On August 3, 2020, artists Ernesto Ybarra and Xilam Bilam will begin their two-week transformation of the West Side’s iconic Gateway Pedestrian Bridge (also commonly called the “Girl Scout Bridge”), which provides a safe pedestrian crossing on Delos Street over Robert Street on the West Side of St. Paul.
Ybarra, born and raised on the West Side, and his cousin Bilam, a St. Paul-based artist, will create a mural, commissioned by West Side Community Organization, that celebrates the history, culture, and people of the West Side, connecting past and future generations.
PLEASE NOTE: During the mural installation, Robert Street will be reduced to one lane of traffic.
As a child, Ernesto Ybarra could see the West Side’s Gateway Pedestrian Bridge from his family’s apartment. He played there, riding his tricycle, while his grandma watched from the window. Now, decades later, he’s part of a project to create a mural, commissioned by the West Side Community Organization (WSCO), that celebrates the history, culture, and people of the West Side, connecting past and future generations.
Ybarra, and his cousin, fellow artist Xilam Balam, will start the two-week transformation of the bridge today, August 3. The bridge (also commonly called Girl Scout Bridge), provides a safe pedestrian crossing on Delos Street over Robert Street in St. Paul.
Ybarra and Balam will cover the existing mural, created more than two decades ago, with bright colors and graphic text that welcomes passersby to the West Side in multiple languages. The mural will pay tribute to the diverse communities that have called the West Side home – from the Dakota people, to Jewish and Mexican immigrants, and others that followed.
“Art is about more than making something aesthetically pleasing,” Ybarra says. “There’s pride attached to it. This is our home. This mural is going to be a direct reflection of the West Side and all of its people.”
Though the West Side was once home to some of the most striking and colorful murals in St. Paul, Balam is worried that they’re quickly disappearing. “One of our main intentions with this project is to rejuvenate the West Side’s mural tradition,” Balam says.
Funding for the project is provided by the Department of Planning and Economic Development’s Commercial Vitality Zone program for the West Side’s District del Sol, and WSCO funds. This project is a collaboration of WSCO, the artists, and the City of St. Paul’s Ward 2 City Council office.
“We know that art represents and reinforces our collective identity as West Siders,” Monica Bravo, WSCO Executive Director, explains. “That’s why we’re incredibly excited that this project – years in the making – is finally underway.”
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Their work at the West Side Gateway Bridge will be the third mural installation Ybarra and Balam Ybarra have undertaken together. “I wouldn’t be the artist I am without Xilam,” says Ybarra. “He’s my best friend.” Ybarra says the mural is dedicated to his grandmother and to his son and daughter, whom he calls “the sun and the moon.”
Ernesto is an American kid who grew up in a Mexican household, the eldest of five siblings. Born and raised on the West Side of St. Paul, he’s a self-taught painter with a vibrant style developed over the past 18 years. He’s inspired by the lack of color rules in Mexican art and his time spent living in California, New Mexico, and Seattle, where he sells his artwork at the world-famous Pike Place Market. Other influences include things he’s learned about life as a son, grandson, brother, father and colleague. See Ernesto’s work at www.ernestoybarra.com.
Xilam is a St. Paul based visual artist, ceramicist, and musician working in a broad spectrum of mediums from airbrush to stone jewelry, graphic design, ceramics, glass mosaic, clay flutes & music. Born in San Antonio,Texas, Balam's Xicano identity is at the center of all his art forms. He’s spent the last 20 years studying Maya and Mexica glyphs and is individual in his stylized epigraphy drawings. Balam's music can be found with Rhymesayers Entertainment and Fifth Element Online as Los Nativos, and as Auddio Draggon with St. Paul veteren hip hop artist, Mr. Gene Poole. See Xilam’s work at https://www.mnartists.org/xilam-balam.