DENVER (CBS4)Carlos Fresquez has achieved a lifelong goal to give back to his community after decades of exhibiting his work around the world, his contributions as an artist and educator will be celebrated next month by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.

“It was that moment when a light bulb went on, what is this magic?” remembers Fresquez, 61 about using paint as a child and watching primary colors blend into orange and green. “I want to make this magic forever.”

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Carlos Fresquez (credit: CBS)

His mother tells him that he was as young as 3 years old when he made a collage at home. His family not only allowed him to explore the arts on his own but also gave him opportunities to see incredible pieces during road trips to California and Mexico. Fresquez graduated from Lincoln High School in Denver and eventually got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He says it took nine years after college to become a full-time artist so he could support himself.

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“I told myself if I can make it as an artist, I’m going to give back to my community,” he said.

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Fresquez has devoted much of his time to murals. He says seeing them in Mexico planted a seed in him about the power of that platform to express your ideas as art.

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“A wall with a tongue, it’s speaking, it has something to say,” he said. “It really is a gift by an artist that made something to give back.”

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The Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has given out the Artist Award annually for the past 33 years. Fresquez will receive the honor in June at an event celebrating his achievements along with two other award winners in different categories. The honor comes with a cash prize of $35,000.

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Gary Steuer (credit: CBS)

“He’s had an incredible impact as a muralist,” said Gary Steuer, President and CEO of the foundation. “A Denver artist who has made an extraordinary difference in our cultural community both as an artist and as an educator.”

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Steuer says Fresquez keeps in the tradition of Mexican muralists of the past. His work has looked at culture in Denver and focused on the impact of the Chicano community in the city. Besides murals, he has also created paintings, collages, and designed theater sets. One of the reasons the foundation chose to honor Fresquez was the commitment he has made to both the arts and education. He teaches at Metro State University, where he received his undergraduate degree, becoming a full time professor in 2005.

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“I think it’s rare to find an artist that can both make work that is aesthetically, formally beautiful, you look at it and it’s a beautiful work of art,” said Steuer. “But can also make work that moves you and teaches you something.”

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As an educator, Fresquez appreciates the impact others had on him while he was a student at Lincoln High School. He remembers the challenges of classes at the time and the importance of having the arts to keep him focused on his future.

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“The great teachers I had here that really supported me and encouraged me to go and do more with my artwork,” he said. “If there wasn’t an art program here when I was a student, I’m not sure where I would be.”

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The difference that those instructors had on Fresquez and the inspiration he has provided to current students is part of the reason he is receiving the award from the Foundation. Steuer says their stories only highlight the need to support and encourage arts education.

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“We have to inspire young people about how art can give them hope, how it change their world, how it can help them understand other cultures,” he said. “The arts are so critical to the quality of life in our community.”

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Julieta Vargas is a junior at Lincoln High School. She was one of many students that got to see Fresquez’s work recently at the MSU campus and then create their own piece. She made a digital collage reflecting on her heritage and current home. His story and success has changed her view on a career in the arts.

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Julieta Vargas (credit: CBS)

“The tree is America and my roots are Mexico since that’s where my family is from,” she explained of her project. “His work is really unique and it matches his background.”

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The similarities in their stories leading up to high school has also influenced her view on that procession.

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“I now know anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” she said. “I do want to continue making art and I do want to continue trying to express myself with art.”

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Seeing the next generation continue what he started is part of that lifelong goal and helps Fresquez to keep going as an artist.

“I feel like I’ve been running my career, you’re running, moving forward constantly. I feel like I’m carrying a baton and I just pass it on to the student,” he said. “I’m going to keep running and passing those batons and moving forward.”

LINKS: Bonfils-Stanton Foundation

Carlos Fresquez

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