In February of 2017, Robbie Schoen, one of the most tireless advocates for the Santa Cruz visual-arts community, experienced a massive stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side.
Now, more than two years later, Schoen wants the arts community that supported him in the aftermath to know that he’s still very much involved in creative endeavors.
“I am healing,” says Schoen in a phone interview. “That’s the truth. I’m really starting to function again.”
On Friday, June 14, Schoen will mark his 61st birthday with a public celebration at the Felix Kulpa Gallery, the Santa Cruz art space that he managed and curated for more than a decade.
The event (5-9 p.m.), will feature barbecue, live music and plenty of good cheer to Schoen, who will be on hand with all the past and current directors of the Kulpa, including Robert Fallon, Michael Leeds and Mary Kopp.
Besides managing the Kulpa, Schoen was exhibit designer at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz. And he was a working artist as well—in his heyday as a conceptual artist, he would often fashion guitars from a wide variety of found objects, including toilet seats and satellite dishes.
The stroke, which struck the right side of his brain, was devastating, and he was sedated for weeks afterwards. At first, the extent of the neurological damage was unclear. With intense speech and physical therapy, Schoen gradually began to regain language and memory function.
“He needed caregivers around the clock for quite some time,” says his uncle Ralph Meyberg. “But as he’s improved and his physical motor function has improved, he’s been able to cut back a bit on his caregiving.”
Though his left side remains paralyzed, Schoen has made progress in re-learning to stand and walk with a cane. “Every step is literally a step forward in his progress,” says Meyberg.
As for the future, Schoen says he’s focused on regaining even more motor skills, and picking up his artistic pursuits, which now include writing and making small art works from photographs. He would also love to contribute again at the MAH.
“I plan on keeping busy,” he says. “But I have to get able-bodied. There are still parts (of my body) I’m waiting to work again. But it is nice to be back.”
Robbie Schoen’s 61st birthday will be celebrated at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 14 at Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz. Featuring live guitar music by Fixion Music. Free.