San Jose invests big in public art
This San Jose mural on 3rd and Santa Clara streets is one of many art projects that portraits the city's culture. Photo by Jana Kadah.

San Jose artists have the opportunity to receive thousands of dollars to bring their creative visions to fruition. It’s the latest effort from City Hall to bring vibrant public art into the community.

The Creative Ambassadors program gives four San Jose-based artists $9,500 each to create a community art project that invites participation from residents and celebrates the diversity of San Jose’s cultural communities. Applications for projects are due October 10.

“The program is an opportunity to really build public will for the arts,” Danielle Siembieda, senior arts manager for the city, told San José Spotlight. “There is a reciprocal environment where we are able to understand and connect more with different communities around San Jose through these creative ambassadors.”

While the program has been around since 2018, the investment is the latest in a string of city initiatives to bolster public art in San Jose. This year was one of the largest allocations for public art — toppling even future investments in the next few years, according to the city’s proposed budget.

Last year six artists used the money to create projects exploring body image, technology and San Jose’s rich lowrider history.

“The Creative Ambassadors program allows folks to kind of approach the arts more outside of like the museum setting, or the gallery setting which might seem a little bit maybe elitist at times,” said San Jose-based new media artist Ricardo Cortez, one of the grantees last year.

Cortez applauded the city for investing in art programs and public art — a recent phenomenon and the most he’s ever seen in San Jose.

“It’s adding a different element, a different layer to our cultural fabric,” Cortez said. “Austin, for example, or other places where they have a really vibrant artists culture that is heavily supported, the economy in those areas is booming, the nightlife is like off the hook. And San Jose gets overlooked but we could be that too.”

Millions for art

In the last decade, the city has invested millions to liven its public art scene — especially in the downtown core. In 2021, San Jose allocated $6.9 million for artist grants, murals and other creative projects like the Sonic Runway.

That doesn’t include the $2.4 million from new development taxes that will fund public arts projects for the next five years Some projects that will be completed in the coming years include the End of Watch Police Memorial, a window art display for the the 4th Street Parking Garage and the River Oaks Pump Station project which could create an educational artwork/gateway along the Guadalupe River Trail at City Hall.

Councilmember Raul Peralez also secured an additional $250,000 this year to fund murals across downtown — particularly in historically underserved parts of the city.

“Public art does much more than just beautifying a community,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “It may bring pride to a lot of people. It sparks conversation, it preserves our history and culture.”

Peralez said in the last five to eight years, the city really ramped up its investments and its evident in the city’s streets, especially in the SOFA district. There are 250 art installations including murals managed by the city.

“We’ve seen a dozen murals go up almost every single year,” Peralez said. “That was not like when I took office in 2014. The commentary I was hearing was that we were known as ‘Tan Jose’ because everything was just so tan and bland.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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