.San Rafael’s ‘Social Justice Park’

The impact of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery’s murders is not forgotten in Marin County. 

On Oct. 22, a permanent art monument will be installed in San Rafael’s Arbor Park, which will be dedicated by the city as a Social Justice Park. 

The installation, two years in the making, is the result of a convergence of factors and contributors. 

In 2020, during the height of the Black Lives Matter’s response to Taylor, Floyd and Arbery’s murders, a chalk mural was put up at the corner of Las Gallinas and Freitas Parkway in San Rafael, to show support of the movement, and the fight for justice. The mural was removed multiple times, and was at one point the site of gun wielding.

The local residents were irate, and gathered together to approach the city, demanding intervention. A resulting group came together, made up of artists, advocates, city officials and community members, who ultimately decided to respond by installing a permanent art piece, addressing social justice, equality, freedom and racial issues. 

Kristen Jacobson, executive director at a San Rafael nonprofit called Youth In Arts (YIA), sat on that group. YIA would come to play a significant role in the city’s decision and subsequent development of the art installation.

“I was actually on that first call, all via Zoom, of course, in October of 2020,” Jacobson recalled over the phone last week. “We all had no idea where things were going to go. But as more and more interested parties started to join, including a lot of city representatives, we pretty quickly decided we wanted to put something somewhat permanent in Arbor Park. It’s right across the street from the chalk mural, so it was pretty perfect placement.” 

The decision made, the group put out a call for artists, reaching out to, among others, Petaluma painter Orin Carpenter. Carpenter is an artist of color, who uses his exceptional painting skills and his passion for art as an invitation to others to expand their perspectives and see the world through different eyes—read more on Carpenter’s work at www.pacificsun.com/orin-carpenter-paintings—and he loved the idea of participating in the piece’s fabrication, with one caveat:

“He was only interested in being involved with the project if he could work with the youth of Marin County, helping them expand their art and use their voices in such critical matters as social justice,” said Jacobson.  

Thus, Youth In Arts became directly involved, turning the project into a youth-based, funded summer program, and putting out a call for emerging youth artists. A group of 10 was selected: Owen Martinez-Alejandre, who was also elected the lead emerging artist, and now attends Sonoma State University; Amber Easterby, En-Ya Zhan and Valarie Baltazar from Terra Linda High School; Anaya Ryan from San Marin High School; Kyndall Carpenter from Marin Catholic High School; Miya Kotaka from Williams High School; Natalie Wong from Balboa High School; Natasha Hirschfield from Marin School of the Arts; and Anonymous from Novato High School. 

The group came together over the summer of 2021, under Carpenter’s mentorship, for six weeks. They met twice weekly, for three hours per session, to discuss social justice, share ideas and envision what the piece would look like. 

“The exciting part is that we were able to pay the youth for their participation—this program became a work-study style project for youth artists that we’re hoping to continue. It was a natural evolution to the process,” said Jacobson. 

The resulting art work, entitled Regeneration, is a symbolic, interpretive landscape piece, representative of multiple ideas, including the diversity of the community, Marin County’s Indigenous roots and the social justice issues still at hand. Regeneration features a Mt. Tam-esque mountain, and the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are etched into one of the trees.

An architect from the initial community group volunteered his time to design a permanent installation to house Regeneration, which was photographed and is being split into three separate pieces of aluminum, mounted triptych style atop a concrete base, with the words Liberty, Justice and Freedom etched below. 

After significant fundraising efforts, and partnership with the city of San Rafael, the parks and recreation department, and with the help of countless community members, the stars aligned and enough money was raised to begin construction on the project, which started in August of this year. 

On Oct. 22, an unveiling ceremony will take place in Arbor Park, from 11-12:30pm. Remarks will be made by Assemblymember Marc Levine, County Supervisor Damon Connolly, Mayor Kate Colin, Councilmember Rachel Kertz, project facilitator Lorenzo Jones, Youth in Arts executive director Kristen Jacobson, Youth in Arts mentor artist Orin Carpenter and Youth in Arts lead emerging artist Owen Martinez-Alejandre. There will also be a performance by Youth in Arts group ‘Til Dawn. 

For more information on this event, visit www.youthinarts.org.  

Jane Vickhttp://janevick.com
Jane Vick is a journalist, artist and writer who has spent time in Europe, New York and New Mexico. She is currently based in Sonoma County. View her work at janevick.com.

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