A new exhibit will soon open at Pajaro Valley Arts (PVA), aiming to explore people’s relationship with their ancestors, the natural world and themselves.
“Alma Sagrada: Cultivando Ritmos Naturales” (Sacred Soul: Cultivating Natural Rhythms) opens on April 6 in partnership with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band (AMTB) and the MILPA Collective of Salinas. The show aims to honor and teach Indigenous stewardship and environmental justice through art and community.
With featured artwork from Jose Ortiz, Natalia Anciso, Abi Mustapha and Hermelinda Vasquez, the show will also include pieces from other local and regional artists as well as Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) students. Everything from painting and collage, photography and sculpture, textiles, jewelry and more will be displayed.
“For our open call, the theme was healing—reconnecting with Mother Earth and ourselves, with our rhythms,” said co-curator and member of PVA’s education committee Ana Paula Prado Teeple. “We often celebrate earth in a very general way, but how do we really do this?”
The show will open amidst a local environmental and cultural preservation effort: Protect Juristac, led by the AMTB, hopes to halt efforts to build a 320-acre open pit sand and gravel quarry in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Juristac (pronounced “Huris-tak”) was home to Indigenous communities for thousands of years, who held sacred ceremonies at the junction of the Pajaro and San Benito rivers.
Teeple said that when she first started working on the PVA exhibit with fellow co-curators Josefina Rocha and Ome Garcia, she did not know how well-timed it would actually be.
“I was like, ‘How did we manage to magically make this show happen, right now?’” Teeple said. “It was very timely.”
As with many PVA exhibits, “Alma Sagrada” includes an educational component. PVUSD teachers and students participated in a poster contest, learning about designing and applying through a curriculum developed by Michele Glowa, a volunteer educator in collaboration with the AMTB.
“We had 110 apply and six finalists who will be shown at the gallery,” Teeple said. “It was an incredible response. I’m already so happy with this show because that was my big thing: getting people involved.”
Rocha said the diverse body of artists should make for an interesting, well-rounded exhibit.
“There’s some well-seasoned artists here, but also a lot who have never shown before, and never thought they would,” she said. “One artist came in here to drop off his work and was like, ‘Are you sure you want my art in here?’ Also my sister. She submitted something, and she never thought she could. There are so many people who don’t have the opportunity to show what they can do, what they want to express. That’s so important.”
A number of events will be hosted in conjunction with “Alma Sagrada.” The first will be a virtual Meet the Authors event on April 9, featuring acclaimed author, poet and teacher of Native American literature Stan Rushworth. Rushworth will speak about his book “We are in the middle of forever: Indigenous Voices from Turtle Island on the Changing Earth,” which was co-edited by Dahr Jamail.
Rushworth is a contributor to the exhibit as well, installing a large photography collage in the front room of the gallery.
“When he was telling us [the collage’s] story we were like ‘Wow, we still have so much to learn,’” Teeple said. “But he told us, ‘What you guys are doing here is really, really important.’ This is actually the first time in Santa Cruz County where you’ll see representation from all the Indigenous groups in one place. It is a big moment.”
A free opening reception, sponsored by the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, will be held on April 10 from 1-4pm at PVA. The gallery will be open, with a blessing by White Hawk Ixtatutli, tacos by My Mom’s Mole and Areperia, and live music from Son Jarocho. An environmental justice resource fair will allow guests to connect with local nonprofits including the Campaign for Organic and Regenerative Agriculture, CoRenewal, Esperanza Community Farms, FoodWhat?!, Friends of Juristac, Regeneración, Tierras Milperas and more.
“We invite everyone to the opening reception,” Rocha said. “There’s going to be a lot of great people, some who are here for the very first time. It’s going to be an amazing event.”
In addition, the gallery will hold an Art Salon on April 13, a Mother’s Day Paint and Sip event on May 8, a virtual book discussion (about “We are the Middle Forever”) on May 11 and an in-person poetry reading on May 21.
Organizers say they hope the exhibit will shed light on the ongoing efforts of Project Juristac. In mid-April the Santa Clara County Planning Department plans to open a 60-day public comment period regarding the proposed quarry. A petition at protectjuristac.org has already gathered more than 14,000 signatures.
Rocha said she is excited to amplify the project and similar justice movements through art.
“I’m all for compassion towards others and building community, and if we can do that through art, it’s a wonderful thing to see,” she said. “I’m super looking forward to it.”
“Alma Sagrada” runs through May 22 at PV Arts’ gallery, 37 Sudden St., Watsonville. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Sunday 11am-4pm. For information and to register for the virtual events visit pvarts.org. For information about Project Juristac, visit protectjuristac.org.