SANTA MONICA, Calif. — When outdoor dining shut down for the second time, the city of Santa Monica was starting to look like a ghost town, which didn’t sit well with painter and muralist Gus Harper.
When he found out the City’s Cultural Affairs Department was looking for artists to help with the recovery efforts, he applied to help make Main St. more inviting.
“We’re dying to do this stuff anyways,” said Harper. “A lot of times, we just want permission to come out and paint areas around town where we see these big walls or barricades and we’d love to paint this. It’s an opportunity, so we just got permission.”
Inspired by the WPA-era’s Federal Art Project, Santa Monica’s Economic Recovery Task Force launched The Art of Recovery, a program designed to leverage the influence of the arts to aid in the city’s economic, community, and health recovery efforts. Having painted murals around the world, Harper has seen firsthand how art can change the perception of a community.
“The city can come to us because they know they can spend a bunch of money beautifying the streets, or they can hire a bunch of artists to come in to paint the area,” said Harper.
So the city asked the artist to paint concrete barricades originally set to protect al fresco diners with his signature blue gems. And although restaurants aren’t allowed to seat customers at the moment, Harper said he knows his work is already helping.
Melissa Mason happened to drive by and decided to stop to watch Harper work.
“With so much unpleasantness and uncertainty that we’re going through with the pandemic, to drive down the street and to see something like this, it puts a smile on my face,” said Mason.
Shannon Daut, the manager of Cultural Affairs for Santa Monica, explained that the city depends on tourism, sales tax, and beach parking to stay solvent.
“We believe that artists have much better solutions than any bureaucrat can ever come up with for how to help this city through its many challenges and many dimensions of recovery that we’ll be facing,” said Daut.
The program is designed to foster relationships between artists and business districts. Other Art of Recovery projects include Santa Monica Pier’s “Windows of Wonderment” and downtown Santa Monica’s “Winterlit” holiday-inspired storefront art installations.
“There’s kind of a sense of decay and deterioration, so when people come to see people creating, it’s kind of uplifting to the spirit,” said Harper. “And just so many people coming by and giving the thumbs up and saying thank you. They like seeing something new and fresh coming in.”