If you have spent any time in Arcata lately, you will have noticed a lot of changes, many of which cause no shortage of griping among the citizenry. I'm talking about new construction and roadwork, and one of my own private gripes: address plaques with numerical fonts that summon visions of tony SoCal neighborhoods, here in the Alaska of California. One addition to the town that should be uncontroversial and well-received by the polis is the rapid expansion of public art, most notably murals — though without an accompanying festival as in Eureka ("Murals Under the Bridge," Aug. 11, 2022). From basketball courts to cafes, colors and images are cropping up everywhere across the 95521, with the scuttlebutt saying more art is coming down the pipeline. This is probably a good thing, even if the quality or content of some of the pieces turns out to be bad. I say this because, like many folks out there, I secretly enjoy an eyesore, having been born with the genetic American urge to gawk at the big bright thing. I love a spectacle.
One sunny June day, I was walking down I Street, looking at the uncanny mural gnomes in a state of muted horror when a spectacle (not an eyesore, though) caught my eye. Just up 10th Street, across from the Minor Theatre, a woman on a mechanical lift was painting a large mural on the side of Global Village Gallery.
Tamar Atik was born in Israel 36 years ago and raised in England. She describes herself as nomadic, having spent 11 years in Mexico and Guatemala, and a self-taught painter who turned professional artist four years ago. A course in Italy and a year of study in Mexico City followed, and she painted murals in Mexico and Guatemala before inaugurating her piece in Arcata. Called "Honor the Land," it is the largest mural she has ever painted.
"A friend of mine owns the Global Village Gallery. I spotted the wall and wanted to paint a mural. He was keen, and so was the building's owner, but there was no funding, so I started investigating what I needed to do," she says.
What happened next was a journey through the red tape of realizing an artistic vision. Atik discovered that a permit was required, and with it came the need for insurance, which was "costly." Having no patronage or funding, word of mouth directed her to the Eureka-based nonprofit the Ink People and its Dream Maker Program supporting local creative projects.
"I applied to this program and presented my project to the board and got accepted. This meant that I would fundraise through them, and they would cover my insurance costs, and 15 percent of the money I raised would go to them," explains Atik, who describes the organization as helpful and supportive. "I'm happy to pay a portion of the fundraising to them too because they do fantastic work for creatives in the community." Funding secured, Atik set herself to the work of prepping and painting the area that she had been eyeing.
Starting on May 30, she got five days of help to power wash, prime and paint the dark blue background. "So I was super-grateful for that help as it's a huge job! We had a scissor lift paid for by the building owners — the lift saved so much time and I will definitely get one again for my next large project," Atik says. To get the two coats she needed done in the two weeks she'd have the lift for, she worked from the top down. "I did the sky and the moons first, and then the clouds and sunset. Then I drew the deer out and painted them. For the mandala in the middle, I used a giant compass to sketch it."
Atik notes that though labor-intensive, the project was extremely gratifying and fun, and the public was very friendly and helpful, with Hensel's Ace Hardware donating the paint and materials and the Rental Guys in Eureka providing extra days of use on the scissor lift for free. "The fact that it is a community-funded mural also makes it more special, and people came by and chatted all day. Everyone really seems to like it and I think it makes people happy."
Though Atik completed the project in July, she will be painting an additional connecting mural on another part of the building. She says she has hopes for more projects in the future and wants to make herself available as an artist for the people of Arcata and beyond. "I think public art is so important. It really can change the feel of a place," she says. "I am a huge believer in brightening up and beautifying community spaces, and making art accessible for everyone. Murals have the power to make such an impact, to inspire, and to send messages of hope, positivity and empowerment. I really want to continue to paint and bring more art to communities around the world."
As I said before, I do love a spectacle and it takes real guts to get up and create one of those on the side of a public facade. Atik's mural is technically challenging, bright and beautiful. Here's hoping that Tamar and others like her keep at it for the sake of the rest of us.
Collin Yeo (he/him) lives in Arcata, where his only contribution to public art were things that should have probably gotten him arrested as a teenager.