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Teacher uses downtime to create bright mural

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Courtney Angermeier, a teacher at Media Arts Collaborative Charter School, works on a mural in her Southeast Albuquerque neighborhood. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The Mimbreño-style porcupine, hummingbirds and other critters pop against the white wall.

The burnt orange, rust-color paint Courtney Angermeier uses to touch up a porcupine’s tail brightens up an otherwise largely dreary area.

Tombstones sit in the memorial park across the street, the plastic sheath of a discarded needle lies in the gutter against the curb, and a glass beer bottle catches the sun just a few feet from the mural.

“It’s pretty desolate over there, with the cemetery on the other side, so there’s no residents and, apparently, there’s a lot of drug trafficking going on down here,” she said about the corner of McEarl and Columbia SE.

Angermeier, a teacher at Media Arts Collaborative Charter School in Albuquerque and an adjunct faculty member at the University of New Mexico, has been working on the mural for several hours each day since public schools in New Mexico closed due to COVID-19.

The aim has been to add some light to both the gloom of the area and to the coronavirus-induced despondence in the community.

“I hope it cheers people up,” she said.

After all, more people are strolling the area after gatherings were prohibited and many businesses were ordered to close to help stop the spread of the virus.

“There’s a lot more people out walking now than normally, and so tons of people walk by and chat from 6 feet away,” Angermeier said.

She started with her own stretch of wall that fences in her backyard and, with homeowners’ and landlords’ permission, has spanned the mural farther and farther.

On Monday afternoon, a couple of people gave friendly honks or stopped their cars to yell a quick kudos from the window. although it took some time for people to warm up to the idea of her working away out there.

“For the first couple of days, I got nothing. I think people were thinking, ‘What is she up to? She’s up to no good in that place where people are always up to no good,’ ” she said.

But once the imagery started to take shape, the mood changed.

She said the community response has been positive since then, from neighbors allowing her to paint on their sections of the wall to others donating the paint for the project.

One neighbor has been elated by the artwork, saying it’s something special for her and her husband to enjoy.

“(She) was telling me that her husband has cancer, and he’s a shut-in, and she was, like, ‘We would love that; it would make us so happy. Then I can put him in the car and drive him around the block so he can see it,’ ” Angermeier said.

The teacher is using New Mexico native plants and animals as an ode to the place she’s called home for 20 years.

“Kind of a celebration of who we are both aesthetically and naturally,” she said.

She’s also taking requests from members of the community, reflecting them in the piece.

Angermeier wants the mural to be a testament to the importance of sharing talents with the community and connecting with others – a message she hopes resonates with her students.

It’s a project she has wanted to do for at least a year, and now she finally has the extra time between tutoring and other online work she has to do.

“School was canceled, and I’d been thinking about it a long time. I knew we wouldn’t go back to school for at least three weeks,” she said. “I wanted to do something to – I don’t know – help.”

For her, art and this particular project serves as a meditation, creating a sense of calm amid the chaos of the pandemic. This isn’t the first time Angermeier has created for the public, having done multiple community art projects.

Her goal for the mural in her neighborhood is to continue the artwork on the span of the wall and, should she get permission from the cemetery, she’d also like to expand the mural to the wall on the other side of the street.

That way, whenever people walk or drive by, they can see its encouraging message, she said.

“I really think that this time – as scary and real as the suffering is – can be an opportunity to figure out how do I connect my gifts and my passion to the greater world,” she said.

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