In 2014, the City of Santa Cruz erased (literally white-washed) a 23-year-old mural in the Beach Flats Neighborhood, designed by Victor Cervantes and Enrique Padilla. The removal process of the mural was unclear and unexpected by the community, and served as a blow to those who painted it and grew up around it. The matter resulted in a lawsuit by artist Victor Cervantes. Read about it here and here. 

After a public apology from the City, a more transparent and participatory public art process was enacted by the City to engage residents in the new mural design. During January-March 2016, several community envisioning gatherings were held to receive public input on the new design.

In May 2016, a selection panel comprised of Arts Commissioners, neighborhood residents, and City Council members selected Irene Juárez O’Connell as the artist to direct the new mural project.

On June 29th, the Arts Commission of the City of Santa Cruz approved the design proposed by Irene Juárez O’Connell.

This is the artist’s public statement:

“This mural is being created in honor of all the life that has moved through the place that is now called the Beach Flats Neighborhood–from the multitudes of life that is brought by the River that flows nearby, to the passing of time that has brought generations of cultures and histories to the area. Currently the title is Aprendiendo del Pasado Para Vivir en el Presente, Siempre Hacia Mirando el Futuro // Learning from the Past, Living in the Present, Looking Towards the Future. Woven through the design are sentiments of intergenerational sharing, cultural pluralism, and vibrant growth.

This mural design seeks to create a space for a coming together of community.  This has already begun through the collaborative process of shared storytelling, and will continue to unfold during the painting and celebration process. My intention is that the uplifting, positive images of actual community members– historical and contemporary–be a joyful reflection of life in the neighborhood.  The colors I have chosen are bold and warm, with tones transitioning between soothing and invigorating.

I have chosen to include scenes of Uiyipi, the original name for the Beach Flats area while still inhabited by the Awasawas-speaking Ohlone people. With the exception of this panel and the historically-referenced 19th century panel, the scenes I have hand-drawn come from snapshots and impressions gathered from my personal experiences in the neighborhood over the past 5 years.

The river plays a strong role in the entire piece throughout. This is because the current site of the neighborhood is actually in what once was the river. The symbolism of the river is significant, it is constantly alive, fluctuating with the seasons, connecting the mountains with the sea. Blue Herons float throughout the mural, paying homage to the original Awasawas name for the San Lorenzo River, which meant “place of the great heron.”

Some of the images in this design reflect elements of the previous design of the mural created 25 years ago. This has been done intentionally, out of respect to those who painted it, and to honor the level of response seen from the community in the wake of the mural’s erasure and in the public art process. This includes an image of a woman with child, field laborers, and the Sun Stone, or Calendario Azteca (formally known as the Ancient Mexica Chronological System.) I chose to include this image because of its special significance, not only to people of Mesoamerican descent, but also to the general human experience with the natural world.This system is the culmination of a series of cosmological systems created over hundreds of generations across the continent. The Sun Stone represents the connection we all have to each other, the earth, the cosmos, and beyond.  When interpreted as intended, it can teach us  about the responsibility each of us has to realize our potential in relationship to the earth, and to the people around us. The core teaching is– “treat others as if they were you.” The inclusion of this powerful symbol reminds us of the dreams for harmonious existence with the social and natural worlds around us.

Many images in this piece were directly inspired by photos so graciously shared with me. Others, from memories.

This mural is a positive,collaborative, and community-driven response to an unfortunate mistake that sits on a pile of complicated histories. My hope for this mural is that it serves as an opportunity for cultural and historical education, an opportunity for healing past conflict and divisions, an opportunity for celebrating shared stories and contributions, and that it holds a legacy of love for all to enjoy.”