First Friday Santa Cruz

Sights & Sounds of Public Art

Sights & Sounds of Public Art

by Bree Karpavage

Twenty-four rotating stainless steel arms give voice to the spring breeze, expressing a soothing tinkering sound along the walkway at the Tannery Arts Center. Looking up, this magnificent kinetic sculpture created by Moto Ohtake stands proudly in the center of campus moving in a mesmerizing “Stellar Motion,” inspired by and the artist’s metaphor for the universe. An obvious reminder that we are all affected by our surroundings.

“Stellar Motion” is just one of more than a dozen public art pieces installed at the Tannery over the past 18 months, a project produced by the Arts Council Santa Cruz County in collaboration with Radius Gallery, First Friday Santa Cruz Art Tour, the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development, John Stewart Company, and Artspace. The project, “A Home for the Arts” was designed post pandemic to reconnect the community, create paid opportunities for artists, ignite social interaction and “act as a catalyst for a sense of cohesion, identity, belonging and shared experiences.” says project manager and Tannery Arts Center 
Program Manager, Mercedes Lewis. “Public art holds a unique role in that it is accessible, dynamic and responsive to an ever-changing world and is, in its essence, interdisciplinary.”

Left: “Stellar Motion” by Moto Ohtake. Right: “Unlimited Language” by Heejin Lee

These public art installations, Lewis says, were in response to the RFP call for projects centered around community connection, movement, health and the environment. Projects like Heejin Lee’s mural “Unlimited Language” that expresses her experience living in two cultures, Korea and the United States. And “Solace” a mixed media sculpture by Mary Tartaro using reclaimed materials, speaking to the emotional and mental struggles during the pandemic and finding comfort in nature. “I wanted to design a piece that would embody the creative spirit in nature and also act as a collective for our shared memories that kind of remind us who we are,” says Tartaro. Embedded with succulents, this sculpture will grow and change with the environment during its two year stay at the Tannery.

Another goal for the project was to uplift marginalized voices and celebrate diversity. This, evident in projects like BIPOC artist Maha Taitano’s “Aperception,” a steel sculpture representing Islamic Geometry. With a Masters in Visual Arts, Taitano has become a strong advocate for equity in the arts and amplifying BIPOC artists’ voices in Santa Cruz.

Alongside Taitano’s sculpture in the Salz Lezin Memorial Garden you’ll find artist Brian Sarinova’s eight foot ceramic vessels, the “Sentinels,” that combine the traditional Native American coil pottery technique with vibrant graffiti painting. Each unique sculpture was a three month process from start to finish.

From Left: “Solace” by Mary Tartaro, “Aperception” by Maha Taitano, “Sentinel” by Brian Sarinova

For more sounds along this public art tour, venture into the Courtyard to find the sound installation, “exTANt” by archivist Kathleen Aston and artist Yulia Gilich that takes you on a journey into the cultural and environmental history of the Santa Cruz Tannery entirely through audio.

Public art installation projects are ongoing at the Tannery with several currently in process. “Nature of Community,” an eighty foot mural adjacent to the theater will be going up in the coming months using a new mural application technique called Polytab that allows artists to paint on panels inside their studio and install outside later using a transfer technique. This will be the first mural using this application in Santa Cruz County and is being produced by artist Abi Mustapha.

The Tannery Arts Center remains an ever changing and evolving hub for the arts in Santa Cruz County. The eight acre campus presents a stunning display of public art, working artist studios, lively First Fridays, affordable housing for artists and an enduring community spirit. Art installations can be viewed anytime, but weekends are recommended when you’ll also find open artist studios like Radius Gallery and Salt California, among other hidden gems. Be sure to pick up a public art and studio map when you arrive to guide you around the campus for a sights and sounds art experience unlike any other in Santa Cruz County.

“…the arts are not a product delivery industry, but a personal relationship system that facilitates growth and the expansion of awareness & consciousness of ourselves, our communities and the natural and built environment.” – Mercedes Lewis

Visit for more information about their programming. On Instagram @tanneryartscenter.