Mural artists return to their roots with work at SLCC’s Peace and Justice Garden

The trio behind Roots Arts Kollective are all alumni at Salt Lake Community College.

(Jonny Tollestrup | Globeslcc.com) Luis Novoa, Alan Ochoa and Miguel Galaz — known together as Roots Art Kollective — completed a mural for the new Peace and Justice Garden at Salt Lake Community College's South City Campus. The artists are all SLCC alumni.

This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Salt Lake Community College, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.

Art has been a journey for Luis Novoa, and one part of that journey was a calligraphy course he took at Salt Lake Community College.

Now, years later, Novoa and two of his colleagues have completed a mural for the college’s new Peace and Justice Garden, at SLCC’s South City Campus on Salt Lake City’s State Street. Administrators say they hope the garden will become a place for people to come together to heal from past traumas and build connections.

The artists – Novoa, Alan Ochoa and Miguel Galaz, all former SLCC students – formed the Roots Art Kollective in 2019, based on their shared vision to enrich their community with public art. They say their experiences as Mexican American artists drive their mission to create environments that help people learn about different cultures.

Roots Art Kollective’s works can be found all around the Salt Lake City area: On a Japanese restaurant near downtown, in a people’s garden along Jordan River Parkway, outside a barber shop in the Fairpark neighborhood, on a car repair shop in South Salt Lake (as part of that city’s Mural Fest), and on a Mexican bakery in Kearns, among others. In 2021, the trio created one of the murals for an ongoing exhibition in the great hall of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

The garden’s intention, as a place honoring peace and justice, informed the mural’s design, the artists said.

“Lotus flowers grow in harsh environments, but turn out to be very beautiful,” Novoa said. “That represents that kind of struggle but also the peace that you find there.”

When looking for a color palette, Galaz said they reflected on healing and relaxation. “The color palette ended up being the same as SLCC’s, which was a cool coincidence while designing this piece,” he said.

A main component of the mural is the monarch butterfly, which the trio said is a symbol for migration and rejuvenation — as shown by the butterfly’s migration from northeastern North America to Mexico every autumn.

The mural also features calligraphy on both sides, a connection to Novoa’s past — and the calligraphy class he took at South City Campus.

Novoa said he spent that class “learning those basic structures, and now we’re working on a mural and doing some calligraphy there. … So hopefully it’s received by my calligraphy teacher pretty well.”

The artists said they hope everyone — not just SLCC students, staff and faculty, but local high school students and anyone who has a chance to see it — will appreciate the mural. Novoa said the message they hope to convey with the mural is that, with enough determination, anything is possible.

“There will be a lot of youth walking around there, and hopefully they will find some motivation or inspiration from that,” Novoa said.

The mural is on the north wall of the Peace and Justice Garden on South City Campus. For more information about the Roots Art Kollective, visit the group’s website, RootsArtKollective.com.

Zane Smith wrote this story as a journalism student at Salt Lake Community College. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.