Organizations join forces to bring public art to the Tannery and San Lorenzo River
On a sunny Sunday afternoon inside the art room of Mission Hill Middle School, children in safety gear pulverize small ceramic tiles with hammers, looking around as if they’re surprised to get away with it. Adults at the surrounding tables meticulously place the tiny tesserae, or mosaic pieces, onto sheets of sticky translucent plastic. Colorful pictures of what will be three separate mosaics are fastened on the art room’s walls.
Among the sounds of smashing ceramic and the laughter of volunteers, Mission Hill Middle School art teacher Kathleen Crocetti gives guidance and praise.
This is one of many community builds Crocetti and others have organized as part of the Ebb and Flow River Arts Project, an initiative which she and an amalgam of local artists and organizations hope will transform the way that people view and interact with the Tannery Arts Center and the San Lorenzo River.
“The river is a potential economic driver for our town, and we’ve turned our backs on it, and let it go to waste,” says Crocetti. “I love that there’s this big confluence of people that are really interested in enlivening the river and making it more accessible and desirable for everybody.”
The Ebb and Flow Project consists of three elements geared toward bringing the community together through art: the Ebb and Flow sculpture, which will serve as a welcoming structure on the Tannery Arts Center Campus, the Santa Cruz River Artwalk, a series of 10 temporary art pieces along the San Lorenzo River, and the Kinetic Sculpture Parade and River Arts Celebration, which takes place on June 6.
When the California Arts Council (CAC) announced that it would distribute more than $1 million in grants through its Creative California Communities program, the Art Council’s Michelle Williams gathered a brain trust of community leaders from city government, the Tannery Arts Center, and the Coastal Watershed Council, among others, to develop a project that met the program’s goals.
The CAC awarded $50,000 for the project, and the city of Santa Cruz Economic Development Department gave an additional $25,000. After a series of community meetings to gain public input, the Ebb and Flow was off and running.
Crocetti and mixed-media artist Anna Oneglia have taken the reins of the permanent Ebb and Flow sculpture, which will consist of the three nature-inspired mosaics currently under construction at the community builds.
The mosaics will include fish, birds, water and trees, and encircle three large concrete planters at the Tannery Arts Center, which sits on the river. The planters will hold 18-foot-tall metal trees made from recycled farming equipment. The massive metal trees will be adorned with colorful glass medallions depicting images chosen by the public.
Ebb and Flow organizers handpicked 10 projects proposed by local artists that will go on temporary display along the river levee for the month of June. Each project differs in medium and scope, but all have one goal in common—drawing the attention of Santa Cruz citizens back to the San Lorenzo River.
Looking at the waterway in its current state, it can be difficult to imagine a time when people could be found fishing and swimming in the San Lorenzo River. But Ebb and Flow artists like Geoffrey Nelson will attempt to bring images of the river’s past back to life.
Nelson’s project, “Guardians of the River,” will consist of electroluminescent effigies of an Ohlone man and woman, which will keep a month-long watch on the pedestrian bridge near Highway 1.
“They’ll glow from the inside, and they’ll change color,” says Nelson.
A photographer for more than 30 years, Nelson discovered an interest in sculpting human forms through his work creating light-laden costumes for Burning Man.
“I started to play with lights just for outfits for a long time,” says Nelson. “Then a friend of mine wanted to do a lit-up statue, and since then I’ve moved to the statues rather than outfits or costumes. And when you decorate them with light, people are just mesmerized because they’re these glowing human beings.”
Nelson has always been drawn to the history of Native Americans, which he studied in college, and while brainstorming for his project, he thought of the Ohlone people who once inhabited the area.
Local SPECTRA art teacher Linda Cover’s “Creature Banners” project will provide a lighthearted educational component to the Ebb and Flow Artwalk. The four double-sided banners will feature eight drawings of local wildlife like raccoons, skunks, and great blue herons drawn by her students.
“I think it will soften the image of the levee because it’s children’s art,” says Cover. “It’s extremely sweet, and funny, even—whimsical at the very least. I think it will take the edge off what is seen as a challenging area, and that’s what this is all about.”
Cover envisions her students and their families beaming proud smiles when the banners go up for all to see this summer.
“It’s not just something on grandma’s refrigerator anymore,” says Cover. “It’s truly taken seriously, and the kids feel like they’re part of the community. I think that will be the most rewarding part: when the kids come and see their work out there, and I think it will also make a huge difference in the way whole groups of people view the river and the watershed.”
Beth Ragel, arts program manager with the city of Santa Cruz, has been on board with the Ebb and Flow Project since she was hired by the city over the summer, and has high hopes for the summer project—she’s already planning its sequel.
Educating the Santa Cruz public about the environmental aspects of the river is a full-time job for the Coastal Watershed Council’s (CWC) Stewardship Coordinator, Laurie Egan. She and others at the CWC became a part of the Ebb and Flow project from the onset as the Arts Council Santa Cruz County and the CWC are both members of the San Lorenzo River Alliance.
“One of the things that the San Lorenzo River Alliance and the Coastal Watershed Council is trying to do is to get people excited about the San Lorenzo River and increase people’s water literacy,” says Egan. “That means getting people to realize that if you live in the city of Santa Cruz, the majority of your drinking water comes from the San Lorenzo. We can hammer that fact home over and over, but another way to do it is to approach it from a different perspective—an arts perspective.”
LAYING IT DOWN Artist Kathleen Crocetti pieces together tesserae for a mosaic that will highlight the San Lorenzo River’s place in Santa Cruz. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER