By SARAH BROTHERS
Downtown San Diego Partnership
There aren’t many activities that would get a group of students from elementary to college age all out of the house before 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Luckily enough for Downtown, Saturday, Feb. 8, was an exception. It was time to throw on some old clothes they didn’t mind ruining and finally see their vision coming to life.
That vision can now be seen in the form of a mural gracing a formerly empty wall on J Street between 16th and 17th. So, what exactly does it take to turn an empty brick wall into a piece of neighborhood character? In this case, it was a group of 30-plus volunteers, the artistic guidance of a local nonprofit organization, a table full of paint, and the collaboration of the Downtown San Diego Partnership.
The mural’s concept — which features three women holding signs that read, “She is loved! She is free! She is strong!” — is the creation of a group of female students who also participated in its painting. The girls met with two artists from nonprofit Concrete and Canvas, lead artist Julio Olvera and assistant artist Miguel Zepeda, in advance of the installation to share their ideas and work together to create a vision they all loved. Once the girls approved the mock-up of the art piece and agreed that it represented their ideas, the design was produced and prepped for installation.
The students were connected to the project through a collaboration between Concrete and Canvas and the Downtown San Diego Partnership Clean & Safe program.
Concrete and Canvas creates opportunities for arts education and mentorship that bring hope and opportunity to local neighborhoods — often through the installation of murals. Beyond the delivery of a beautiful piece of public art, Concrete and Canvas uses arts education as a vehicle to help students find their voice, cultivate a shared vision, and develop the art and life skills to bring that vision to life.
“Helping the kids explore the creative process is one of the most rewarding things about our work with Concrete and Canvas. Not only does it give them the opportunity to express themselves and fine-tune their artistic perspective, it also teaches them how to work creatively as a team,” said Carlos Nicasio, founder of Concrete and Canvas. “And how often does a group project get to be converted into a piece of artwork for the whole community to enjoy? It’s such a special opportunity to share their talent and make a difference.”
This paired naturally with the commitment to community enhancement that is part of the Downtown Partnership Clean & Safe team’s mission of keeping Downtown’s neighborhoods clean, safe and thriving. So, they joined forces. The Downtown Partnership Clean & Safe helped provide the blank canvas and Concrete and Canvas brought the artistic skills, expertise and education to help the young artists be successful.
“Public art is a powerful way to create a sense of community and neighborhood identity. Especially when it’s created with the heart and inspiration of students in our region,” said Alonso Vivas, executive director of the Clean & Safe program. “We are proud of every mural we have helped install to bring additional ‘wow moments’ and vibrancy to each of Downtown’s unique neighborhoods. We hope it brings joy to East Village and Downtown visitors and residents.”
How does this team celebrate the successful installation of a mural? By immediately diving into the next project in another neighborhood.
Sean Warner, director of Community Enhancement for Downtown Partnership Clean & Safe, is already hard at work on another new mural in the Columbia District. This one in collaboration with Pandr Design Co., a team of San Diego-based female artists whose unapologetic, bold artwork can already be found brightening up several corridors in Downtown.
“Our approach to these kinds of community enhancement projects is always to take into consideration the unique character of each neighborhood first,” said Warner. “We want something that’s going to be not only beautiful and transformative for our public spaces, but representative of the character of the Columbia neighborhood.”
While this piece is still in design, it’s guaranteed to bring another Instagram-able, stop-and-appreciate-the-beauty-of-our-Downtown moment to the neighborhood. Helping turn our public spaces into moments of joy and signal to residents, industry and visitors alike that Downtown’s neighborhoods are thriving.
— Sarah Brothers is the director of Marketing & Communications at Downtown San Diego Partnership.