The Community Environmental Council’s annual Earth Day celebration took a double hit from the coronavirus pandemic, with the 2020 and 2021 events both moving from the festive Sunken Gardens of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to the virtual world of livestreaming. Looking for a way to preserve some of the missing pageantry associated with the festival, this year the CEC teamed up with the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, the Arts Fund, Paseo Nuevo, and Santa Barbara BCycle to sponsor a 60-foot mural on the Paseo Nuevo Arts Terrace Parking Deck. A panel of judges, one from each organization plus two additional community members, Maria Rendón and Arturo Heredia Soto, came together and selected “Nurture Our Mother,’ by Adriana Arriaga and Claudia Borfiga as the winning proposal from 27 entries.
Responding to a call for entries that reflected this year’s Earth Day theme of climate leadership, Arriaga and Borfiga proposed a brightly colored horizontal grid containing twelve images of nature that people would recognize and appreciate as indigenous to Santa Barbara. From monarch butterflies to a mushroom, a hummingbird, and an ear of corn, these icons of the 805 biota indicate not just the vitality of our region, but also the interconnectedness and unity of its ecosystem. In the mural’s largest panel, keeping watch over everything, there’s one of Arriaga’s instantly recognizable madres, the pop art versions of traditional votive images that this Xicana artist has made her signature trope.
Coming from different backgrounds has not stopped these artists from finding common ground in their passion for public art. Since moving to Santa Barbara from Great Britain several years ago, Claudia Borfiga has proven to be one of the city’s most thoughtful and productive creators in the emerging field of social practice art. In this medium, which is sometimes referred to as relational aesthetics, the emphasis is on the interaction between the audience, the artwork, and the social systems within which the event takes place. Whether she’s working with the Print Power group she founded in 2018 to create grants-funded screen-printing workshops as a means to explore trauma or holding a popup show in the Funk Zone to remind us all that sometimes people just get sad, Borfiga radiates a rare combination of intelligence, ingenuity, and empathy.
Coming out of the MFA program at UC Davis, Adriana Arriaga knew what she wanted to do with her graduate degree in design. Since returning to Santa Barbara, where she grew up and attended SBCC, she has turned her eye toward the possibilities available for art that proceeds from a solid foundation in activism. With this new, high-profile project, she can expect to gain further attention in the art world while her 21st-century Xicana feminist imagery enters into the public art history of her hometown.
What makes this collaboration special, in addition to the evident skill and creativity that went into the work, is the degree to which these artists share a common goal of bringing all people into a deeper understanding of the obligation we have to serve the planet we have been given to protect. As Borfiga told me one afternoon while taking a break from riding the lift to complete the painting, “Whatever we do to the earth at this time we’re going to pass on to the next generation. If we make a mess of it, we are going to have nothing left to give them.” Fortunately, now we have been given this beautiful and inspiring work to remind us of that every time we see it.