City-funded art installations aim to buck up spirits after pandemic

Berkeley has given artists and performers $200,000 in grants to create public displays that will enliven the city’s spirits.

Ceci Bowman's mural in the 2000 block of Shattuck in Berkeley.  The mural was commissioned as part of the City of Berkeley's COVID Recovery Public Arts program. Credit: Tracey Taylor
Ceci Bowman’s mural in the 2000 block of Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. The mural was commissioned as part of the City of Berkeley’s COVID-19 recovery public arts program. Credit: Tracey Taylor

The colorful figures decked out in stripes, checks and circles and pink, yellow and orange dance and prance around as if at a house party. And in fact, they are.

The House Party is Ceci Bowman’s whimsical creation she painted on the facade of an empty storefront on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley. Her mural is among several art installations commissioned by the Berkeley Arts Work Project as part of a COVID-19 recovery public art program.

A $200,000 budget was designated for artists and performers to help residents “recover in spirit” from the long drag of the pandemic, said Jennifer Lovvon, chief cultural affairs officer for the city’s Civic Arts Program.

Bowman’s is among dozens of artworks that will pop up around the city through the end of June, funded by grants of up to $10,000.

Inspiration for the mural comes from her fascination with clothes and patterns, be it from Berkeley High students or people walking around downtown.

“I’m always inspired by people moving and working together and I think that’s what I’m trying to show there as people of all races and cultures trying to get along,” said Bowman, who has a studio at 1400 Shattuck Ave., where she sells a variety of items from fabric designs in pillows and aprons to greeting cards. 

“You know, although it’s changed so much, the city of Berkeley is actually putting a lot of energy into making things happen down there,” she said.

Ceci Bowman and Cahill Wessel paint a mural in the 2000 block of Shattuck in Berkeley.  The mural was commissioned as part of the City of Berkeley's COVID Recovery Public Arts program. Credit: Tracey Taylor
Ceci Bowman and Cahill Wessel paint a mural on the 2000 block of Shattuck in Berkeley. The mural was commissioned as part of the City of Berkeley’s COVID-19 recovery public arts program. Credit: Tracey Taylor

Just around the corner from Bowman’s mural at 61 Shattuck Square is Parade, a sound-and-video installation by video artist John Sanborn. The installation stops you in your tracks. Out of nowhere, you hear voices and a floor-to-ceiling video of different people singing about collective strength. It’s on view through Sunday, Nov. 28. 

Sanborn worked with Amanda Moody, a Berkeley songwriter and composer, to write a song that would be uplifting to people waking up from the fog of the pandemic. One video shows a few dozen people singing the verse “I’ll be seeing you” over and over again. The performers range from acclaimed opera singer John Duykers to deaf video artist Olivia Ting. Listen to the full Parade song.  

“When the city of Berkeley put out the call for the grants, the idea was to create something that would be uplifting,” Sanborn said. “We’re shrugging off the pandemic and we’re motivated by Black Lives Matter and our social justice consciousness has been elevated. And I thought, ‘Oh God, you know, I could write a song or I could work with a songwriter and do something that’s like the reverse of a lullaby.’ A lullaby is a time to go to sleep. This is, ‘Hey, wake up. I think things are getting better. Hey, wake up. Let’s go back and do all the things that we haven’t been able to do for a couple of years.’” 

It took him a few months to produce the piece but the longest process was finding a storefront, which he says he eventually found through the help of Matthew Jervis, who is director of vitality for the Downtown Berkeley Association. 

“It’s in a nice place where if you go and … you find it, you can stand there and you can listen in and maybe even sing along,” Sanborn said. 

Some installations have come and gone but those that remain are: 

  • The Illuminaries: Love Grows Naturally, a mural by artists Steve Ha, Tim Hon, Romali Licudan, Eric Nodora, and Anthony “Blue” Bayonne, 2447 Dwight Way
  • Photobooth, created by artist and educator Miriam Stahl, celebrating the 2021 Class of Berkeley High, 1980 Allston Way
  • Berkeley Big Book, a mural by artist Nigel Sussman, 2061 Allston Way

More installations will be unveiled through June.

Pamela Turntine is editor-in-chief of Berkeleyside. Email: pamela@berkeleyside.org.