For many people passing through, Colfax is just another eastern Washington small town surrounded by farm fields with a downtown that had its heyday in another era.
An ambitious volunteer-led art project is transforming the view this summer and may make those people think twice.
When all is said and done, “we will have more art in Colfax than people,” said Debby Stinson, president of the Colfax Arts Council.
The project has two parts, both underway. The first is the creation of four building-sized, fine art murals painted by established regional artists. The second is 3,744 fish painted by community members to be placed on chain-link fence that crosses town and borders the Palouse River. The population of Colfax was 2,805 at the 2010 census.
“It’s very much a grassroots thing that is happening that the city is wholeheartedly supporting,” said Stinson, who lives in Colfax and works in Pullman as the marketing and public relations manager for Washington State University’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
The estimated cost of the project is $30,000. The council applied for a grant from the city’s
Hotel/Motel Lodging Tax fund, receiving $15,000. The project also received a $10,000 donation from a local donor who asked to remain anonymous and another $6,250 in private donations. The council supplied $1,500.
One reason the council applied for lodging tax funding was because the group sees the murals as a beautification project that could attract more events and visitors, Stinson said.
“When you’re revitalizing a town and want people to know about it, if you create a wonderful backdrop for photos to be shared on social media the town gets more notice,” Stinson said.
An artist’s concept sketch for a mural by Pullman-based artist Cori Dantini has a framed space where people can pose for a photo under the words, “Happiness is right here.” That mural is to be painted this summer outside the Bully for You vintage clothing store. Dantini’s art has found its way into prints, fabrics and a line of bedding sold by Target.
All four public murals are colorful, light-hearted and loosely based on the theme of nature. The theme was carefully chosen to appeal to Colfax’s residents who range from farm families with homesteading roots to academics and other professionals who commute to jobs elsewhere. As price and demand for homes in Pullman and Moscow rises, people have turned to nearby towns like Colfax for affordable alternatives.
“Nature is something everyone loves. We didn’t want political murals with political statements. It’s something where people can go and celebrate and enjoy their downtown. If you’re going to hang art on the walls of your downtown, it should feel good,” Stinson said.
The murals are scheduled to be completed by the end of September. An “American Gothic”-style robot mural by Colfax artist Henry Stinson (Debby Stinson’s husband) was completed last month on the side of the building housing Fonk’s Coffee House. Other murals will be created by Spokane artist Melissa Cole, on the Dusty Attic building, and Spokane/Colfax artist Yelena Yunin, who will paint koi fish on the Colfax City Pool building.
Along with beautification, the council wanted to build a connection between the community and the art. The fish project enlists young and old to help create the work.
The idea came from a similar project in Wenatchee, Stinson said. The finished fish will be installed in wave-like patterns along the chain-link. The fish bodies are made of a thin and durable PVC material called Sintra that will endure the weather, she said. Colfax school children began painting the fish last spring and community fish-painting parties are planned for this summer and fall.
A ribbon cutting for the projects is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 3, during Colfax’s First Thursday celebration. Stinson and others believe that the new art will boost community pride, enjoyment and quality of life.
“We don’t want to just live here, we want to thrive here,” Stinson said.