Public artwork is important for a community to show children the value of creativity

Published in the September 20 – October 3, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life



Photo by Marty Cheek
Artist Sheryl Cathers in front of the mural she is painting as part of the Leadership Gilroy Class of 2017 project.

Downtown Gilroy is getting a mural masterpiece — and the Leadership Gilroy class of 2017 invites the community to the Gilroy Center for the Arts at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 4 to join them at a ribbon-cutting to present their “Celebrate the Arts!” project to the public.

The class commissioned local artist Sheryl Cathers to turn the 1,800-square-foot blank wall on the art center’s plaza into a colorful mural with a message encouraging young people to appreciate the arts and even engage in creative endeavors. It uses a comic book motif to depict children representing various demographics happily active in various styles of the visual and performing arts genres including theater, music, culinary arts, architecture, literary arts, photography, cinematic arts, painting and dance. A portion of the mural has painted drapes bordering a large blank area where the Gilroy Arts Alliance can show free films to the public in its Movies on the Green summer events. Cathers expects the mural to be completed in time for the ribbon cutting.

“It’s been a long process. I don’t think I appreciated what it’s like to work on the scaffold until I got up there. That was really physically challenging,” the artist said. “I’m really proud of the mural.”

The nonprofit Leadership Gilroy organizes a nine-month program where people from Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Martin learn about the various elements of the community. The class is required to do a community service project that provides a benefit to residents. Besides the mural, the class also is working with local videographer Zach Patterson to produce a five-minute video called “Celebrate the Arts!” which uses the mural as a background for students explaining why they enjoy the arts. The video will be put online as an education resource for Gilroy students — as well as anyone in the world — to gain a greater appreciation for the various art forms.

Initially, the class considered doing a downtown mural that would honor local veterans. But Mattie Scariot, the chair of the Gilroy Arts and Cultural Commission, mentioned to one of the class members an idea she had several years ago for a public artwork mural on the blank plaza wall at the Gilroy Center for the Arts. Their enthusiasm grew for the “Celebrate the Arts!”-themed mural.

“I thought about this for a long time,” Scariot said. “So to see somebody else’s interpretation of my idea was like …  wow, it really worked. I kept thinking if it would work and look good, and then to see it come together — it’s great.”

The mural wall has two sections. The right section is about 10 feet high divided into six segments by pillars. The left section is 20-feet high, requiring scaffolding to be erected for Cathers to paint the higher sections. When the class members first met with Cathers, they only wanted the larger section for the  mural, but she suggested expanding the project to the right section as well.

“I can’t paint one space and not paint the adjacent space, and so that’s my fault,” she said with a laugh. “I think it needed that to tie it all together. There was a lot of energy in the room, so I knew it was going to be a fun and supportive group to work with.”

The mural’s creation process involved Cather’s going online and using Google to search for images using the words “children” and “art” to narrow the search. Google made it much easier for her to find her muse to create the concept drawing.

“That’s the beauty of the Internet. I used to have to go and find images by looking through books and magazines and that would take weeks,” she said. “And now I can just Google an image and find something that is kind of like what I want and tweak it to my needs.”

A mural image of an East Indian girl is inspired by one of Cathers’ young art students, adding an element of local representation to the artwork. The bold and boxy-look of comic books also featured in the inspiration and allowed her to highlight the various art genres in their own special sections of the mural.

“I wanted it to have a comic strip background that would allow me to add a lot of color and texture into the background rather than just have these kids in different poses and different venues doing activities,” she said.

Gilroy City Councilmember Peter Leroe-Munoz likes the way the mural honors the diversity of boys and girls in the community and encourages their creative development. The mural will also add to the artistic qualities of downtown Gilroy, which has several public art murals as well as sculptures portraying people of the city’s history.

“One of the things I like about this project is that it’s consistently tied to an area that we identify as a priority for our city, and that’s downtown and the revitalization there,” he said.

Scariot also sees benefit to the Gilroy downtown community by how the mural brings color and interest to the Gilroy Center for the Arts’ grassy plaza.

“Monterey Street is so busy. You think about how many people go by on that street … the hundreds of thousands of people that are going to see that every year,” she said. “For me, the mural provides a powerful message for people, and it’s something you can see as you’re driving by. Some people are going to go back because they want to take a closer look at it. It’s going to draw more people downtown because they’re going to want to come back and look at it.”

During the weeks Cathers has been working on the mural — she usually arrived at the center early in the morning to beat the heat — she received feedback from people in the surrounding neighborhood who enjoyed watching her apply paint to the wall. Many took time to tell her they appreciated the value the artwork brings to the downtown.

“I have to say the kids who live in the area have been shouting out as they walk by very positive support, and that’s neat to hear,” she said.

The mural and video project were paid for from the support of individuals and businesses who generously donated money to the class. Those who provided $1,000 or more will have their names listed on a bronze “Patrons of the Arts” plaque at the art center.

To create a fun game for children as well as adults, Cathers painted “Easter eggs” — funny little hidden images — into the mural. These include a frog sticking out its tongue, a pig in a spaceship and a happy polar bear.

“The kids can do a scavenger hunt. It encourages them to really look at the mural and get engaged,” she said. “I tend to do a lot of animals because that’s what kids love, and happy things and silly things. It makes kids excited. And when they come back with friends and family, it becomes a game for them.”

Scariot likes that kids will be engaged by Cathers’ artwork by searching for the Easter eggs as well as seeing portrayals of children of various ethnicities.

“Kids are getting excited by the mural,” she said. “It lets them know we appreciate them and we’re working for them. It really does show that the Gilroy Arts Alliance is working to help kids find the arts in their lives. The mural is a great way to shine a light on the arts and show how important they are for everyone in our community.”