Beach Flats residents vent over the loss of a mural, but is the city to blame?
First installed 21 years ago, the Beach Flats Community Mural featured snapshots of Latino families, and a balance between everyday life and the surreal.
Two weeks ago, the mural was painted over by the city of Santa Cruz, with plans to have a different one installed in its place a week later. But today, those plans are at a standstill.
While city staff say they went above and beyond the call of duty to work with the community, neighborhood residents like Reyna Ruiz, former director at the Beach Flats Community Center, are expressing frustration over the loss of their mural, and say they felt out of the loop in the decision-making process. It’s unclear at this point when the communication breakdown happened, or where to go from here.
“I thought that the neighborhood would have been invited to that conversation about their public space and about the mural that was there, because it’s not just a decoration on a wall,” says Ruiz. “The neighborhood as a whole never had an opportunity in a public forum to even talk about that first question—what do you want to do with the mural?”
Shortly before the mural got painted over, Ruiz made several frustrated Facebook posts about the art piece she loved. Her posts created a groundswell of concern culminating in a weekend meeting at Beach Flats Park with residents, two city councilmembers and city manager Martín Bernal.
The sudden opposition blindsided city staff. City spokesperson Keith Sterling says the city tried to make the community part of the discussion and had put out fliers in the neighborhood a year ago, informing the residents that workers would be painting a new mural over the old one. They received no opposition from residents at the time.
“Anytime there’s going to be a significant change like this, we want people to know about it,” says Sterling. “We take steps to try and reach as many people as we can. That’s what we do. It’s always hard to reach everyone. But we did do the fliers.”
Ruiz does not recall any outreach efforts a year ago, and says residents she’s spoken with don’t either. She was aware that something needed to happen with the mural—it was in disrepair—but she figured the city would hold a public forum before making any final decisions.
“The way this mural came to be, there was a big ceremony to welcome it,” says Ruiz, who now works as program director for Barrios Unidos. “There wasn’t even any goodbye. The important thing about that mural is that it is a work of art that has Latino content in a public space. I didn’t think it would ever get taken away. [These are] the kind of things you take for granted.”
The new mural’s artist, Mariah Roberts, feels stuck in the middle. She had collaborated with about 100 members of the Beach Flats neighborhood—a lot of them children—to design the new mural, which is already finished and ready to install. Now she is trying to stay out of the fray and just wants staff and residents to sort everything out before they use her mural—assuming using her mural is even what people want at this point. She does hope her piece finds a home somewhere in the Beach Flats.
“I believe public space and public art can offer opportunity, no matter how difficult, to have necessary public conversation,” Roberts wrote in an email to the city council and arts commission. “I am hopeful that we can find common ground where all feel respected, reflected and involved.”
Sterling, who began working for the city last month, says the reason staff did not preserve the original mural was that the grant they received from the Mural Matching Grant Program only supported installing a new mural—not fixing an existing one—and the artist has to be on its approved list, as Roberts is.
“There are no closed doors, no final decisions. We want to make sure the community is fully engaged and on board with what we’re doing,” says Sterling. “I think when they see the outreach that’s been done, we’re hoping that they’ll see that we really have made an effort. If they have more concerns and they want us to re-evaluate, we’re certainly going to listen to that to see what we can do within the restraints of the funding grant that we have. This is something we intend to be in the community for a very long time.”
Ruiz doesn’t believe the Mural Matching Grant Program is a good enough reason to arrive at a decision for a community mural.
“I think it’s up to the neighborhood,” Ruiz says. “We have to come up with a resolution that is more inclusive. Nothing is off the table.”