Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2019, including this tour in Albany in July.
I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.
However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection.
I love people who love where they live.
And I know that’s a trait shared by the many, many creative souls who have come together to create the incredible Capital Walls mural project that make me proud to call Albany my hometown. The project is an impressive public art partnership between Albany Center Gallery, Albany Barn and Albany Parking Authority — what a powerful way to bring spaces alive, make art accessible, support working artists, and get people excited to explore.
While some of the murals in the project date back to 2016, a fresh spate started showing up this past summer that piqued my interest — and I wasn’t the only one.
I was so excited to make it on one of this summer’s few #CapitalWalls mural tours led by Albany Center Gallery director Tony Iadicicco and featuring many of the mural artists themselves. Amazingly, this particular summer’s tours were totally free thanks to their sponsor, CDPHP Cycle, the Capital Region’s first bike share program, aimed at creating a culture of health through biking for fun, exercise and transit. This was my first time using CDPHP Cycle, and it got me excited about trying it out at their hubs in Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga Springs (the latter especially, if it means avoiding summer parking and traffic!).
There were two for the two hour tours — a morning version that started with free Cider Belly doughnuts and Stacks Espresso coffee, and an afternoon version that ended with light refreshments from Olde English Pub.
I was thrilled to nab spots on the morning tour so my dad, who lived in The Capital Region for about twenty years, could join before heading back to Los Angeles. We arrived early at the Albany Center Gallery to see the current show at the time, Beyond Limits, featuring the works of regional artists Fern Apfel, Monica Bill Hughes, and KK Kozik. I was so glad we did — the works were beautiful and thought provoking, and reminded me I needed to make it to my local art institutions more often.
But first, it was time to take our keen eyes for art appreciation from the gallery, to the streets!
I was so excited to see new murals I’d never laid eyes on before, and learn the stories behind the ones I always make a point to drive by! Right from the start, I loved hearing about the vision, the process and the logistical Tony faced in starting to bring the mural program to life. I’ve learned so much about the restrictions and challenges muralists face from my friend Kristin of Camels and Chocolate, who shares often as she works to use public art to revitalize central Tennessee — but it was interesting to hear it with a local twist.
And I really enjoyed his perspective on why he looks for a mix of both local artists, some of whom were along on the tour to tell us about their works, and artists from afar, in the hopes of creating ambassadors for Albany by bringing in creatives to see what we’re made of.
The first mural, right behind the gallery, is one of my favorite pieces in the city — actually a recovered fragment of a larger temporary piece by local artist Rachel Baxter. She’s also the creative mind behind the mural inside coLab coworking space — featured on my Instagram here! Later in the tour we saw a new piece by her in a completely different style, all three pieces showing what an impressively versatile artist she truly is.
Next, we biked over to Back Home by Sylvie Kantorovitz, located along the corner of the Green-Hudson parking garage.
I’ve always been tickled by this whimsical piece and loved hearing the story direct from the artist’s mouth! Sylvie, a children’s book illustrator, is originally from France but has now called the Capital Region home for decades. This piece, more than any other we visited that day, totally became magical on a new level when I heard the story behind it.
This busy working garage is full of cars belonging to state workers and other folks who commute into downtown Albany from its suburbs during the day. But what about at night? Sylvie imagined the garage as a base for the bright imaginary creatures coming back after a long day of exploring the city, making their way back home.
Is that not the cutest thing?
(And can you spot my dad peeking over the corner?)
Speaking of my dad, we both had the same favorite mural, and it was up next. Illuminated is by an Albany artist I follow closely, and not just because we were groupies in the Shaker High art department together. Yes Cara Hanley and I went to high school together, and it’s been so much fun to watch her work and her career grow!
Illuminated, also located in the Green-Hudson parking garage, portrays the Hudson River and the Albany skyline rising up from an open book — and has been a background for more of my insta-antics in the past, too. I loved hearing Cara’s inspiration behind her dream-like work which has so many visual elements that fill my heart with happy thoughts of Albany.
Next up, Love Goes On by Nick Walker, located on the eastern-facing wall of the Green-Hudson Parking Garage. Walker wasn’t there to tell us about his work in person, as he’s one of the art world superstars that the Capital Walls mural project brought to Albany. And, as I learned that day, we were lucky to have hosted him — Walker is a native of Bristol, England, where he worked under renown street artist Banksy, who’s works I toured in Bristol on a road trip around England years ago.
Walker now lives in New York and has several impressive art accolades on his resume, including painting street backgrounds for Stanley Kubrick’s famous film “Eyes Wide Shut” — which, if you haven’t seen it, is wild. The character in this mural is a recurring one in his work known as The Vandal, one Walker has credited the inspiration for to the term ‘paint the town red.’
I’m obsessed with the scale of this piece, and love bringing visitors coming to or from the bus station (which, ahem, can hardly be called the pride of Albany), to see it.
By the way, I’m only showing some of the murals, to leave a few surprises for those who either go on an official tour or DIY one of their own!
So after a few more stops, we made our way to Bluebirds by Michael Conlin, located on the north side of the Quackenbush Parking Garage near exit 4B on I-787. This was another mural I was eager to learn more about after admiring it for years coming in and out of the city. Turns out, that was much of the inspiration behind it. I learned that the bird depicted, the Eastern Bluebirds, are in fact the state bird of New York (come at me, trivia night!) and are intended to welcome visitors to downtown as they “flock” towards Broadway.
How beautiful is that?
Finally, we made our way to the most recent Capital Walls works, the ones underneath the I-787 ramp Clinton Ave exit, behind Quackenbush Garage at 25 Orange St.
Here, a once desolate space has been revamped as a true open-air gallery, with the cement structures holding up the exits turned into blank canvases, the works and styles of different artists displayed on each. This was my first time seeing Paradise Pattern by Vanessa Mastronardi, which left me looking like the human interpretation of the heart-eyed emoji.
(Speaking of emojis, where is the flamingo?! Does anyone have a petition I can sign in this regard?!)
I was also truly struck by Journey by Arzu Fallahi, which depicts her diverse experiences as a global citizen and features paper boats that symbolize the beauty and bravery of an immigrant’s journey. I was mesmerized by the geometric patterns and colors, and know it won’t be the last time I visit this beautiful mural.
We even got a bonus treat — watching artists prep another concrete structure for a future mural, a reminder that street art can make abandoned urban spaces into ever-evolving, ever-growing galleries.
And it wasn’t the only lesson we took away from the tour about how to interact with our cities — my dad couldn’t stop raving about how much he loved being on a bike and was already talking about getting one for LA!
Capital Region residents, keep your eyes peeled for walking tours, biking tours, youth mural tours — or whatever fresh new idea they come up with next! Thank you so much to the hardworking artists and visionaries who are working so hard to make Albany special. And truly, it’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the public art facilitated by the Albany Center Gallery, from their Open Gallery and Moveable Murals initiatives, to their Nipper Sculpture fundraisers, to their annual Art on Lark and Winter Arts and Black Arts and Culture festivals, to their extensive youth art programs.
I hope this particular tour becomes a more regular offering that visitors to the region can enjoy, too. Speaking of, the “Artful Albany” theme for the 2020 Discover Albany Visitors Guide is a nod to these incredible works, which you can learn more about and find the locations of more murals within.
Wondering how you can support Capital Region artists and either take home a souvenir or show off your hometown pride? You can shop for local art and artisan goods at the Albany Center Gallery store and at Fort Orange General Store.
Looking for more Albany inspiration? Check out my Wanderland Guide to Albany, with all my favorite places to eat, play, and stay.
Regardless of where you call home, I hope this post inspires you to get out and love where you live.
Is there a public art program where you live? Do you wish there was? I’d love to hear about it below!