.Tannery Talks Shine Light on Art, Environment and Social Justice

The Radius Gallery at the Tannery Arts Center has evolved into more than just a nice clean space to contemplate art. For the Tannery community, the Radius has become a de facto meeting hall and performance space.

It makes sense, then, that the gallery is the site for Tannery Talks, a mini-lecture series designed to bring together the artists who live and work at the Tannery with some of the activists, businesspeople, and academics shaping Santa Cruz culture.

The Tannery Talks series resumes on Feb. 20 with an exploration of the social justice aspects of environmentalism and how those aspects surface in artists’ work. Maha Taitano, the event’s moderator, says environmental activism cannot be seen in isolation from topics like social justice in marginalized communities. “There’s an intersectionality about all of that goes hand in hand,” she says. “So, it’s not just a race fight or a gender fight or an environmental fight. It’s a combination of them all.”

Taitano will lead a panel discussion on that point where arts, environmentalism, and social justice meet. Included in the discussion will be spoken-word and hip-hop performer Joseph Jason Santiago LaCour, activist Karen Ross, Santa Cruz mayor Justin Cummings, and UCSC Ph.D. candidate Paloma Medina, the co-author of Looking for Marla, a new children’s book based on Pixar’s Finding Nemo and centered on the clownfish’s ability and habit to transition from male to female.

The event is free and open to the public.

“You can’t erase the social justice connection from environmental activism,” Taitano says. “The urgency to maintain a cleaner, healthier, more vibrant environment drops when there is a lack of money or when you’re dealing with people of color or queer communities.”

Environmentalism is the broad theme of this year’s Tannery Talks season, which includes four monthly events and wraps up in April. The season kicked off in January with a panel discussion on the social justice issues involved in the ongoing stewardship of the San Lorenzo River. That event included UCSC filmmaker Elizabeth Stephens, Congressional candidate and water activist Adam Balaños Scow, businessman and philanthropist George Ow Jr., and Laurie Egan of the Coastal Watershed Council. It was moderated by activist and artist Wes Modes.

The Tannery Talks series will continue with an event on March 19 focused on the efforts of young people in social-justice and environmental activism. “March is going to be all about youth,” says series co-director Margaret Niven. “We’re going to get together four or five teens, from 13 to 18. I’ve been very inspired by [Swedish teen activist] Greta Thunberg and how active teens have been. We’re going to bring a group together to have a conversation from that point of view.”

On April 16, for the season’s final event, Valeria Miranda of the Santa Cruz Art League will lead a discussion on the positive impacts of artists and their work in the community. “That will be about how artists are creating or offering solutions [to environmental problems] through their practice,” Niven says.

Tannery Talks is co-directed by Taitano and long-time Tannery artist Niven. It is a continuation of a Tannery tradition that began back in 2010 when Niven and the late Stephen Lynch began an ambitious lecture series that held 10 events per year (“It was  overwhelming,” Niven says of the original series). That series was discontinued in 2013. But, Niven says, she was approached by Arts Council Santa Cruz County to revive the series. The series returned in 2019.

“So now the Tannery Talks are supported by the Arts Council, with some funding and some staffing,” Niven says.

She says the January event convinced her that the community thirsted for the kind of engagement that the Tannery Talks delivered. “I was really blown away,” she says. “It was pouring rain and we had about 75 people there. For the Radius Gallery, that’s a good-sized group.”

The Tannery Talks are also part of the mission to get more people from the greater community to visit the Tannery campus. Invited speakers from, say, UCSC or the Watershed Council tend to bring their own constituencies to the event.

“We hope we can reach more diverse audiences,” says Niven, “by getting people to reach out to their own networks. But it’s definitely bringing people in who do not work or live here.”

The next Tannery Talks event takes place Thursday, Feb. 20 from 7 to 8:30pm at the Radius Gallery, 1050 River St., No. 127, Santa Cruz. The event is free. For more information, go to tanneryartscenter.org/tannery-talks.


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