Patricia Sullivan brings young Salinas artists and Oldtown businesses together.
Thursday, May 4, 2006
When talking to Patricia Sullivan it’s hard to figure out which is more important to her—art or community. In action, she brings the two together.
Sullivan formed Artistas Unidos-Artists United in 2002 with Eric Bosler, a professor at Hartnell College, and Carl Christensen, director of the music department there, along with local artist Ted Quitevis and middle school art teacher Georgia Schultz. They had all worked together in a group show at the annual Day of the Dead event in Salinas.
“We all had such a great time,” Sullivan explains, “and all the comments were ‘Why can‘t we do this all the time, all year round?’ So, I said, ‘Well, why not? Let’s get together and form an organization and start doing things all year round.’”
At first the group focused on making the Day of the Dead a bigger community event. After their success and a few years of planning and listening to community feedback, Artistas Unidos-Artist United held its first Salinas First Fridays Artwalk in September 2005.
“We only expected 50 people or so to turn out,” Sullivan says, “Instead 500 showed up.”
The art walk that started out with 15 venues involved continues to happen every first Friday of the month, now with more than 44 venues onboard. Sullivan canvassed area businesses, organizations and art galleries, asking them to get involved.
“The response was positive, but some businesses couldn’t figure out how this event applied to them, how they could get involved,” says Sullivan. “I told them, ‘If you’re a gas station, how about classic cars or airbrushing designs on cars? Even the skateboard shop is having shows of local skateboard artists—‘skate art,’ they call it.
“There’s a huge economic benefit in a vibrant arts community, in a vibrant downtown.”
Sullivan is right. According to a study done by the Americans for the Arts in 2002, a person who attends an art-related event spends on average $22.87 outside of the art-related event. That’s just by locals. Non-local attendees spend almost twice as much on hotels, restaurants, parking, souvenirs and more.
“If you have 500 people at an event that’s some revenue,” says Sullivan, who is familiar with the report. “That’s what supports our city services like the parks and rec and our libraries.”
Sullivan, who has lived in Salinas for 25 years and has seen Oldtown go from a ghost town to the plaza it is today, hopes with the success of Salinas First Friday’s Artwalk that one day Oldtown will become the arts and entertainment center of Salinas.
“Tourists aren’t going to stay here to go to a nail salon or a lawyers office. So, if that’s all we have in the downtown area, they’re going to go to the Steinbeck Center, and they’ll walk down one block maybe and then they’ll say, ‘Is this all there is? Let’s go to Monterey.’”
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To that end, Artistas Unidos was recently made an honorary member of the Salinas Oldtown Association and soon will have its 501c3 nonprofit status. It also takes youth from all over Monterey County through the exhibition process of organizing and curating the Salinas Union High School Districtwide Art Show in a program called ArtSong.
Sullivan would like to see Artistas Unidos move into a home base that will offer a place for the underserved population of all ages to go and be creative.
“In the next couple of years, fingers crossed, we will have a space in the Oldtown area that would not only be a really great thing for the community and a resource for local artists and teens with after-school programs, but would be really promoting the cultural tourism.”
Besides Sullivan’s leadership of Artistas Unidos-Artists United, she also mentors, works at Collier Feed and Pet Supply in Salinas, is getting her MA in Arts Administration through a limited residency program at Goucher College in Baltimore, and has her own art on exhibit at The Railway Expess Building.
A community like Salinas, which doesn’t have funding for art and music classes in most of the grade schools, is lucky to have passionate people like Sullivan and organizations like Artistas Unidos-Artist United who nurture arts and culture.
“We couldn’t live without art. Everything we touch involves art,” Sullivan says. “Someone designed the furniture we’re sitting in. Someone designed the building we’re sitting in. Someone designed the clothes we’re wearing. We’re making artistic choices by picking the clothes we’re wearing. I can’t even imagine a world without art. It is a quality-of-life issue.”
FIRST FRIDAYS ARTWALK for May happens this Friday in Oldtown Salinas from 5 to 8pm. Admission is free. For more information, call 758-9126 or visit artistasunidos.org.