Block Fest: Creating a Traveling Mural by Dawn Leigh

Block Fest: Creating a Traveling Mural by Dawn Leigh

Community Visual Art Block Fest participants

Traveling Mural Block Fest participants

Late in the winter of 2016, CounterPulse’s call for artists invited me to their new home in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin.  That evening inspired the idea of a mural created on a collection of canvases made by Block Fest participants. The mural would travel around the Tenderloin and San Francisco as a showcase of collective art-making and community. I’d appropriately name the project the Traveling Mural.

When I got to my studio I put my thoughts into words and produced a quick rough sketch focusing on the Tenderloin’s colorful history, including the Jazz age, Compton Cafeteria and the Punk Scene, to submit to be an Artist Activator at Block Fest. From the beginning, this has been a wonderful public art project experience. The CounterPulse staff has been so supportive, helpful and encouraging throughout the project. Businesses and organizations throughout the Tenderloin got excited about the idea of a Traveling Mural being exhibited in their locations. When I mentioned the project to people they thought “what a cool project to showcase the artistic history of the Tenderloin.”

Within the first four months of 2017, the project took form. The Block Fest date was set, supplies were ordered, the final piece was created as a templet, the grid was created, and fliers were dispersed. Then came the First Friday of March, a warm and bright San Francisco winter day just perfect to generate art on the sidewalk. Throughout the next hour and a half, new chairs were added to host arriving artists to add to the creative process.

As an artist, it was fun to witness the different ways in which my vision meshed with others. What was their creative process? Which grid quadrant did they choose? The chants around the table brought back memories of art classes in my youth. When I handed each of the participants a 5×7-inch print of the inspiration piece as my “Thank You” for adding their talents to the Traveling Mural, they were pleasantly surprised. As the clock struck 4:30pm, 10 out of the 48 canvas were completed.

I learned a lot from the overall project. Anyone that knows me wouldn’t be surprised I took on this ambitious project. The best part was allowing myself to adjust throughout the project and allow my creativity to shine through with flow and ease. It was important to keep my eye on the big picture and remember the underlining theme of connecting to the community through the arts. As I write, we are already scheduling additional opportunities to complete the Traveling Mural so it can begin its next adventure of being admired throughout the city.

Dawn Leigh’s original painting that inspired the Traveling Mural

Dawn Leigh is a contemporary realism artist and Tenderloin resident. View more of her work at

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