“It can’t be done. It won’t work.” That’s what everyone said. But when 17-year-old Tanya Fisher took a courageous stand against an embarrassing “eyesore” in her community of Laramie, Wyoming, she made it work.
A huge retaining wall (100 feet long and 22 feet high) covered with graffiti stood at the intersection of two of the busiest streets in the city. Many efforts had been made by the city council to eradicate the graffiti. They had tried painting over it with white wash. But that encouraged youthful street artists to write on it again. Then the city council spent lots of money to have large streetlights installed hoping to deter the activity. All that did was give the artists more light to work by. It seemed to be a losing battle.
One day Tanya and her mother were chatting at the kitchen table when Tanya came up with the idea to paint a giant mural on that embarrassing retaining wall. She thought it would be a great project for the student council of Laramie High School. An ambitious idea was born that day, but to bring it to full maturity took a lot of time and energy.
Tanya fought opposition everywhere, especially with her peers. They said it wouldn’t work, that graffiti would cover the drawings immediately. But Tanya didn’t give up. During the summer of 1988 Tanya visited Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her family. She contacted the Anti-Graffiti Network there and gathered more information. She took pictures of a wall that had been partially painted with a mural. Interestingly enough, there was graffiti all over the unpainted part of the wall. But the mural was left untouched. This gave her hope.
After much research Tanya’s first step was to present her idea to the student council at Laramie High School. It took a written proposal and some tall talking, but she finally won their support. The second step was to get the city council’s approval. Surprisingly, she was met with enthusiasm by both the council and the mayor, and the project took hold in the summer of 1989. It had taken more than a year to get to this point.
Ryan Fulton, a counselor at Laramie High School who became the sponsor of the project, said of Tanya, “That girl ramrodded the project and spent her time researching possibilities from other walls in other cities. She wasn’t afraid to present her ideas to the city council. That’s something for a high school student.”
The theme of the mural represents the three educational institutions of the community: Laramie High School, Wyoming Technical Institute, and the University of Wyoming. It was decided that there would be no advertising involved and neither the names of the schools nor the artists would appear anywhere in the drawings. Logos of the institutions are depicted in a kind of “new wave” art according to Tanya.
With about a dozen students from the high school and another dozen from the tech school, Tanya launched her project. John Kearnes, a Wyoming Tech student, was very helpful in the design and drawing of the mural.
Tanya had already met many challenges, but as the project began she found there were many more ahead. While the paint was still wet, rain washed away the first base coat. Hail ruined the surface in places another time. Tanya described the problems with the size of the wall. “There are 29 sections, only four where you can really stand. To get to the rest of it, we had to tie ropes around our waists and hang down the wall while we put in the measurements, did the sketching and the painting.” Over 600 man-hours were spent on this project. And Tanya personally contributed 87 hours. She also used this as her Young Women values project in the Laramie First Ward, Laramie Wyoming Stake.
Tanya’s mother Darlene Fisher, says, “Months have gone by and the wall is still fine. The whole city is proud of it. My husband (Monte Fisher) and I overhear people talking about the wall, and they don’t know we’re the parents of the girl who spearheaded the project. It makes us feel so good.”
What about upkeep on this huge project? The senior class of Laramie High School has formed a committee from the student council to provide maintenance on the wall. And the city council donates the paint.
Tanya said, “Everyone said it can’t work. But I said ‘Yes it can. If it can work in Boston and Chicago, it can work in a small town like Laramie.’” And it did! One young, determined girl, with a sense of community commitment, proved it.