Take away your preconceived notions of art, community service, and rural Central Valley and get ready to embrace a new generation of
artists, educators, mentors and art scene insiders. Meet Eric Gonzalez, the Visalia 2017 Artist of the Year.
Spray Can artist Erik Gonzalez got his start in the big cities of Los Angeles and the Bay Area where he honed his craft in graffiti art and learned from a community that shared a similar vision. But due to the high cost of living in those urban areas, he relocated to Visalia, a vibrant town at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California’s Central Valley. Although only about 3 hours from LA, Erik didn’t think that Visalia had an audience for graffiti and street art and continued to work on projects in LA. That all changed when he was asked to help organize Visalia’s Taste the Arts Festival, an annual celebration of the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the community that this year takes place on October 20. Arts of all mediums, including street art, come together and take over the streets of downtown at this free festival.
Erik is an ‘all-in’ kind of guy and so once he committed to serving the community through art and public engagement, he jumped in with both feet by serving on the Taste the Arts organizational committee, founding the Urbanists Collective mentoring youth on the importance of art and education, and still having time to create his own work.
It was through his work with Taste the Arts and the Urbanists Collective that Erik discovered a deeply engaged community which energized him to dig deeper and reach further.
Take the ‘Queens of Style’ event for example. In celebration of International Women’s Month in March, Urbanists Collective invited women aerosol artists from around the U.S. to Visalia for a one-day festival to celebrate these talented artists. And they came! Some from as far away as Texas, Chicago, Arizona and throughout the rest of California. Word is spreading, and along with returning participants there are several major artists ready to sign up for next year.
This surprising journey has taken Erik to places one would never expect to see a spray can artist: the National Parks. This September, as part of the Dark Sky Festival in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, he will paint a ‘mobile wall’ to introduce urban artists to the Parks. Quite a leap from the concrete ‘canvases’ of the big city. As Visalia is the gateway to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (the Park gate is just 40 minutes east,) he hopes a new generation of local area youth will begin to appreciate the wide open space of the great outdoors as a place of inspiration as well as gain a ‘respect for nature.’
Visalia supports a lively and diverse arts scene that includes a symphony orchestra, art galleries, arts center for adults with developmental disabilities, murals, one of the largest publicly held Native American basket collections in California, art-painted fire hydrants, and even painted dumpster enclosures. And now add to that a growing and respected Urban Art scene with a hip venue called The Lumberyard where panels and siding become larger than life graffiti canvasses.
After meeting with Eric, it is clear that he has found his home in Visalia, not just for his family but for his art. The youth he mentors in and
around the area, as well as the city, benefit from his passion and energy as he helps to weave together a diverse arts community that draws artists and art lovers to this vibrant central valley city.
- Dark Sky Festival: September 7-9, 2018 throughout Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. All events are free with admission to the parks and include talks by NASA astronauts, star parties, solar viewing, events for kids, and of course Street Art by Erik Gonzalez.
- Taste the Arts: This annual festival –this year it will be on October 20– is presented by the Arts Consortium, the official arts council of Tulare County. Located on the streets of downtown Visalia it is a celebration of the rich cultural and artistic heritage of our community. The Central Valley has a diversity that attracts a broad spectrum of cultures to our region, each with its own distinctive arts and traditions. Taste the Arts celebrates this multi-cultural background with an event just as unique! Taste the Arts offers a full-day of free activities with more than 70 regional visual artists and their paintings, sculptures, steel work, photographs, gourds, and jewelry. Two packed stages feature musical acts, dance troupes, and cultural performers. Hands on opportunity with aerosol art and printmaking workshops, and a Farmers Market “Fun with Food” sculpture contest. ALL FOR FREE!
- The Urbanists Collective mission is to promote the professional expansion of urban art within the community through art education, demonstration, and outreach. Urbanists embrace the concept of redefining public space, with the addition of art and public engagement. Our main focus is to promote the education and positive expansion of urban art within the community. Our group has rapidly grown to include talents such as spray-can artists, photographers, tattoo artists, writers, poets/vocalists, DJ’s, screen printers and more.
Watch for their Queens of Style event in March 2019.