Minneapolis artist spreads joy through her murals

There are a few murals around Minneapolis, but Tammy Ortegon’s paintings have a personality to them that makes them quite inviting and unique. When you first meet the artist, you just know she was one of those passionate kids who could always paint. Her creative spirit shines through in everything she does.

Tammy Ortegon is an artist from Minneapolis who is known for the murals she has painted throughout the Twin Cities area. Photo by Caryl Hunter

Tammy Ortegon is an artist from Minneapolis who is known for the murals she has painted throughout the Twin Cities area. Photo by Caryl Hunter

Besides owning a shop in South Minneapolis, Ortegon is known for the murals she has painted around the Twin Cities. “I love public art. It’s accessible to everyone,” she said. “I love driving by and seeing art – it isn’t expected.”

One of the things Ortegon is most proud of is that the murals were actually group projects completed with the kids in the community. The first mural she was commissioned to do is on the corner of Cedar Avenue and 34th Street in Minneapolis, on the side of the Corcoran Neighborhood Center. Ortegon taught six weeks of classes to the kids prior to working on the mural with them. The collaboration with the kids made it special – and the mural reflects what’s important to the kids in their community. Favorite things from their area, along with the kids themselves, are incorporated into the mural, giving it a personalized connection to the families who live there. The mural in the Corcoran neighborhood has a particularly sweet meaning for Ortegon. “In that neighborhood, the kids have more obstacles, and they have to be stronger to resist temptations,” said Ortegon. “We talked about those struggles and being true to yourself. The kids would always hang out in the park. It’s a resource for them.”

When Ortegon painted the mural on Peter Pan Cleaners on the corner of Grand Avenue and 38th Street, she noticed a contrast in the two neighborhoods. “The kids had more comforts and support in the Grand area,” Ortegon said. The enthusiasm was the same, however, and the final product was just as beautiful. It’s obvious it isn’t about the money for the artist – there is little money in doing these works of art, and it’s very time-consuming. On top of working a full-time job, and taking care of her own family, it truly is about working with the kids for Ortegon, and leaving a lasting impression in the neighborhood.

Working on murals includes a lot of painting high up on ladders, and being able to paint to a scale most of us wouldn’t have any idea how to do. In the end, beautiful art covers a once plain wall with a rich and bright heritage. “I always want to do art that affects the local community. We are all connected. When you live as an artist – and I live art – everything we do makes a difference. My art should uplift everyone,” said Ortegon.

One of the unique murals from artist, Tammy Ortegon. Photo by Caryl Hunter

One of the unique murals from artist, Tammy Ortegon. Photo by Caryl Hunter

Ortegon’s murals not only beautify buildings and leave art for people to see publicly, they tell a tale of the neighborhood where they were created: the kids and their smiles, their input, and the places and activities they enjoy. In this, Ortegon’s murals are truly special. It not only engages the youth of the area, it adds color and art to the neighborhood.

In the Twin Cities, a lot of people know Ortegon’s artwork by her colorful paints and signature faces. Different cultures and places, as well as the influence of her own city, inspires her art, and makes it rich and interesting. As with many artists, it took a long time for Ortegon to be confident in her work. Artists usually don’t earn the title of “artist” until they are successful on society’s terms.“Until you make money, you’re not an artist,” she said. “It took me years to know I was an artist and like my art.”

She attributes a lot of what she does to her mother and her grandmother. “They didn’t have the privilege to be an artist. My grandma would put her drawings in a box under her bed,” said Ortegon. “I have privilege now because of the women who went before me. Women just did things to help their family then – or their art was considered to be ‘crafts.’”

“The most important part of the murals was working with the community,” said Ortegon. “It stays there when I’m gone.” And in that, it’s indeed very public art, whether you’re driving by or you live in the area. The murals are left to be enjoyed by each generation in remembrance of the artist…and the kids who inspired her. When all’s said and done, the buildings are beautifully covered with a story that can be read for years.