In response to the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic and its related economic, social and physical impacts, Creative Sonoma stepped up to help some of our local businesses reopen safely – using the arts. Municipalities across the county helped their restaurants and retailers re-open safely by temporarily closing streets, parking lots, plazas, and alleys and re-purposing them for customers.
Creative Sonoma’s project funds paid for participating communities to hire artists to enliven the “new” spaces to help community members feel safe and engaged while patronizing these local businesses. The project supported ongoing recovery efforts and demonstrated the role that the arts can play in strengthening community resiliency and economic development.
Funding for the project came from a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, matched by the County of Sonoma, the Manitou Fund, and multiple local sponsors. Partners on the project included 6 local Chambers of Commerce and downtown business alliances in Healdsburg, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Windsor, and Russian River (Guerneville and Monte Rio).
In all, 76 artists and musicians were hired who created 50 new works of art and 42 performances and readings in 7 communities across the county. Artwork was incredibly diverse including:
- Mural series of portraits and street mandalas that tied together the history and the present of BIPOC in Sonoma County. (HEADER PHOTO: Detail of the street mandalas, by SCAPE)
- A series of 30′ tall animated, line-drawing portraits of downtown workers, who were considered essential workers, projected on a building. The portraits were drawn after the artist spent several days downtown interviewing her subjects.
- Temporary parklets were built and/or adorned by artists to encourage business and to help patrons feel engaged.
- Artist-created backdrops for safety messages helped businesses in tourist areas reinforce messages for locals and visitors that helped protect workers.
- Interactive projects included the US Portal Service, a gold mailbox that accepted “questions, grievances and love letters to the past and future,” the “Poetrees” (watch the video HERE) where passers by could respond to prompts to write poems and tie them to trees in a downtown plaza, and the “Light Tunnel” where community members were asked to respond to questions that changed with the seasons.
Several of the projects are having long-lasting impact. The Healdsburg project became a tangible example for the city’s new Arts and Creativity Master Plan, and a model for how the arts can provide healing and inspiration for communities undergoing hardship. Nearly every community that created art parklets plans to keep, or reinstate, the parklets on an ongoing basis.
Artists were active participants in solving the economic and civic challenge of how to keep businesses and downtowns afloat during shelter-in-place restrictions, elevating their position as community problem solvers. The projects were important to each community’s sense of safety in visiting downtown businesses that were following social distancing guidelines. Anecdotally, participating business owners uniformly agreed that the project enhanced their business receipts during the period.
Enjoy the overview video of the project below, and explore all of the project videos on our Creative ReOpening video playlist HERE.