Project creates colorful murals to promote lively public spaces in San Jose, Calif.

Communities / Article

Video and photos by Vignesh Ramachandran

Artist Erin Salazar is determined to identify “ugly beige walls” throughout San Jose, Calif., and transform them into colorful murals.

“I want to help be able to give San Jose a visual identity, where you can see a couple of murals and be like, ‘Those are San Jose,’” said Salazar, who is founder of the nonprofit Exhibition District.

The project, supported by Knight Foundation, is targeting 40,000 square feet of walls to help make neighborhoods more vibrant and promote public art. Since June, the organization has rallied artists to transform about 4,000 square feet with three unique murals.

Salazar said Exhibition District is working with local businesses to strategize what type of murals might work best on their exterior walls and is matching artists to paint them.

“We’re just making the connections that artists wouldn’t normally have the time or opportunity to be able to make,” said Salazar, who is also a K880 Emerging City Champion, a Knight-funded program that identifies and supports young civic innovators seeking to have impact in their communities.

Artists are paid professional wages for their work and are compensated for materials and equipment. So far, three muralists have worked on the projects and about 10 others have been employed to assist on the murals. Salazar hopes to employ another 30 to 50 artists in the next five years.

Three businesses across downtown San Jose have volunteered their building exteriors for murals so far. The first mural was painted outside TechShop San Jose (300 S. Second St.) and shows a woman pushing a button with gears and colors and shapes bursting from behind it to evoke creativity. A second mural is outside the workwear retail shop The Workingman’s Emporium (260 N. First St.) and tells the story of the city’s blue-collar workers. You “get a sense of work and labor, and it’s dedicated to the people who literally built this city,” Salazar said.

The latest mural was painted on the side of a hair salon, Brazilian Blowout Bar (489 S. Market St.). Salazar said the image of a woman with flowing locks represents the diversity of people in San Jose and there are other California influences: succulent plants and the endangered gray wolf. This piece took four artists two weeks to paint, she said.

Vignesh Ramachandran is a Bay Area-based freelance journalist. He can be reached via email at [email protected].