Artivism spreads through the walls and streets of Santa Cruz

While 19 murals were erected around Santa Cruz last month, Bridget Lyons was keen to visit each one. She took photos of blank walls before artists started working and helped bring food to teams across town. A member of the town’s Arts Commission, Lyons watched a project unfold that she had helped approve months earlier.

“It was an easy decision for a number of reasons,” she says. The project, called Sea Walls Santa Cruz, was organized by PangeaSeed, an international foundation working on public art installations in coastal cities around the world.

“In their proposal, they showed evidence of having been able to organize events of this size before,” Lyons explains. “And they also showed a clear commitment to marine health issues and ocean defense issues. And that for them it was absolutely an artistic event and an art festival, but it was also something called artivism, or activism through art.

While certainly the largest, the Sea Walls Project isn’t the only recent Artivism project in Santa Cruz. Environmental organizations of all sizes are getting creative.

A drop in the ocean

For the Sea Walls project, “the proposal included ideas such as taking artists on field trips to learn about specific ocean issues in the Santa Cruz area, integrating local communities and local schoolchildren. Explains Lyons.

The foundation brought in artists from across the country and partnered with local artist collective Made Fresh Crew. Taylor Reinhold, the founder of Made Fresh Crew, worked with PangeaSeed for about two and a half years to bring the concept to life.

“This is the largest beautification project in the history of Santa Cruz,” he says, adding that due to external funding, “the city has essentially spent what a mural would normally cost for get 20 murals ”.

The organizers also tried to minimize their impact by using eco-friendly paint. All of the artists who worked with bucket paint, instead of something like spray paint, used recycled latex paint called Smog Armor. The Florida-based company claims that a mineral formulation in the paint also captures carbon.

“We’re excited to be able to not only create murals that serve as environmental education tools, but also act as carbon sinks,” said Akira Biondo, COO of PangeaSeed. It is not clear how effective these “sinks” will be, but the murals are now shining tributes to ocean conservation.

Go around the drain

In another recent project, local artists partnered with communities and the Coastal Watershed Council to paint murals on storm sewers along the San Lorenzo River. Everyone raises awareness of the importance of watershed health.

Starting in 2017, the Coastal Watershed Council began organizing community meetings in beach apartments and neighborhoods along the river. The group wanted to know what people liked about their area and what they wanted to improve.

The most common feedback was the desire for more community gatherings, less garbage, and more public art. The council decided to meet the demands with storm sewer murals.

“They would bring people together to design and install them. They would increase public awareness of stormwater pollution and how garbage and wastes move from our communities to our waterways. And they would bring that public art component, ”says Laurie Egan, program director for the Coastal Watershed Council.

After the first murals were erected in Beach Flats Park and Felker and Pryce streets, residents requested another in Poet’s Park.

So local artist and community organizer Irene Juarez O’Connell began working with the neighborhood to design a new piece.

“A few months before the installation, we laid a bunch of paper on the ground around the storm drain and put markers and invited the community to draw directly on the ground,” she says.

When it came time to paint, Juarez O’Connell again invited the public to participate.

“It’s very sweet, because some of the kids are able to say, ‘Look, I painted this turtle’ or ‘This is my butterfly’. And they’re excited about it, and they own it, ”she said.

Creative flow

The Poets Park fresco highlights the native species that live along the San Lorenzo River. Gumweed, California rose, coho salmon and other important species dot the room. In the center, Juarez O’Connell painted Awaswas’ original name for the coastal area of ​​Santa Cruz: Aulintak. It means “place of red abalone,” she explains.

“The reason I chose to include the indigenous name of Santa Cruz is to honor the importance of indigenous stewardship in protecting and preserving not only our waterways, but the whole. our ecosystem and our landscape, ”she says. “This is a big part of the solution to the climate catastrophe.”

Juarez O’Connell considers herself an “Artivist”. She feels motivated by the power that art has to change culture. And she expects those culture shifts to shape politics in the future.

“I believe art is one of the many ways we can communicate our vision of what’s possible,” she says. “It’s also a way for us to take into account what is present.

His new storm sewer wall mural is suitable for people of all ages.

“We were able to continue this education and awareness with the kids who helped design it and their classmates by taking field trips from Bay View Elementary to get to the storm sewers themselves, see the murals and follow the path of a raindrop. would, ”says Egan of the Coastal Watershed Council.

The Coastal Watershed Council carefully considered sealants and environmental concerns for murals before starting projects. In light of the early successes, the group now plans to create a formal program across the City. This would allow any neighborhood to install its own storm sewer wall.

Trash can to cherish

Artivism doesn’t just take the form of murals. The local nonprofit Save Our Shores is currently calling for entries for two ocean-related art competitions.

The organization has been running an annual Marine Protected Area (MPA) photo and video competition, called the Waves and Wildlife Exhibition, since 2016. It challenges people to enjoy and capture interesting moments in the many Local MPAs.

Entrants must submit their entries by the end of the day on October 23 to be eligible for the prizes. The group will host a virtual awards ceremony on November 5th.

Save Our Shores has also created a new plastic pollution art competition. The competition was born out of a larger sustainable development campaign.

“We had decided to start this petition to try to get all municipalities in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties to move away from all single-use plastic beverage bottles,” says Gail McNulty, communications manager for Save Our Shores.

The pandemic delayed those plans, but it did not completely abandon them. Save Our Shores hopes to use some of the contest entries to promote the petition.

The association welcomes entries of all ages. The art should include recycled plastic drink bottles and highlight the effects of single-use plastics on the ocean. Submissions will close on November 3.

“Art has enormous potential for change,” says McNulty. “The visual can have an impact that resonates more directly and in a more memorable way with people than the data. “

The groups hope that inviting the community to participate directly in Artivism will further develop this personal connection with environmental stewardship.

For more information on the Plastic Pollution Contest and Waves and Fauna Exhibit, visit For more information on the Sea Walls Santa Cruz initiative, visit For more information on storm sewer murals, visit

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Margarita B. Bittner

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