One of Sea Walls' mural projects in San Diego.
The Here & Now

Ambitious Sea Walls Santa Cruz mural project ‘going to change the town forever’

Beginning Monday, artists from Santa Cruz and around the world will create a series of unique murals — each themed on the ocean, specifically the threats facing marine life from climate change — that stretches from the Westside to Capitola.

Santa Cruz is already a city of murals — from Steve Hosmer’s “girl on bike” welcome mural on the Westside, to John Pugh’s trippy trompe l’oeil piece on the Shopper’s Corner building, to James Aschbacher’s whimsical imagery in murals all over town.

But by the end of September, Santa Cruz will be a city of murals in a different sense, in the same category as Cozumel, Mexico; Bali, Indonesia; and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Those places are among the many localities around the world that have been artistically transformed by the Sea Walls project, an international effort to translate the ominous environmental reality facing the world’s oceans into urban public art.

From Thursday through Saturday, artists from points around the world will converge in Santa Cruz to create a series of unique murals, each themed on the ocean, specifically the threats facing marine life from climate change. Among the 18 participating artists — rebranded by the Sea Walls project as “ARTivists” — will be Santa Cruzans Abi Mustapha, Jimbo Phillips and Caia Koopman. Joining the locals will be high-profile muralists such as Jeks One, the celebrated North Carolina artist known for his vivid portraiture of cultural figures, and Nychos, an Austrian urban art/graffiti artist whose work often presents humans and animals in dissection, reminiscent of a scientific illustration, but with a street-art edge. Also signed up is Reno-based snowboarder and artist Hannah Eddy, whose graphic work often conveys a sense of humor and whimsy, and Oakland’s Madeleine Tonzi, known for using abstract elements inspired by her Santa Fe upbringing in her distinctive murals.

Santa Cruz artist Taylor Reinhold
Local Taylor Reinhold is spearheading the largest urban beautification project in Santa Cruz history as art director of Sea Walls Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The week beginning Monday will function as a kind of mural-painting festival at chosen sites around the city, with a central focal point established at the Tannery Arts Center (which will host an artist panel talk on Thursday). Murals will be painted in a matter of days at several sites in downtown, Midtown and on the Westside (see map at bottom).

The project’s director is himself a prominent Santa Cruz muralist. Taylor Reinhold has painted several iconic images around the county, from the large ocean-themed mural on Mission Street at Bay Street to the seabirds painted on the Annieglass building in Watsonville.

“The entire town is going to be get painted in seven days,” said Reinhold. “It’s going to change the town forever. The impact is going to be amazing.”

One of Sea Walls' murals in Wailuku, Hawaii.

Reinhold will be handling the logistics of the project instead of producing a mural himself. Before the “ARTivists” get their paints out, they’ll be subject to a kind of fact-finding mission as they tour the area with local marine biologists to learn about the particular issues facing the Monterey Bay. They’ll also tour the redwoods at Henry Cowell State Park, and get briefed on the latest issues in the aftermath of last summer’s CZU fires. Then it’s off to work, where the artists will map out and execute their designs with the help of a band of local volunteers. More than a dozen local restaurants have signed up to provide breakfasts and/or lunches on site. Some artists will be on abbreviated schedules and will be flying in for just a couple of days.

In conceptualizing their murals, the artists were asked to contemplate specific themes having to do with ocean conservation or environmental awareness. In many cases, they were called on to create preliminary sketches for approval by the building owners where they will be working. Depending on how they like to work, they’ll then be free to create the mural as they see fit. What the

A Sea Walls mural in Encinitas.

“A lot of artists are going to continue to gain insights and ideas as they work,” said Reinhold. “As a muralist, I never stick to my sketches, if I can. The project changes and flows as people come out from the community and you get to talk to people who might tell you, ‘There’s this type of bird that I’ve seen around here since childhood’ or, ‘You know this property used to belong to’ … this person, or whatever. And we would love to see something that represents that kind of interaction.”

Sea Walls is a project of the PangeaSeed Foundation, which has sponsored more than 400 murals in 17 countries. As an administrator of the project and a participating artist, Reinhold will depart soon after the Santa Cruz project to the Bahamas, where another Sea Walls mural event will take place. The son of Annieglass founder and lead artist Ann Morhauser, Reinhold has been creating art since childhood and has produced murals at sites around the world. Referring to the Sea Walls gig as “my dream job,” Reinhold said that Santa Cruz has all the elements that the PangeaSeed Foundation is looking for in establishing a mural project.

“They try to stay away from the big cities, because they’re usually so saturated with murals anyway,” he said. “They want these murals to have an impact, and when you’ve installed 10 murals in a city that already has 400 of them, it doesn’t really have that much of an impact.”

Whether more murals aimed at raising awareness of the importance of the sea in people’s lives will be effective in bringing about change is hard to measure. Anticipating criticism that perhaps more local artists should be involved, Reinhold said that the Sea Walls effort is a way to bring Santa Cruz into a community of other ocean-oriented locales around the world, underlining both the ocean’s vulnerability and its crucial role in making the world habitable.

“It’s like we’re bringing this new set of international-like feeling and love into the community, and we’re getting this huge gift.”

For more information on Sea Walls projects around the world, go here. And for info on the Santa Cruz project, go here.

Santa Cruz Sea Walls map