By The Jams (Jessica Carmen and Augie WK), CWC Artists-in-Residence
We love public art because of how it allows us to connect with communities, both like and unlike our own. As we kicked off our yearlong artist residency with the Coastal Watershed Council, we wanted to start by giving something to the Beach Flats community, which borders the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and is a focus of engagement for our grant from the Central Coast Creative Corps. While taking a tour of the Beach Flats with the CWC team, we noticed the Salazar Produce truck parked in the heart of the neighborhood, which often functions as a hub of community activity. We learned Salazar Produce has served the community for around 20 years, and their truck seemed like a perfect project to infuse public art into the everyday lives of the locals.
Once the receptive owners gave us the go-ahead to paint all three sides of the truck, we started drafting up some designs. Jessica thought to center the main design around hummingbirds, or colibri, which are sacred to indigenous communities. Hummingbirds are believed to be messengers of joy, hope, and luck sent straight from the gods. They’re admired for their beauty, and one feels blessed to have been visited by one closely, even if just for a moment. They are also excellent pollinators, and utilize those long beaks to drink nectar from their favorite bright-colored flowers. Hummingbirds are an important inhabitant of healthy ecosystems in the Americas, with the majority of all hummingbird species living in Central and South America – and they are also frequently spotted along the San Lorenzo River. So this tiny bird’s beauty has been a thing of legend, they have a charisma about them, and they are contributors to their community!
Augie loves to let colors speak boldly in his work. Together, we created a mural design showing two male Anna’s hummingbirds, and one female (the bird on the far right of the design with more green features) on their journey from one side of the San Lorenzo River to the other. They are spreading a magical, pink glow along the way that represents the process of pollination and the sort of “blessings” that the mystical birds leave on their wake. We hope this mural helps people connect with nature around them in a positive light.
On the opposite side of the truck, we painted some lettering signage for the produce business at the owners’ request. And the cherry on top of this project for us was designing a third mural for the truck’s roll-up door at the back. Community members were excited to see the plain white truck transformed by the art painted on it. “Paint all the sides! Put ‘Beach Flats’ somewhere!” someone suggested to us. We wanted to paint something to represent the Beach Flats community’s pride of place. Some bright colorful letters to boldly state who they are. So we created a unique, spontaneous “Beach Flats” lettering design that we hope is as original and vibrant as the Beach Flats community itself.
We saw this project as an opportunity to introduce ourselves and engage with The Beach Flats residents, so we set out to meet community members where they were – at home. We hoped their curiosity and love for their neighborhood would encourage people to come out to talk to us as we painted at the corner of Kaye Street and Park Place. And it worked. From babies with the longest lashes to little boys playing swords with fallen tree branches, from to the unofficial neighborhood watch and sanitation crew to the Tias of the vecindad, they all came out and told us their stories. Stories of how long they’d been in the community, how it’s changed, what their wishes are for the art projects we hope to create, their fears for the future and, finally, an invitation to join their community as artists. Art bridges the gap between people, and we are grateful for the community’s embrace of us, and for what is yet to come.
We had a blast connecting with everyone who watched us paint and stopped to chat, smile, or offer a high-five. We envision our residency including a “lot of little” art projects and events that build up to some larger events and public art. Our goal is to highlight the health, beauty, and importance of the San Lorenzo River through art, while showing the community we are here to interpret their hopes and dreams, fears and realities in the form of public art – and provide fun opportuniites for them to create something themselves. The produce truck is the first of many public art pieces that The Jams and CWC look forward to sharing with you all!
The Jams’ artist residency is supported by a grant from the Central Coast Creative Corps, a project of the Arts Councils of Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and San Benito Counties, as well as the Santa Barbara Office of Arts and Culture, which is funded by the California Arts Council.