A collection of murals was unveiled at Eastside Neighborhood Park in Santa Barbara Tuesday evening, followed by a blessing ceremony to open the space to the community.
The collection, funded by Santa Barbara’s Parks and Recreation Department, includes three re-envisioned murals and one new mural around the bathroom building, all created by local artist and muralist Miguel Rodriguez.
Each mural contains colorful imagery and elements that represent various Indigenous cultures, including Chumash, Aztec, Maya, Yaqui, and Totonac groups.
“We have a very large indigenous community here in Santa Barbara,” said Ricardo Venegas with the Parks and Recreation Department. “They’re almost invisible, if you will, because when you think of Santa Barbara, you think of the American Riviera, but if you look around closely, you’ll see that there’s a migration going on, and there’s some peoples from Mexico coming and going, and a lot of them are passing through on their journey to wherever it is they’re going, and this a very important stop in Santa Barbara for them.
“The parks, like this one, are a gathering place, a place of refuge.”
Rodriguez said the project took about three months to complete, working on weekends, and he chose several important objects and stories from different Indigenous cultures to represent in the murals, such as Chumash symbols, a blue deer, or corn and musical instruments important to the Indigenous cultures.
“A lot of the things I chose is from talking to people in the park,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes it happens like that — people tell me something interesting, and I look into it and make sure I implement them.”
Muralist Miguel Rodriguez plays a musical instrument during a a blessing ceremony in front of one of the murals he created at the Eastside Neighborhood Park in Santa Barbara. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)
After unveiling and talking about each mural, Rodriguez led a blessing ceremony of the murals and the space.
The ceremony involved burning a sage and copal bundle, and playing a flute-like instrument that Rodriguez crafted from clay himself.
Venegas said that these blessing ceremonies are normally more private, but they wanted to invite the public to learn about the ceremony and to know that they’re not for any specific religion.
“This is a spiritual blessing that is designed to open up the space. It’s a ceremonial way of welcoming people to the space.” Venegas said. “We’re blessing the space to welcome people on their migration, people on their journey. People, soil, earth, the trees, the birds — that is the blessing, it’s a welcoming.”
Muralist Miguel Rodriguez in front of one of the murals he created at the Eastside Neighborhood Park in Santa Barbara. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)
Rodriguez also said that these ceremonies include blessing the people present, and attendees were smudged as well.
“Now you belong to the space, and this space belongs to you,” Venegas said following the blessing ceremony. “You are all interconnected.”
The murals can be found on the bathroom building at Eastside Neighborhood Park at 118 N. Soledad Street.