Credit: Emma Spencer

A local artist has installed a new mural, and three renovated murals, at Eastside Neighborhood Park, located on the corner of Soledad and Yanonali, with the new piece titled “Los Voladores de Papantla.” A blessing ceremony was held on Tuesday, June 22, “designed to open up the space” and act as a “ceremonial way of welcoming people to the space,” said Ricardo Venegas, Parks and Recreation community center director. 

Local artist Miguel Rodriguez led the project, incorporating different elements of symbols from a diverse group of indigenous cultures such as Chumash, Aztec, Maya, Yaqui, and Totonac. Rodriguez said the redesign took roughly three months, him working mostly on weekends and receiving help from individuals who were completing community service hours. 

Credit: Emma Spencer

Fifteen years ago, the park was “ground zero” for gang violence among youth, Venegas said. Groups from across the Santa Barbara area, and from within the Eastside, were feuding with each other, giving the park a negative connotation, as fights would break out and graffiti would be sprayed on walls, signs, and even the street, according to Venegas. 

Venegas said youth-oriented programs offered by Parks and Rec, such as the Job Apprenticeship Program and Santa Barbara Arts Alliance, gave an opportunity for local adolescents across the city to come together and express themselves through healthy outlets while breaking cycles of violence. The first murals featured at the park in 2008, and again in 2013, were a result of those programs, and it was the youth from those programs who designed and created the murals.

“One of the things people don’t realize is that these programs really do help. It bothers me when someone says, ‘Well how many people have you saved from crime and drugs?’ It doesn’t work like that. You can’t give funding and expect crime to be solved within a week,” Venegas said. “When addressing the cycle of violence, we recognize that we are all Chicanos, and focus on destroying the self-perceived notions of being enemies while rebuilding connections and identifying with our culture.” 

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After giving context to each of the murals, Rodriguez guided the dozen attendants in a brief blessing ceremony where he burned a mix of sage and copal and played homemade Aztec instruments out of clay, including a piece similar to a flute and a rattle, on all four sides of the building.

All of the viewers were invited to be smudged, a spiritual ritual that aims to cleanse the energy of a space, person, or object. Venegas explained that the blessing ceremony is typically a private event, but he said there have been recent efforts to invite the public and educate them on the ceremonies to clarify they are not endorsing a specific religion, and “promoting peace and harmony.” 

Credit: Emma Spencer

Rodriguez also emphasized the importance of feeling connected with one’s roots and how this was the primary aspect in the revamp of the murals. He said he wants residents from different indigenous backgrounds to look around the structure and focus on the various details featuring elements from several cultures.

The front side of the building depicts corn, monarch butterflies, an obsidian dagger, and the hoops featured in the historical ballgame played across Mesoamerica as a nod to indigenous tribes from Mexico and Central America. Tributes to Mayan culture include a vibrant jaguar that dominates the center, and the background featuring a golden-hued depiction of the Tikal pyramid in northern Guatemala. Other sides include a blue deer and dancer from Yaqui traditions, as well as Chumash symbols that are derived from the ones at the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. 

When asked about influences and inspirations for the project, Rodriguez said he was “looking at it as a way of gathering indigenous cultures and traditions but making them flow when put together to create a sense of equilibrium.” 

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