On the evening of Thursday, August 4th, a few dozen people gather in the Pacific Outfitters parking lot for a guided walk, ready to take in the sights of the murals that are underway for this year’s Eureka Street Art Festival. The tour is led by organizer and local artist Jenna Catsos, who has been directly involved in coordinating the festival every year since 2018.
In case you don’t know, the Eureka Street Art Festival is a week-long event focused on bringing a new beauty to previously blank or bare walls. Artists from Humboldt and further afield build scaffolding to paint murals of their own making, sponsored by local individuals, organizations and businesses.
Past years have taken place in Old Town, Henderson Center, downtown, and Fourth and Fifth Streets, each time covering buildings and sidewalks with works by new and established artists. This year’s festival welcomed 11 muralists and seven muralist trainees from nearly 500 applicants.
For assistance in the organizing effort, Catsos would like to thank Humboldt Cider Co. co-owner Michelle Cartledge and City of Eureka Economic Development Manager Swan Asbury. “It’s really an affair of the heart,” says Catsos. “There is something magical about working with this small group that is everyone [so] willing to put in an outrageous amount of hours to make this event a reality.”
While the three have been the core group of organizers from the start, Catsos made sure there were plenty of additional volunteers and thanked the community and volunteers for their support in various capacities each year.
“Planning is essentially year-round. We have our block party, we take a little time, and then we get right back to it and start planning for next year,” says Catsos. “Sometimes it can take months and months just to select and approve the walls – there are just so many logistical variables that go into planning.”
One of the locations for this year’s festival featured not one, but four separate spaces for murals. How could one site provide four separate screens, you ask? By holding up the Samoa Bridge.
The piers supporting the Samoa Bridge were proposed and selected following an unexpected but warmly welcomed request from the California Department of Transportation. When the state agency approached the city of Eureka with funds from the Clean California Grant in the spring, staff connected with the festival organizers and a new partnership was born.
Catsos also wanted to give a special thank you to the Humboldt Area Foundation for supporting the festival’s mural apprenticeship program over the past two years. “The mural apprenticeship program allowed us to get involved [and pay] aspiring artists and people who really want to get their foot in the door with mural painting. There’s so much to know about this type of work that even if you’re an incredibly talented painter, you may never be able to delve into murals,” she says. “Part of the intent of this program is to provide a gateway to an experience that can help an artist apply to be a primary artist in the future.”
Both primary artists and mural apprentices are compensated for their time and labor, which Catsos says is a top priority. Alien artists are also compensated for their journey.
Painting a mural titled “Thrive” along the Waterfront Trail is one of this year’s key murals, Tess Yinger. Yinger joined Humboldt five years ago after graduating from Portland State University in Oregon with a degree in printmaking and book art. They currently teach reading and art and run the Redwood Coast Montessori Library. Yinger participated in the Apprenticeship program during last year’s festival, assisting with the large Pen & Pine map at Eureka on E Street.
“It feels really great to be here,” says Yinger. “After attending the apprenticeship program last year I thought I’d apply to be the principal artist and see if I could paint my own mural. To be able to be part of an event where so many people are learning to appreciate art is truly amazing.”
Now that the mural is complete, Yinger will turn his attention to a planned collaborative exhibition with Eureka-based artist Mir de Silva that will take place in September-October.
De Silva herself is no stranger to the festival, having participated as the main artist both last year and the year before. This year, she played a slightly different role, leading responsibility for the community mural titled “Go Fly a Kite,” which features a California condor and depicts a kite, reminiscent of the colorful kites people occasionally see fly by the Bay of Eureka .
The design for Go Fly a Kite was conceived by de Silva and brought to life with help from Evolve Youth Services, an Arcata-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of children and families in foster and adoptive families .
“For this piece, I thought it would be fun to involve kids. I decided to go with a ‘paint by numbers’ design,” says de Silva. “The more people fill it out, the more the design takes shape. At first I expected kids to want to join in, but we had people of all ages wanting to stop and paint. It was great.”
This year’s festival saw the return of a block party on Saturday August 6th, an event that has been put on hold for the past two years due to COVID. The block party included more than 70 different local artisans for shopping, dining, a beer garden and live music.
The remaining murals, erected over the past week, are in the Humboldt Bay Rowing Association boathouse and along the US Highway 101 corridor from the Humboldt Inn to Pacific Outfitters. (Visit www.eurekastreetartfestival.com for a map of what’s new.)
When asked about plans for next year’s festival, a weary but enthusiastic Catsos says no plans have been discussed yet. But nothing is off the table. .
“One of the great things about our team is that there are no bad ideas,” she says. “We’re thinking really big with some potential future plans with CalTrans and we’re really excited about the possibilities of the future working partnership.”
Alexander Woodard (he/him) is a writer and photographer living in Humboldt County.