Poet's Park Mural

The Santa Cruz City Arts Program, Public Works Stormwater Program, the Parks & Recreation Department and the Coastal Watershed Council (CWC) recently partnered to bring a new storm drain mural to Poet’s Park in the Beach Flats neighborhood. These artworks are aimed at calling attention to water runoff and serving as reminders of the harmful effects of pollutants on our watershed. The Poet’s Park mural is the fourth in the series of collaborative educational efforts bringing the City, CWC, local youth groups, and artists together.

Butterfly on the sidewalk near the storm drain
Sotrm drain
Storm drain
A fish peeking out of the water as part of the mural art

Irene “Xirenita” Juarez O’Connell—an artist, organizer, and educator with deep ties to the Beach Flats community—was chosen to paint the mural. After meeting with local residents to collect community input during the summer of 2021, Irene created a design that celebrates animal, plant, and insect species native to the San Lorenzo River mouth. These species were suggested by both members of the CWC and members of the community present at the planning meetings. They include: coho salmon, western pond turtle, common merganser, cinnamon teal, mayfly, dragonfly, monarch butterfly, mugwort, California primrose, California gumweed, California poppy, and tule reed.

The word “Aulintak” is painted in the river itself. This term, which literally translates as “place of the red abalone,” was used by the Awaswas-speaking Ohlone, the original inhabitants of this area, to describe the place we now refer to as Santa Cruz. It honors the previous stewards of the land we currently occupy and the watershed from which we draw life.

At the mural painting party held on August 21, Irene and the 40 volunteer helpers in attendance installed this new public artwork. In addition to surrounding the storm drain, it also incorporates the bronze “Tree of Life” sculpture which was already in place in the park.

“This project was a huge success,” Irene said. “One of its main goals was to invite community members into the creative process and encourage their participation and ownership in both the mural and their neighborhood.” The level of enthusiasm exhibited at both the planning meeting and the painting party illustrate the community’s engagement with the project. “Art stirs our imagination and enables us to understand what a healthy thriving, river could look like,” Irene adds. “By envisioning this future, we can feel inspired to caretake not just the storm drain but also the water that flows through it and the land it nourishes.”

The storm drain with the mural art is now part of the storm drain journey

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CDBG and HOME Awards for the 2021-2022 Program Year

About the Author: Bridget serves on the City of Santa Cruz Arts Commission and is an avid writer, editor, teacher, and creative consultant.