When Michael Lopez was a child, he made a sculpture of Elvis for the annual Día de los Muertos parade.

The sculpture was a project for Working Classroom, an art theater program Lopez joined when he was 10. The program is designed to expose high-risk youth to art and theater. Lopez later returned to the program and is now an educator and lead artist for the digital mural, “(Hear) by the River.” Lopez worked with artists Mark Anderson and Eric García and five student apprentices to create the publicly funded art project that depicts various characteristics of Albuquerque.

The project was funded by a $28,000 grant from the city of Albuquerque Public Arts Program and $30,000 from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Lopez said the mural provides its audience with an in-depth look at a broad spectrum of Albuquerque’s residents. He said the program reached out to community members to participate in the design of the mural.

“It was just kind of like inviting as many people as possible to participate,” Lopez said. “We have people from Kirtland Air Force Base, like a colonel from Kirtland Air Force Base and then we have protesters, just trying to get the broad spectrum of people and not trying to be too specific, but people always get left out, too.”

Lopez said the mural depicts real reactions to the Albuquerque community and that the amount of involvement artists and interviewees had with one another is obvious.

“It’s like running into a stranger and having a conversation that sticks with you even after you’ve walked away. The people in the interviews, you can’t ignore them,” he said. “I think it’s kind of an intimate experience. I felt like the students really had intimate experiences with the people they were interviewing.”

Lopez said students involved in the program dedicated a lot of time and effort to the project and that their investment in the mural proved their dedication.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s very, very, very, very time consuming, but it’s important work and I think the students really understood that and I think that they really dedicated a lot of their time to it,” he said. “They were in the studio until 4 in the morning some nights editing, editing, editing because they were so invested in the stories they were telling.”

UNM student and apprentice Alejandra Carmona said her dedication to the mural was matched by the dedication of artists and interviewees. She said the mural should make community members proud.

“Working with them was really one of my favorite things about the project. They’re all very motivated people and they know what they want, and they know how they want things to look,” she said. “I think people should go and check it out because not only did we work really hard on this project, but it just gives you a sense of pride to live here.”

Working Classroom Visual Art Program Director Gabrielle Uballez said the mural could benefit students involved in the project because it introduces student artists to local artists such as Tony Mares, who have been influential in the local art world. She said that students also had the opportunity to meet local activists and poets and that the experience provides students with a stronger sense of belonging to their community.

“I think it gave them a wider range and view of what Albuquerque is,” she said. “It exposed them to a bigger picture of Albuquerque.”

“Hear by the River”
Mural dedication
Friday, 5 p.m.
Albuquerque Convention Center
401 Second St. N.W.
Second floor near the entrance
to the Kiva Auditorium