Emerging Artists Find a Home at The Art Cave

The Art Cave gallery founders, Leigh Erickson and Danielle Peters
Photo by Adam Horwitz

By: Molly Ressler

Leigh Erickson and Danielle Peters started The Art Cave out of a desire to seek out other contemporary artists in Santa Cruz. “We figured we would open up our doors to other artists and see who else was out there,” says Leigh. When the two out-of-staters (Leigh hails from Vermont and Danielle from Kansas) first moved to Santa Cruz they knew the community had a reputation as a cool spot for artists, but they had trouble finding fellow creatives who were producing the kind of experimental work that inspired them. “When we first came to Santa Cruz we wondered,” says Leigh, “where’s all the fresh-off-the-streets-art?” 

The kind of avant garde art they were seeking did exist in Santa Cruz but it needed a place to shine. In 2015, Leigh and Danielle rented a studio together in the Wrigley Building (also home to the old gum factory's first artist tenant, the R. Blitzer Gallery), so they could both dedicate more time to their own art. Leigh creates abstract paintings with geometric shapes, dynamic splashes of color that ooze off the canvas, and simple, visual elements reminiscent of the iconography found in the world of graphic design. (Leigh also provides design services.) Danielle works primarily with paper, cutting it into strips, spray painting it, and arranging it into swirling 3-dimensional portals and mystical creatures that look to have escaped from some alternate fantastical dimension. With a background in teaching (she's taught art at the University of Georgia, Emporia State University in Kansas, and at California State University Stanislaus in Turlock), Danielle also periodically offers art classes and workshops.

The Art Cave's exhibition space in the Wrigley Building on Santa Cruz's Westside.
Photo by Adam Horwitz

After three years in the Wrigley Building space, they decided in 2018 to actively reach out to fellow artists (mostly found on Instagram) and host exhibitions. Turning their studio space into a public gallery turned out to be the perfect way to connect with a wide variety of talented, unknown artists, both in the Santa Cruz area and around the world. It has resulted in an exhibition space that celebrates emerging artists, giving them a place to break into the art world and show their work, often for the very first time. 

In 2019, Leigh and Danielle also began renting out their space for community events nearly every weekend, from music and dance performances to poetry readings and creative workshops. “Anything creative that needed a roof, we became the space for that.” 

A collective vision for 2020 and beyond

Leigh and Danielle plan to continue cultivating an active community space at The Art Cave but they’ve both realized that hosting an event every weekend in addition to working their day jobs is not sustainable without some extra help. “2019 was a wild ride. We were throwing spaghetti at the wall and just seeing what sticks,” says Leigh. “In that time though we felt ourselves not being as creative as we once were. We would go to the studio and find ourselves on the computer answering emails rather than making artwork, so we’re going to rearrange things for this coming year.” 

For 2020, The Art Cave is welcoming four more artists into their collective to share the studio space and help run the gallery. The new members include Rachel Barnes of Human Shaped Animal, Eliza Paul, Olivia Barney, and Jordan Layman of Idea Fab Labs whose Artist in Residency program will take place at The Art Cave throughout the upcoming year. Come see the work of all six artists for February’s First Friday and keep an eye out in 2020 for solo shows featuring the work of those in the Artist in Residency program.  

Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. She lives with her husband and pup in Seabright and loves sharing her community’s vibrant culture through her writing.