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Everything You Need To Know About The Santa Cruz Art Scene
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Everything You Need To Know About The Santa Cruz Art Scene

Join us as we stroll down Surf City’s pavements in search of greatness. Discover everything you need to know about Santa Cruz's art scene.

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5 min read

October 16, 2021

The unification of talent and passion yields a masterpiece—or in other words, the wonderful world of Santa Cruz art. Music, sculptures, paintings, and wall art combined with rich cultural history and striking natural surroundings are what give Santa Cruz County its creative flair. Eager to explore this universe of imagination? Join us as we stroll down Surf City’s pavements in search of greatness, it could change your life.

Music, art, and performances combined with rich cultural history and beautiful natural surroundings give Santa Cruz County its creative flair.

What’s Out There: Santa Cruz Art

If there’s one thing you should know about Santa Cruz artwork, it’s that one-size-fits-all is not a descriptor here. There are countless ways you can explore the county’s cultural heritage, whether it’s by taking your children to a kid-friendly gallery, opting for a self-guided tour, or by simply binge-visiting all the local museums at once. Local art and retail galleries range from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and Pajaro Valley Arts Council to the Santa Cruz Art League and Santa Cruz Mountain Center. These are the more prominent ones, but you’ll soon discover that there’s far more than meets the eye.

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One of the best ways to find art in Santa Cruz is to simply go for a walk. You don’t even have to pick a specific direction—you’ll discover murals, sculptures, public installations, and live performances just hiding in plain sight. If you do want to get serious and strategic about seeing everything though, check out the city’s Public Walking Tour. Compiled by Santa Cruz CityArts, a public art advocacy and support organization, the self-guided tour features everything from painted utility boxes to giant, mind-boggling installations.

Jim Phillips is one of the most iconic skateboard artists in the history of the sport; he created the Screaming Hand. Photo courtesy of Surfer Today.

The Screaming Hand

In your quest for art in Santa Cruz, try your best to stay attentive. That’s because even a brief slip in concentration might cause you to miss a community staple plastered all over town. An electric blue hand seemingly severed below the wrist reaches out, fingers bent, sporting a grimacing smile—complete with a bright red tongue and set of teeth—emerges from its palm. If you’re an avid follower of skate culture, you’ll know exactly what this is, but if you’re new to this eclectic art scene; you’re looking at the Screaming Hand.

Created in 1985 by Santa Cruz graphics artist Jim Phillips, the howling appendage which has been plastered on t-shirts, skateboards, and stickers all over the world celebrated its 30th birthday recently. Pay a visit to the Santa Cruz Museum of History and Art to see the original in an eye-popping exhibition—there’s no better time to gawk at a severed hand than the build-up to Halloween season.

Santa Cruz is a city of murals highlighted in geometric patterns and splashes of color, making the coastal city all the more vibrant.

What Pops With Color: Santa Cruz Murals

Museums are there for you to learn about technique and excellence, but street art is where you really see the culture that defines Santa Cruz. With roots deeply ingrained in all things creative, the county is highlighted in splashes of colors, geometric patterns, and talent that goes beyond your comprehension. From the historic downtown to the quieter South County, get ready to feast your eyes on the incomparable Santa Cruz wall art.

Black Lives Matter 

Collaborating with artist and activist Abi Mustapa, Santa Cruz became the first city in the nation to paint a Black Lives Matter mural, completed by community volunteers. The mural can permanently be found on Center Street in front of City Hall in Downtown Santa Cruz.

Located in Downtown Santa Cruz, Community Quiltage was designed by Thomas Campbell. Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Community Quiltage 

When in need of a facelift, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History decided Thomas Campbell is the man for the job. He received a grant to transform a blank wall into a decorative installation and landed on this quilt-piece idea that stitched together different aspects of the Santa Cruz community.

Learning from the Past, Living in the Present, Looking Toward the Future

Made up of seven individual panels, the mural in Santa Cruz’s Beach Flats neighborhood proves that meaning is in the eye of the beholder. There are references to all kinds of events—past, present, or future—but it’s up to you to decipher and derive meaning from the artwork.

“Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.” These are the words that brighten every passer-by in Santa Cruz. Photo courtesy of Mckella Jo.

Words of Wisdom

In the heart of midtown, you’ll find wall art as beautiful as its meaning—Dolly Parton’s “wildflowers don’t care where they grow” line rings truer than ever. The vibrant mural manages to put a smile on every passenger’s face; you’ll see it all over Instagram

The Sea Meets the Park

The Seacliff Village Park mural was created not only as a beautiful piece of art, but also as a catalyst for teaching people about the importance of conversation. Located a short drive down the road from Seacliff State Beach, this Anastasiya Bachmanova piece is a must-see.

What’s Happening: Santa Cruz Art Events

Santa Cruz County showcases an array of talent through its art galleries, museums, festivals, and outdoor theater performances.

First Friday Santa Cruz

Another way to see art in Santa Cruz (at this rate, at least) is to hit the streets on the first Friday of every month. Step into coffee shops, restaurants, salons, clothes stores, and even banks to take in the finest local creations. First Friday Santa Cruz turns all establishments into a free walk-in museum for all. 

Ebb and Flow 

Aiming to reconnect the Santa Cruz community to the river that runs through it—San Lorenzo—the Ebb and Flow Arts Collaborative is one you should check out. The nonprofit plans events including river-themed art activities with a focus on educating the community about the important water source. Through them, RiverWalk turns into a thriving public space, a unique blend of environmentalists and artists (a collaboration we didn’t know we needed by the way) that brings people together over the shared love of local flora.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare offers productions of ye’ old classics under the stars in DeLaveaga Park. Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 

Founded in 2014, Santa Cruz Shakespeare is now into its 40th year celebrating bold productions of Shakespeare and other great playwrights. Throughout their run, hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, have been enthralled by what SCS brings to the community—you should totally check them out.

Open Studios Art Tour

Ask any artist living in Santa Cruz about Open Studios Art Tour, and they’ll rave about how important it is. Presented by the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County, the three-weekend October event features way more artwork than a person can possibly take in at once (explains why it spans three weekends). Creations from local painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, graffiti artists, metalworkers, printmakers, and much more allow you to connect with Santa Cruz’s art community. Plus, this is a great way to see parts of the county you never knew existed.

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