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Sister City mural arrives at Centennial Hall

The colorful new ceramic tile mural gracing the entrance to the gray cement edifice of Centennial Hall is a testament to the collaborative power of international friendship and goodwill. Just ask any of the five local artists who recently participated in the Sister Cities Mural Project with Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico -- one of Colorado Springs' six sister cities.

"It's really about the people," said Manitou ceramicist and sculptor Steve Wood who, along with a small group of local artists that included Patti Smithsonian, Mick Lorusso and Wiske Goos, traveled to the Mexican city earlier this year to create a mural.

Founded by Mormons in 1886, Nuevo Casas Grandes sits in northern state of Chihuahua, just across the Mexican-American border from El Paso, Texas. It's best known for its proximity to the Paquim archaeological ruins -- a site famous for its elaborate and mysterious pre-Colonial architecture. The sister city relationship began 15 years ago after Julian Hernandez, president of the Sister Cities committee in Nuevo Casas Grandes, visited Colorado Springs.

"We loved this place and used that enthusiasm to create a Sister Cities program," said Hernandez.

This past week it was Nuevo Casas Grandes' turn to send a delegation of artists to Colorado Springs to create a mural and complete the circle of cultural exchange and good faith. Included in the delegation of artists and cultural diplomats was the mayor of the city, Jess Mara Au Dominguez.

"Culture and goodwill don't have borders," said Dominguez. "The most important thing is the peace and friendship. From there, everything grows."

The Sister Cities International program was created in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a mission to "promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation -- one individual, one community at a time." Along with cultural exchanges like the mural project, the program also encourages sister cities to share municipal resources, ideas and business relationships.

"[Sister Cities International] in the U.S. helps others with programs for donating things, and with resources for urban and social development," said Jos Barrera, a volunteer and principal organizer here in Colorado Springs. "It also helps with municipal and urban problems like streets, bridges, fire departments and donations of surplus equipment."

Though these invaluable exchanges often go unnoticed by the general public, projects like murals provide a great opportunity to showcase the cultural riches each city has to offer to one another.

Designed by Nuevo Casas Grandes artist and architect Francisco Jaimes, the ceramic tile mural that was installed and dedicated at Centennial Hall on Wednesday, July 9 tells an allegory of relationships.

"It's about the migration of animals, persons and ideas as a constant of all forms of life," said Jaimes, who designed the mural using mostly abstract, heart-shaped tiles that were then glazed and arranged to illustrate various elements shared by all life: the sea, mountains, plains, sun, animals, the "Queen of Life" and the "Tree of Life," among other things. "All this compositions is close to the sensibilities of children," added Jaimes about the loosely abstract forms.

Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, who attended the dedication ceremony last Thursday, said, "These are the kinds of things we need to do to build friendships throughout the world."

Colorado Springs' five other sister cities are: Smolensk, Russia; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Bankstown, Australia; Fujiyoshida, Japan; and Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

-- Noel Black

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