Dewey) about doing a memorial mural for my friend Sally, who was murdered several years ago. But then I decided that wasn't the most appropriate space for that project. So I asked if my cousin and I could do something anyway and they said yes.
Anything else in the works?
Another project that's started coming together is a mural for Xerocraft Hackerspace. They just moved to the Steinfeld warehouse and signed a year-and-a-half lease. They want me to do a paint-by-numbers project. Something relevant to the space. It will probably be organic in form but around 10 by 10. The idea was to create and bring a community arts project into the space to drive home the accessibility and the community aspects of the Xerocraft space.
What is the biggest challenge in doing public art and murals in Tucson?
Finding walls, especially with all the changes going on downtown and the proposed highway projects. For a while, I was going around asking people if I can put my art on their walls, and I figured that as my portfolio was more developed, that it could be somewhat easier. But I was wrong. For the memorial mural, it feels like I've been trying to find the right space forever. I found a lot of walls I thought would be ideal, but I heard a lot of no's. There's some bureaucracy involved and also logistics. It's too hard to make a generalization and say that people should open their walls up to muralists more. But it is a challenge.
And it's not like there's a lot of funding for murals either, right?
That's part of the reason I can't spend all this time doing this artwork. As an artist, funding is not part of the appeal, especially when you are trying to self-finance these projects. This is totally a labor of love and any money that's come from any other place other than my own pocket is limited. For all public artists, you are relying on grants or awards from the city or arts councils and organizations.
Had you seen the painting-by-numbers concept you started with the detention work done elsewhere?
No, I was just brainstorming with a friend, talking about this project. I knew I wanted to do a project that wasn't just art for art's sake, but also information. ... What messages do I want to bring with me and what information do I want to pass along? I knew it would be mobile. I wanted to show explicitly what was going on with women in detention. It can be done in many different ways. The colors and numbers can represent different facts, figures or issues. There are so many ways you can use that to convey information, and also bring the community together.
What is it that you like about murals and other public artwork?
I want to communicate very clear ideas and messages with my work. Living in Southern Arizona and the hostile political climate, I feel it is an obligation or duty to make my work an extension of my activism.