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Watsonville launches public art program: Fundraising to be first project for arts committee

by the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

WATSONVILLE — Colorful paintings on utility boxes, sculptures in vacant storefronts, children creating murals, performing arts festivals in city parks.

The city’s new art program opens the potential for all of the above.

“The idea is to promote art and culture, with Watsonville as a destination,” said Ann Cavanaugh, a member of the city’s new public arts committee and the Corralitos Art Collective. “Other cities do it. Why not Watsonville? What better way to promote art?”

But the first project in the two-year plan, adopted by the City Council on a 5-0 vote Tuesday, will be fundraising. Though city leaders are flush with enthusiasm for the effort, there are few dollars available.

City Manager Carlos Palacios said he expects to have a small pot of money left over after a state takeaway of redevelopment money. “Some of that could be programmed for the art program’s implementation,” Palacios said. “But there’s going to have to be private fundraising if that program is going to get off the ground. Clearly there are not many city resources to do that.”

The task of raising cash didn’t dampen the excitement over the program.

Mayor Daniel Dodge said city support demonstrates that art is a priority, and the program will be able to tap into the diversity of the community and bring it together.

“I feel we’re so rich culturally that we’re going to be able to push art in a direction that might not have been seen in the Monterey Bay Area,” he said. “We’ll allow a lot of different voices to be heard and express themselves in nontraditional ways.”

Dodge sees a host of possibilities with the program.

“Watsonville could host art and music festivals, offer culture classes to young people, much as the city’s science workshop supports learning in that sphere,” he said. “It’s especially important as art and music disappear in cash-strapped schools.

“In upcoming years, we can make it an important part of what we offer to our community and residents, regardless of age,” he added. “I really think we can grow this and take pride in the city.”

It’s not the city’s first foray into public art. In 2008, officials allocated $50,000 for a series of murals depicting historic apple crate labels on walls throughout the downtown area. The project was so well-received, private businesses began commissioning their own murals, and the city published a self-guided walking tour of the downtown area. The murals have generated a buzz in magazine and newspaper travel articles.

Committee member Paul DeWorken has created several murals at Pajaro Valley schools and designed the city flag. He said the new program will spur local artists, especially those in Watsonville, to get involved.

“I can’t wait to get started on this,” he said.

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