Artist Pattie Porter Firestone’s sculpture “Leaves of Grass” is at the corner of State and Canon Perdido streets. 
Paul Wellman

For the first time in a decade, State Street is playing host to public art installations, this time a series of eight sculptures by area artists along the lower downtown corridor. The official opening of the State of the Art Gallery takes place on 1st Thursday, April 5, accompanied by pop-up lectures, concerts, and workshops.

The sculptures, all meant to invite interaction, include “California Love Locks” by Patrick Melroy, a California-shaped, chain-linked piece that will fill with locks attached by passersby. “Storycatcher Mailbox” will accept letters of praise and grief, with the artist, Danielle Siano, holding weekly letter readings with guest speakers. “These projects are intended to draw people out of the everyday grind, sparking powerful curiosity and compelling them to play along,” said Melroy.

The loss of state redevelopment funding had put a stop to State Street art, but the city recently expressed an interest in reviving the tradition, explained Sarah York Rubin, director of the county’s Office of Arts & Culture. Santa Barbara Beautiful, along with the Downtown Organization and City Hall, contributed enough money to put out an open call for submissions on November 2 and convene a panel of judges with representatives from the S.B. Museum of Art, the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, and other organizations. There were zero restrictions, said Rubin. “Artists could submit whatever they could dream.” The works were presented anonymously to eliminate any possible influence of name recognition.

Between the call and the extended deadline in late January, however, Santa Barbara was hit with the doubly devastating blows of the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow. The disasters certainly changed the direction of the pieces, said Rubin. “A lot of the artists — people who all live here — used their art as a way to address recovery and regeneration.” For instance, “Permission to Heal,” an installation made primarily of earth and sandbags created by brooke smiley and Daria Izad, is designed as a communal space for reflection and mourning.

Though funding for the series is for this year only, Rubin hopes it proves popular enough to keep the tradition going. “We’re hoping people find it intriguing,” she explained, noting the installations are a visual reminder of the fact that Santa Barbara is “packed with practicing artists.” The project is also part of efforts to revive the vacancy-heavy downtown area. “It’s a reason to come to State Street if you haven’t in a while,” said Rubin.


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