Drake alumnus reflects on diversity in Des Moines community through new mural

When Drake University alumnus Ryan Topete was commissioned by community resource and art center Third Space DSM to create a mural on the east side of Des Moines, he set out to evoke the culture of the neighborhood in a way that the whole community could enjoy.

“The Capitol Park neighborhood is roughly 40% Hispanic,” says Topete. “I wanted my mural to reflect that demographic without alienating others.”

Completed in November, Topete’s mural can be found on the side of Shop ‘n Save at 1372 E. 14th St. in Des Moines. The design was inspired by the patterns of serape garments from Mexico, Central America, and South America, which commonly feature varied parallel lines of color. Topete chose this design after finding some ponchos that his father brought with him when he migrated from Mexico to the United States.

“I thought about what these textiles are used for,” says Topete. “They provide warmth, shelter from the rain, and are sold to make a living. I wanted the mural to convey these same aspects, a visual shelter for all in the neighborhood to utilize, regardless of their ethnic background.”

After selecting the design, Topete set to work scaling up his 17.5-inch long preliminary sketch to fit the 37-foot long wall. He selected 25 colors of spray paint, a familiar medium from his experiences earning a bachelor’s of fine arts in painting from Drake.

Topete hopes the mural will spark thought about the deeper meaning of the design, and the community it represents.

“I want it to be a visual oasis that anyone can visit,” says Topete. “I want people to see this pattern for more than it appears—to examine something that is directly tied to their culture, or others’ culture, and see the beauty in it.”