The Ebb & Flow River Arts Project brings attention to the San Lorenzo River with two days of art celebrations
When Coho salmon die, their bodies decompose and release nutrients back into the water, supplying the algae that feed insects—which in turn, circle back into the stomachs of newborn Coho as their primary food source.
“It’s this wonderful circle of life that they give up their bodies to be able to provide for the next generation,” explains local artist Heidi Cramer, who pays homage to the San Lorenzo River Coho with her sculpture in the Ebb & Flow River Arts Project celebrations starting June 5.
The idea behind Ebb & Flow is to engage locals in celebrating, remembering and revitalizing the river. For months, artists fro
m all different media have been working toward the June 5 debut, which will unveil riverfront sculptures, local film works, an aerial dance off the Soquel Avenue bridge, Bay Area group Bandaloop performing off the Tannery walls, talks on local wildlife and a lighting ceremony.
Creating a cycle of her own, Cramer scavenged local fish markets for Coho parts and mixed them together with silt from the San Lorenzo to make into smaller fish models, as part of her kinetic sculpture for the Ebb & Flow Kinetic Sculpture Parade on June 6. At the end of the parade, she’ll gift the fry back to the San Lorenzo—continuing the nutrient cycle to encourage future growth of the endangered species.
“I thought it was very poetic to take these bodies that were going to be consumed by us and blending them, drying them, mixing them with clay and then offering it back to the river. It’s an exercise for people to feel the joy in giving back to our river—like a rain dance for the return of the next generation of fish.”
According to the 2012-2013 report from the Nature Conservancy’s California Salmon Snapshots, Coho numbers were at a mere 16 for the entire river compared to the “target population” of 3,800.
“They’re the canary in the gold mine, saying that something is terribly wrong,” says Cramer. “We need to pay attention, or the species will be gone forever as a direct result of our interactions with the San Lorenzo and our misuse of this beautiful and natural resource.”
Cramer’s kinetic sculpture features a 4-by-4-foot Coho fish head made of recycled newspaper, flour and water, with its river tail made of colorful fabric to be carried, danced (it’s kinetic, after all) and brought to life by local volunteers. As part of the First Friday Ebb & Flow, volunteers will be invited to put the whole sculpture together in preparation for Saturday’s Kinetic Sculpture Parade along the river to the Tannery, throughout which 10 new temporary sculptures will be unveiled along the waterfront.
Brainchild of Michelle Williams, the Art Council’s director, Ebb & Flow began as a way to get locals reinvested in the river, not only with conservation efforts but also to reclaim it as an enjoyable space.
“The arts can be used to address a lot of the things that go on in our community in a way that brings our community together. We’re a town of uniqueness, but sometimes the uniqueness gets in the way of coming to the table to work on things together, and I think this project has really done that,” says Sally Green, the Development and Communications Director for the Santa Cruz Arts Council which is behind Ebb & Flow.
“I like the idea of, instead of building something new, taking the resources that we have and enhancing them.”
It’s become mostly a foot and bike traffic highway, says Green, and people generally avoid spending too much time near the water because of the negative use it attracts—although having the highest septic system density of any comparable area in the state, according to the County, might have something to do with it too.
“The river runs through the heart of our city but the city has sort of turned its back on it,” says Green.
The current drought is all the more reason to use our local water sources carefully and strategically, says Green—but also enjoy them while they’re still available.
“Maybe when people are washing their hands they’ll think, ‘Oh wow, I’m draining that—draining this home for local birds and fish, it becomes personal,” says Green. “We want the community to own this project as much as we want them to own the river. This is our love letter to the river and to the community.”
As part of the First Friday Ebb & Flow festivities, UCSC Digital Arts and New Media graduate and freelance artist Danielle Williamson will project her short film “Go As a River” under the Soquel Avenue bridge on Friday. It’s a close-up shot of the water with audio of locals sharing their memories of the river floating in and out.
“The whole thing is intended to be played in a public space so that anyone can see it and contemplate not only their own relationship to the river but also to the water supply, to public spaces, and to each other,” says Williamson. “People build around bodies of fresh water to survive; we wouldn’t exist without the river.”
Info: Ebb & Flow begins Friday, June 5, 5 p.m., Cooper St., Santa Cruz. artscouncilsc.org/ebb-flow. PHOTO: Heidi Cramer with her fish head statue for this weekend’s Ebb & Flow celebration. CHIP SCHEUER