Unique program provides roadside opportunity for student artists

Three new public art installations are on display across the region through the efforts of young artists in southern Arizona this summer who were supported with funding from Pima Association of Governments’ Transportation Art By Youth (TABY) program.

Students in Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita participated in the program, which funds public art installed along transportation improvements. The program, which PAG initiated in 1995 through its Transportation Improvement Program, matches youth artists with professional mentors and jurisdictions that sponsor the projects.

Over 100 projects have been completed by TABY participants over the years, but the program was put on a brief hold during the height of the pandemic. The new projects are worth the wait to see.

Metal sculpture of cowboy on a horse with a Saguaro cactus and a cow.
Marana students welded these sculptures that are now displayed in a raised roundabout.

Spirit of Marana

The first of the 2022 TABY projects to debut was the “Spirit of Marana,” a sculpture in downtown Marana at the Sandario Road and Marana Main Street Roundabout. The metal sculpture depicts a cowboy on horseback herding a cow under the shadow of a saguaro.

Artist Trevor O’tool designed the sculpture, and Marana High School welding students Joseph Wagner and Gabrial Kilbarger constructed it.

“When our young people can get involved with our history and our past, it is very special,” said Marana Mayor Ed Honea, referring to the ranching roots that still run deep in the town.

The students are part of the Marana Unified School District’s Career and Technical Education program, which helps prepare students to enter the workforce with career skills.

It is the second teaming of O’tool and the Marana High welding program for a TABY project. They collaborated on a family of deer installation on Tangerine Road in 2017.

For more on the Marana TABY project, watch the video at the top of this page.

Vibrant Sahuarita

The TABY project in Sahuarita was smaller in scope and more colorful. Ten students from the Sahuarita Youth Arts Program painted two traffic signal cabinets and battery back-up boxes near Pima Mine Road. The boxes are now vibrant colors depicting Southwest motifs such as lizards, birds and cacti.

Concrete bench covered in painted tiles next to a trash can with painted tiles.
Sahuarita students painted tiles to beautify concrete benches and trash cans, plus electric boxes at intersections throughout the town.

Additionally, students decorated four concrete benches and four concrete waste receptacles, which required the young artists to work with tile and clay. They had to choose their colors, create and fire their designs and then implement the construction of the benches.

Sahuarita High Art teachers Danielle Rutherford and Joseph Poore provided guidance to the 10 student artists who they selected based on specific criteria including strong creativity, leadership and organizational skills

“Many community members stopped to talk to the students, congratulate them on this opportunity, and share how excited they were to see the beauty in the community,” Rutherford said. “It is truly beautiful to see them creating works of art that can move their community.”

The Town of Sahuarita has participated in the TABY program since 1997 and has partnered with Sahuarita Unified School District since 2006 to include the projects as part of the summer session at Sahuarita High School.

Watch the Sahuarita TABY project video.

Day to Night

The latest TABY project is also the biggest. The Town of Oro Valley unveiled “Day to Night,” twin murals on Tangerine just east of La Cañada Drive. Each mural is over 200 feet long and depicts the Sonoran Desert going from day to night, with the mural background beginning in bright yellows and gradually the colors shift to oranges and reds and then to blues and purples.

“It is great to be part of something that you imagine in your mind and then, to see it come to fruition physically, has to be so gratifying,” said Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield. “Of course, this is an art piece that will be here for many decades to come.”

Painted wall mural of a gila monster.
Students in Oro Valley painted a wall and adorned it with mosaic tiles to illustrate desert scenes.

On the south side of the road are the real highlights, including the signature 56-foot, hand-fired mosaic glass and tile Gila Monster. With a mix of textured tiles and glass beads, the mosaic was designed to mimic the feel of an actual Gila monster and intended to be tactile. Over 1,000 tiles were glazed, fired and then broken to be used on the mosaic.

The piece incorporates QR codes that allow the viewer to read more about the piece or listen to audio clips that explain the artists’ intent.

The students also created ceramic tile benches, mosaic flowers and reflective scorpions which appear to glow when illuminated by headlights, and hand-crafted clay versions of the night-blooming cereus flower, which bloom once a year for a single night.

“Many people in this town appreciate the whimsical aspect of it, and the love for our wildlife and sunsets were unanimous,” said student artist Kat Trahan.

Once the 11 students were selected, the project came together quickly. They began working with teaching artists Angie Hitt and Ignacio Garcia in June to research public art, talk to residents to learn what they like about living in Oro Valley and then present the designs to the Oro Valley town officials. The project was completed in July.

Watch the Oro Valley TABY project video.