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Endangered species are making an appearance in Denver next week, but not in the ways you would expect. As part of Crush Walls, Denver’s week-long urban arts festival, you’ll find life-sized illustrations of exotic (and unfortunately rare) animals—like rhinos, jaguars, elephants, sun bears, and blue whales—throughout the streets of RiNo September 3-9. The street art project is the brainchild of activist and 2013 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Shannon Galpin, and her 13-year-old daughter Devon Clarke, both of whom live in Breckenridge. The duo say they hope the project, which is part of their larger initiative Endangered Activism, draws attention to the importance of wildlife conservation.
Each illustration depicts an endangered species, plus several smaller creatures that are dependent on that animal’s survival. “There was an article in Scientific American about all the organisms that live in the water-filled indent left by an elephant’s footprint,” says Galpin. “It’s mind blowing. Devon did the research to find out when a specific animal goes extinct, what else do we lose?” The mother-daughter team is using the hashtag #WhatWeLose to promote the project on social media.
To put their vision to paper, Galpin commissioned Mexican artist Diana Garcia. Glapin and Clarke will print Garcia’s whimsical black-and-white drawings in segments using professional large-format printers. They’ll assemble each piece and adhere it to city walls using wheatpaste, a sticky mix of vegetable starch and water that’s been used by street artists and performance promotors for centuries. The result is known as a paste up. “It’s a process, and it’s very hard to do well,” says Galpin. “You have multiple pieces of a large-scale whole that you’re trying to align, and the paper can start to stretch once it’s getting glued or you’ll get an air bubble where it wants to rip.”
Luckily, Galpin and Clarke have had some practice. They initially launched #WhatWeLose in Paris in June, pasting up in 16 different locations all over the city, followed by Oxford in July. “You don’t really see street art in Oxford,” says Clarke. “To have city council approve our project and want to bring in street art was really special.”
The RiNo edition of #WhatWeLose is the project’s U.S. debut. To mark the occasion, Galpin and Clarke collaborated with Garcia on a brand new paste up featuring a rhino. The event is a fitting homecoming for Galpin and Clarke, who spent the past year abroad learning about wildlife conservation—rhinos and elephants in Namibia; jaguars and blue whales in Argentina; sun bears in Borneo. Galpin and her ex-husband home-schooled Clarke during that time, and as part of her curriculum, Clarke interviewed more than 50 experts, including wildlife guides, biologists, and conservation scientists, as well as artists and filmmakers who are using their talent for a cause.
Clarke, who has always enjoyed drawing and loves animals, came up with the idea to use public art to promote wildlife conservation after Galpin signed them up for a street art tour of Paris. The session included learning to stencil with spray paint. As an avid graphic novel reader, Clarke had already been envisioning writing her own—about a teenage superhero and her snow leopard sidekick who fight wildlife crimes like poaching. After the street art tour, Clarke Googled snow leopard footprints and made her own stencils. She and Galpin went out with silver spray paint and left tracks all the way down Rue Denoyez, also known as Street Art Alley. “So many people love street art,” Clarke says. “And when it has an important back story it can really open people’s eyes.”
The mother-daughter team say they hope Denver is just the beginning for #WhatWeLose, and that Clarke will one day lead workshops to teach other teens how to “paste up” their cause.
If you go: See #WhatWeLose for yourself during Crush Walls, Denver’s seven-day urban art festivals, with 77 art “happenings” by local and international artists September 3–9 in the RiNo Arts District. Details at crushwalls.org.