Arts Beat: New arts-focused group celebrates 'diversity of expression'

Oct 24, 2018

Are you aware of the history—and future—of counterculture creativity on the Central Coast? A new organization aims to celebrate and foster local artistry.

On a recent Saturday, a group of about ten people and a dog gathered in front of an old building called “The Establishment” in San Luis Obispo's Railroad District. James Papp, local historian, was sharing stories about a famous former resident, Jack Kerouac, who stayed there while working on the railroad.

This Secret SLO Walking Tour is sponsored by the “Coastal Awakening.” Its logo can be seen on pamphlets and posters promoting various events on the Central Coast. What is the Coastal Awakening?

Bob Shanbrom, one of the founders, explains.

“We’re curators,” Shanbrom said. “This movement exists; we simply recognized that it existed, and we came up with a name for it.”

Shanbrom had a vision. To honor and support, through the Shanbrom Family Foundation, the spirit of contemplation and creative alchemy that thrives on California’s Central Coast.

“I was in the D’Orsay museum in Paris and I was looking at the Impressionist art movement and I thought at some point, these people were just rebel painters—unknowns who couldn’t get their work shown anywhere, but they were doing something,” Shanbrom said. “What if we were doing something here on the Central Coast and we just hadn’t named it. What would that be?”

Shanbrom then met Cal Poly teacher Larry Inchausti, who had written a book about the Beat Generation. Shanbrom and Inchausti worked together to form an organization that could support local artistic efforts.

“Larry wrote an old friend of his—a noted expert in community organization—Peter Block, and he wrote us back this two page post,” Shanbrom said. “If you read it, you’ll know why people get paid $50,000 to write a two-page report. In it, just in passing, he said, this coastal awakening that has been happening...and we said, yes! That’s it! It’s a coastal awakening.”

The Coastal Awakening Festival is the first of what the organizers say will be an annual event.

This year, the focus is on the Beat Generation. The main attraction is the Jack Kerouac Scroll: a 40-foot section of his original, typed manuscript of “On the Road,” which is on display at the San Luis Obispo County Library.

Kerouac’s “On the Road” scroll is in a glass case stretching across a spacious room at the newly remodeled library. Dawn Janke, who runs a writing program at Cal Poly, was instrumental in getting the scroll to San Luis Obispo.

“I’ve always thought it would be really cool to get that scroll here in San Luis Obispo, especially since I knew that Kerouac had lived here,” Janke said. “But it’s not easy to do something like that.”

The Coastal Awakening reunited Kerouac with the Central Coast with the help of the Shanbrom Family Foundation. The county library added funding as well. Janke helped set up the massive display case that was shipped with the scroll.

“So Kerouac typed this, and Kerouac is known for what we now call the spontaneous prose method of writing,” Janke said. “The story goes that he did not want the system of the typewriter to interrupt his thoughts, so he decided to tape together a roll of paper, 120 feet long, and filter it through the typewriter so he could continue to write.”

The founders of the Coastal Awakening point to different people who escaped stress-filled lives elsewhere, and came to the Central Coast of California in search of something deeper or more expansive. As the group describes in its "About Us" section on Facebook, "From Krishnamurti’s disciples in Ojai Valley and the Dunites in Oceano; to the healers and writers at Esalen and Big Sur; and the surfers, hippies, and progressives in Santa Cruz—ours is a legacy of liberation and diversity of expression."

As for the organization itself, “Larry and Bob were the two to get this thing rolling, but they always stress that they don’t own this,” Janke said. “They consider it to be part of a community group that anybody can join and take part in, and share ideas.”

The Coastal Awakening Festival continues into November with an ongoing exhibit at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art called “An Esalen Perspective.” Other events are listed on Coastal Awakening’s Facebook page.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.