City of SLO and SLOMA will continue public art partnership after unanimous vote
The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art has an ongoing partnership with the City of SLO to help with public art installations like murals and sculptures. This month, the City Council passed a proposal to renew this agreement for another two years.
Behind the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo, there’s a mural painted in bright purple, blue and red colors. It represents the mountains and peaks that surround San Luis Obispo, called the Seven Sisters, which were created by powerful volcanic eruptions.
The Seven Sisters mural was painted in 2021 by artist Maria Molteni as a project with the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. The museum wanted to catch the eyes of the community, but struggled to do so at a time when their projects were out of budget and required more staffing. When joining the team in October of 2020, Executive Director Leann Standish had to find a way to execute her plans in the middle of a pandemic.
“We were able to stop doing what the museum had been doing all that time and really reinvent ourselves,” Standish said.
Driving down Higuera Street in 2021, Standish noticed the plain wall behind the Fremont filled with only dumpsters and cars. It sparked an idea to make this wall more notable for tourists and local residents.
After many buckets of paint, Maria Molteni finished the Seven Sisters mural in November 2021.
“[The Seven Sisters mural is] just so iconic. I'm so proud of it. That was a really ambitious project [that] really took more than six weeks. I don't know how many gallons, it was just so big,” Standish said.
The birth of this mural came from the community partnership agreement between the city and SLOMA, which the council just unanimously renewed. It gives SLOMA $100,000 a year for the next two years to help with public art installations around the city to highlight San Luis Obispo’s history and cultural heritage.
Standish said these art installations are either leased or purchased from local artists from the San Luis Obispo community.
“The city's budget allows us to do some pretty extraordinary things. The goal is to create a community where living and working as an artist is possible,” Standish said
Over 40 public art installations have gone up around the city since the agreement was first passed in 2021. Some of these are permanent public art, like the Seven Sisters mural, and some are leased only for the duration of the partnership.
But Standish said this project doesn’t just help local artists. These pieces have become important to the community, and those from out of the area.
Standish said she’s especially proud of SLO’s public art whenever she talks to newcomers and visitors.
“You know anytime you're trying to sell a story about a community, they want to know what's different," Standish said.
She recently gave a tour of the city’s public artworks to representatives of other Central Coast cities, including Ventura. She said she showed them the Seven Sisters mural as a way to demonstrate how public art can help foster a local art culture and bring in tourism.
“For them, it felt very impossible to get to this place where public art was this kind of partnership and they, you know, sort of shared with us their experiences of roadblocks to getting it done and I just felt really proud of us and really excited that we were able to get it done” Standish said.
Now that the partnership is renewed, she wants to paint more murals and install more sculptures around San Luis Obispo. She says it benefits everyone.
“There's lots of great data about public art and how it improves community pride [and] engagement with other people.” Standish said.