The new UNITY mural displays the colors of diversity along with the word UNITY in English and American Sign Language. Flagstaff Pride and Together We Will, which are both nonprofit charities, enabled this unveiling to take place because of the outreach was given to the community and artist Karen Fiorito.
California based artist Karen Fiorito became involved in this project because of the outreach from Together We Will, formed right after the 2016 election.
“I had a billboard in Phoenix called Trumpocalyspe. It went viral and I got hate mail and death threats, and they reached out to me with love and praise on my work," said Fiorito.
Fiorito applied for a project mural in Los Angeles, but another artist was picked over her. Fiorito’s background on unity was too Arizona based because of the stripes in the design. Fiorito took this criticism and thought to open it up to include more people, hence the rainbow color incorporation.
Fiorito said she was approached by a member of Flagstaff Pride and they wanted to see the mural in Flagstaff, but Fiorito wasn’t sure how to make that happen.
“I was told about a beautification grant to beautify the city. I looked at the application and it asked for the support of the community so Together We Will helped me with that and asked Flagstaff Pride to join,” Fiorito said. “I chose Flagstaff because it is a great diverse community and it just has that warm welcoming feeling. I feel like it belongs here. We as a people are so divided right now and we need to come together.”
The process for the mural’s creation was a collaboration of community help as well as other mural artists willing to make Fiorito’s vision come to life. Fiorito has a problem with her back that makes her unable to go to the extreme when working with art. Fiorito's fear of heights also played a role in this physical challenge.
“I knew what they were doing and they knew how to put the scaffolding together and I couldn’t have got better people. I had my design, I printed it to scale and numbered each color and then gave them paint by numbers,” Fiorito said. “I’m hoping it will make people think about what I am trying to say and I think it’s important because it gives people who don’t have a voice, a voice. It was a great experience and I think it looks great.”
Kathryn Jim is the director of Northern Arizona Pride Association and has a partnership with the Orpheum Theatre who also sponsor for the annual pride festival. Jim chose the Orpheum because of the historical significance that has a permanent statement in Flagstaff.
“Using the Orpheum was a no-brainer and the mural is spectacular for a permanent spot. That’s why we chose the Orpheum theater so we can have access for all ages,” said Jim. “It’s so troublesome right now and we can’t allow that anger to build up. This is where we come together to create an environment that will serve a purpose.”
Northern Arizona Pride Association's mission is to educate, celebrate and increase acceptance and awareness of the LGBTQ community in Flagstaff and northern Arizona. The community of Flagstaff helped to put across these values in the UNITY project and fund Fiorito and those who worked on the mural.
“Karen was the one who came up with the idea for the mural. The rainbow has specific meaning too. Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag and it was important to incorporate that. The rainbow is always symbolic. It’s for everyone,” Jim said. “We had to raise money for it and through our Facebook Flagstaff Pride Unity Mural Fundraiser post, we raised around $3,800 from the community. It helped pay for all our work and time.”
With teamwork and community effort, the mural was completed within two weeks and is now listening to considerations for future projects. Jim said she would love for future projects to continue like this and throughout Flagstaff because it’s a beautiful place to have murals that represent all the culture that Flagstaff has here.
The 2016 election had a huge impact on the United States with fear and change playing a big part in the issue of segregation and fragmentation among communities. Debra Taylor, president of Northern Arizona Pride Association was glad the Orpheum was chosen for the mural because of the access it gave to a variety of people.
“It’s an all age event so we’re hoping for all of our youth to come and celebrate,” said Taylor. “Everybody has been very supportive.”
Flagstaff is changing how it wants its landscape to be represented and the unveiling played a significant part in that as well as Flagstaff’s own every changing history.