If you love Humboldt, then you know the only thing more fun than living here is getting to experience this truly unique county through someone else’s eyes. That is why the Outpost jumped at the opportunity to document some of California Arts Council executive director Jon Moscone’s visit to our humble home earlier this week.
This was Moscone’s first visit behind the Redwood Curtain, he told the Outpost during a stroll on Monday, and he was excited at the chance to get to better know one of the rural regions that California Arts Council (CAC) serves. Moscone lives in San Francisco and was appointed to the CAC in
2021 2022, after serving as chief producer at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. He has a long history with the Bay Area and a rich background in theater and the arts.
But even though he’s seen much art in his life, we still managed to enchant Moscone with some of the wonderful weirdness and community projects that exist within the arts and culture of rural Humboldt County.
“The Kinetic Lab was so funky and wild,” Moscone said toward the end of his two-day visit. He added that projects like the Da Gou Rou Louwi’ Cultural Center, the Arcata Arts Institute and the Jardin Santuario really stuck out to him as having positive impacts for their communities. “To see the process and the work that’s happening – that really is what inspires me the most.”
The primary draw for Moscone’s Humboldt visit was the fact that Eureka holds one of California’s 14 cultural districts, which were designated by the CAC in 2017 for their cultural diversity and unique artistic identities. So of course Eureka’s cultural district (which includes much of the Downtown and Old Town neighborhoods) was included in Moscone’s visit, but he also had a chance to see many other local cultural and artistic gems, with Leslie Castellano – Eureka city councilmember and executive director of the Ink People – acting as his guide.
After spending part of Monday morning enjoying a steel pan drum performance in beautiful Trinidad, Moscone and Castellano met up with the Outpost and Centro Del Pueblo staff at the Jardin Santuario in Arcata. As the sun unexpectedly shined down, Brenda Perez, executive director of Centro Del Pueblo, gave Moscone a tour of the gardens and shared some of the background and future plans on the community garden project.
A crew of volunteers, including folks from the Presbyterian Church that sit in front of the garden, were busy building a new garden shed, using almost entirely salvaged wood, and the master gardener Adan Cervantes was planting a patch of Nopal cacti.
Moscone was touched by the amount of community involvement that goes into the garden, but he was also shocked to hear about the repeated acts of vandalism on the garden’s sign.
“What they’ve had to struggle through with some of the desecration of their space, and to be resilient from that and to keep going, and using the earth and growing as part of an artistic process of community building – that was probably at the center of my heart for the whole time [of my visit],” Moscone said at the end of his Humboldt trip.
After the Jardin Sanctuario, Moscone was taken to the Creamery District, where Jacqueline Dandeneau, executive director of the Arcata Playhouse and Playhouse Arts, took him on a tour of the various work spaces and artistic oddities. Neroli Devaney, station manager of Humboldt Hot Air, gave Moscone a tour of the station and Shoshana and Linnea Mandell took him through the dance studios at Redwood Raks. Of course, no visit to the Creamery Building would be complete without a tour of the beautiful chaos of old bike sculptures at the Kinetic Lab.
Later on Monday afternoon, Moscone got to tour Eureka’s cultural arts district, check out spaces like the historic Eureka Theatre, the gallery at the Redwood Arts Association and the North Coast Repertory Theatre, where local drag performer Tucker Noir was teaching a performance workshop with some students. Asking some questions about local drag, Moscone was saddened to learn about how local drag shows had been canceled due to threats.
Another part of the tour that left a big impression on Moscone was a visit to Eureka’s old Chinatown neighborhood, where Vicki Ozaki of the Humboldt Asians and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity (HAPI) provided the history behind the Chinatown mural “Fowl” painted by artists Dave Kim and Cate Be. Like many others, Moscone knew nothing about the history of Eureka’s Chinatown or the expulsion of Chinese people in the 1800s and the fact that they were not legally allowed to return until the 1950s.
After visiting the Chinatown mural, Moscone learned about another horrific segment of Eureka’s past, stopping at “The Sun Set Twice on the People That Day” – a mural painted by several local Native artists — and based on a poem written by the late Brian Tripp. The poem and mural focus on the story of the 1860 massacre of the Wiyot people on their sacred island, Tuluwat (also known as Indian Island) in Humboldt Bay. On Tuesday Moscone also had a meeting with Marnie Atkins at the Da Gou Rou Louwi’ Cultural Center in Old Town.
Monday’s jam-packed itinerary ended with a mixer at the Ink Lab in Old Town, where Moscone met many people who work in the arts and cultural realms in Humboldt County. Moscone spoke to the crowd about his experiences from the day and the importance of helping support the arts.
“I have experienced first hand what it is means to bring together disparate community out of struggle, out of some sense of despair, but with a deep sense of hope and optimism for the future,” Moscone told the crowd. “I will do what I can over my years under Governor Newsom to support you and the work that you do to uplift yourselves and your communities to make real impact and real change. I am so honored to be here.”
In a later interview with the Outpost, Moscone said that he was impressed by the amount of work going into local art projects and programs here, but that he felt that Humboldt County really needs a lot more infrastructure in place to help support and connect these programs. He hopes that the $700,000 awarded by the CAC to the cultural district will help with that, but understands that there is also much more funding that will be needed in the future.
“We have to focus our funding on impact,” Moscone said. “And if we can do that, we can make some changes that I hope will benefit our rural communities…What I don’t like is building things on the backs of artists or cultural workers. We need to find all the ways we can integrate artists into other agencies’ work – like the parks and Caltrans – the opportunities that exist for more artists to get paid to do that.”
CORRECTIONS: this Article has been changed from its original version to correct place names and to give local artist Cate Be credit for her assistance with the mural “Fowl.”