DENVER — Take the roar of Interstate 70 traffic and shaking steel girders overhead, add the rolling procession of oil trains nearby, and you have one very high-decibel emerging art scene in north Denver.
A group of artists are painting colorful murals beneath the Interstate 70 viaduct that, when built in 1964, sectioned off the immigrant and minority communities of Globeville and Elyria Swansea from downtown Denver.
Their goal: Make a dark, deteriorating and don’t-go-there stretch of viaduct a place to attract residents from both sides of the highway and ameliorate, somewhat, the cultural and economic disparities triggered by its construction 52 years ago.
“This is really an opportunity to transform this into a work of beauty for its remaining years before we demolish it,” Rebecca White, with the Colorado Department of Transportation, said Friday.
After years of study and pending federal approval, authorities plan to sink the interstate below ground level and build parks over sections of the road. The work is meant to relieve congestion on one of the busiest stretches of highway in Colorado as well as reunite separated neighborhoods.
East European immigrants settled Globeville and Elyria Swansea in the 1880s to work in railroad yards, metals smelting and other industries. Interstate 70’s construction virtually isolated the area from the rest of the city.
Economically, the area’s 10,000 predominantly Latino and black residents lack stores and services and have higher poverty rates than the rest of the city — a phenomenon seen in major cities nationwide when interstates were built through minority communities.
Thomas Scharfenberg knelt Friday on a sidewalk, painting a wall mural dominated by blues and yellows. He marveled at the industrially austere setting and the din.
“You can see they are cleaning up a bunch of pigeon residue over here, a train just went by that’s really loud, this is a dog food factory,” he said, pointing around. “We’re underneath a highway, so it’s just a really interesting landscape.”