County selects Aranda as artist of the year


Santa Cruz County named multimedia artist Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda as Artist of the Year 2021.

Each year, the Arts Commission presents the award to a local artist for their achievements in the performing arts, visual or literary, as well as for their contribution to the overall cultural enrichment of the county.

Aranda, originally from San Diego, comes from a family of artists, artisans and musicians. He studied at San Diego City College and San Diego State and co-founded a number of organizations and projects, including the Chicano Park murals in 1973, now a National Historic Landmark.

After moving to Watsonville in 1983, Aranda attended Cabrillo College and Cal State Monterey Bay. Since then, he has made a name for himself through his various community projects in Santa Cruz County, notably in Watsonville. He co-founded the Whitehawk Dancers, a cultural organization offering visual and performing arts to young people who are still influential in the region.

Aranda currently teaches art locally and statewide, working with students as well as inmates at a state penitentiary. He exhibited more than 80 murals in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, all of which were the result of art projects for young people.

“We often call him ‘Maestro’, the teacher,” said Raymon Cancino, CEO of Community Bridges. “He really served as a mentor to other muralists in the community. That says a lot about his values: not to be selfish, but rather to be inclusive and share his passion with others. “

Cancino has worked on various projects with Aranda, including the restoration of one of his murals at the Community Bridges head office at 519 Main Street. He says Aranda’s work has resonated with him over the years.

“He was one of the few artists to put people like me, people of color, in murals,” Cancino said. “I started to see myself in art because of artists like him. As an immigrant, you often feel left out. But once you see symbols, images that are part of your heritage and your culture… that perception changes.

For Aranda, giving back to his community, especially young artists, is a major accomplishment.

“I’ve seen a lot of young artists say, ‘Thank you for the inspiration you gave me; everywhere I go, I see your work, ”said Aranda. “It’s very rewarding. I like to think that I have contributed to a certain artistic visibility in the city.

Watsonville City Council member Rebecca Garcia was a teacher at Watsonville High School in 1989 when she worked with Aranda to bring a mural to campus. The project encountered a series of roadblocks, the first being the Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck just months after Aranda accepted the project.

Then it was about funding, which was ultimately secured with the help of the city of Watsonville. In 1990 things started again, only to be interrupted by school staff and others claiming the mural was “too Hispanic” and falsely claiming it contained images of gangs.

“I had to be the one to say [Aranda] stop, ”Garcia said. “It was horrible.”

Eventually, Aranda and her students completed the 40-foot-long mural, titled “Sueños” (Dreams) in October 1991. But last year the mural was mistakenly repainted during a renovation of the cafeteria at the school. ‘school. This led to a new painting, again under Aranda’s supervision, with the help of a handful of his original painters and current Watsonville High students.

A short film by local company Calavera Media titled “Painter of Dreams” recounted the repainting of the mural. It screened earlier this year with the Watsonville Film Festival and is slated for the Big Sur Film Festival in 2022.

Aranda will be honored in a live performance on October 23 at 3 p.m., where he will talk about his work. The Whitehawk Dancers will also be performing.

Aranda said he was honored to have been chosen by the county and the larger arts community for his work, and that he was excited about the new creative energy growing in the Pajaro Valley.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Aranda. “This is an important time for all of us… I hope to see even more emphasis on the arts in South County. I’m really looking forward. “

Click here for more information on the event and the Zoom link.



Corina C. Butler

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