In celebration of Juneteenth, local arts organizations will come together for Murals / Art / Activism, a multimedia project highlighting the importance of public art in activism.
Juneteenth is the oldest national celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. The holiday has seen increasing recognition in recent years, with events being held nationwide.
Murals / Art / Activism begins on June 15, with two documentary films available to stream for free for four days via the Watsonville Film Festival’s (WFF) website. Later that week, festival organizers will host a Zoom event with the filmmakers and artists.
Finally, WFF and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) will host an in-person pop-up event in the City Plaza in downtown Watsonville.
Pajaro Valley Arts, UCSC’s Everett Program and the Santa Cruz Art League are also involved in the project.
“We’re very excited to present this program,” said WFF Executive Director Consuelo Alba. “It has been a very organic process, how we all came together to present this.”
Alba said that WFF had already been in conversation with the Everett Program, and actively working with Calavera Media, who produced the short film “Painter of Dreams.”
Meanwhile, MAH was contacted by Oakland filmmaker Spencer Wilkinson, who was looking to screen his film, “Alice Street” through a grassroots impact tour funded by the California Arts Council and The San Francisco Foundation.
All of these projects collided to create Murals / Art / Activism.
“Prior to the pandemic… artists were kind of isolated,” said “Painter of Dreams” Director Gabriel Medina. “We all just wanted to make the best program we could. But now, people are starting to work together. We’re getting on the same page, seeing that it’s more powerful than going it alone.”
“Painter of Dreams” follows the story of Watsonville muralist Yermo Aranda and his relationship with the mural he created in the Watsonville High School (WHS) cafeteria. Originally painted in 1991 with the help of students, the piece was erroneously painted over in 2019, causing outrage in the community.
The recreation, painted by Aranda, his former students and current WHS students, was unveiled earlier this year.
“The film… focuses on Yermo, and the struggles he’s encountered trying to bring art to the community,” Medina said. “We want to bring his story to an audience who may have heard of it, but don’t know fully what it’s about.”
“Painter of Dreams” is Medina’s directorial debut for a film of this type. He said he was “honored” to be telling Aranda’s story.
“Yermo is widely known—many artists could have done this,” he said. “I’m so glad he entrusted us to document this experience.”
“Alice Street” follows two artists who create a mural in a neighborhood in Oakland. The diverse intersection, near the city’s Chinatown and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, was changing drastically, due to what residents called gentrification. After struggling to get the mural painted, residents were then faced with the development of a luxury condominium that would have obscured the mural from view.
“I was profoundly impacted by their story,” Wilkinson said. “They had to struggle, fight for a seat at the table with developers … They showed how a community can resist gentrification. It was a roller coaster ride to watch and document.”
Wilkinson said that when he reached out to the MAH, they recognized the connection between his and Medina’s films, and connected them with WFF.
“It’s a tremendous honor that [WFF] is interested in this story,” he said. “It’s honestly a dream come true.”
Medina and “Painter of Dreams” co-director Marcus Cisneros will join Aranda and Wilkinson on June 17 at 6pm for a virtual discussion and Q&A. The pop-up event will be held June 18, 4-6pm at the City Plaza. Artists will talk about and discuss their work with the community.
“The WFF is thrilled to work with all these wonderful organizations, filmmakers and artists to present this film program, and to create the space to discuss the importance of murals and the arts,” Alba said. “It’s vital to step up our support for the arts. As we recover from the pandemic we need connection, creativity and well being for everyone.”