Marina Warren

Irene Juárez O’Connell: Beach Flats mural artist

Marina Warren @ 7/12/2017

After an extensive neighborhood involvement effort, the Beach Flats Mural is recently complete! Our intern, Marina Warren, sat down with Irene and captured these thoughts:

I had the pleasure of sitting down to interview Irene Juárez O’Connell, the visionary behind the Beach Flats Community Garden mural. “The struggle to keep the beach flats garden” inspired Irene to develop her mural as a community effort, one that celebrates the history of the Beach Flats area and the cultural legacy of Santa Cruz.

Irene’s unique approach in the creation of the mural has strengthened connections between Santa Cruz residents while celebrating the diversity of the city. Her goal in creating the mural was to pay homage to the people who shaped the culture of Santa Cruz; from Chinese immigrants in the 20th century, to the Polynesians who first introduced surfing to the California coast, to some of the current residents of the Beach Flats community. Unfortunately, many of these groups are often underrepresented in mainstream culture, and Irene wanted to change that. The Beach Flats mural provides representation for these people in a creative, colorful, and vivid way. As her first “large scale mural,” Irene decided to focus on the collaborative process of painting with community members. One young Beach Flats resident named Nicole (age fourteen) was a key part in the completion of the mural. She painted sections of the piece, helped mobilize her neighbors to get involved, and she is now assisting Irene in the creation of a new local mural, hopefully somewhere with “great visibility”. This type of community involvement is what makes the Beach Flats mural so unique--it is truly an art piece for the people by the people.

Irene’s main inspiration for the mural was to develop an artistic response to the cultural erasure that often happens in Santa Cruz. After the original Beach Flats mural was whitewashed, Irene wanted to make a replacement that would celebrate history (and a hopeful future) in a lush and inspiring way. As the artist noted, “painting over that mural...was telling that community they were not important.” By creating a new, collaborative mural, Irene and the Beach Flats community reaffirmed their value and their presence in Santa Cruz. The mural features portraits of real immigrants throughout the city’s history, and also incorporates the natural beauty of the land with motifs of the Monterey Bay and the San Lorenzo River. The mural also features the Ohlone people, native to the Santa Cruz region, as well as a representation of the Olmeca people of the Americas, some of its earliest native inhabitants. These brightly colored and varied panels unite the past, present, and future, and celebrate the influence that art can make in a local community.

Visit the Beach Flats Mural website here and check out the photos of this 190 foot mural below:

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