UCSB Mural Class Paints I.V. Culture for Future Generations

Photo by Alexander Ortiz | The Bottom Line

Alexander Ortiz

In spring 2014, the mural of the sea turtle off the 65 block of Sabado Tarde was painted by a class coordinated by Professor Ann Hefferman. Around this same time, tragedy struck Isla Vista when an act of violence resulted in the death of six UCSB students.

The turtle was originally the only sea creature in the mural before the tragedy. Angel fish were subsequently added for the six students, according the Santa Barbara Independent.

This is one of many projects painted by UCSB’s I.V. mural class, which has been ongoing for eight years. Each project has its own ties to a culturally significant moment in Isla Vista history.

This winter quarter 2019, a mural representing a view of I.V. is in progress at the 66 Block of Del Playa along the Koto Group residence. In an interview with TBL, Andrew Morrison, instructor of the Isla Vista mural class, said, “The inspiration behind this recent mural is the students themselves and also the Isla Vista culture. The inspiration is also us wanting to get our art into the public eye. Having art as easy access is a principle we live by.”

Jennifer Birchim manages the UCSB Community Housing Office and helped create the mural class. In an interview with The Bottom Line Birchim said, “This class started in 2012 when a student intern of ours, Kat Frazur, voiced an inability to take art classes because of the limited space made even more limited for students outside the major. She noticed that iconic murals in I.V. at the time were being painted over and had this idea of collaborating with property owners because we do that anyways to maintain relationships with property owners.”

Birchim continued, “We asked if they wanted us to do murals on their buildings and they said yes. So Anne Hefferman, who’s a staff person at the library, is this really amazing muralist and began teaching the course with artist Jorge Alvarez. We pay for the materials and the property owner pays the mural artist for their time in teaching the class.”

Professor Anne Heffernan continued to instruct for subsequent years while also alternating the instructor position with other artists: Jeff Paige, Gabriel Cardenas, and most currently Andrew Morrison.  

Birchim also said, “It started as an Interdisciplinary (INT) course at UCSB and included learning about the history and construction of murals and tasked students with sketching mural ideas on paper to then give to property owners who maybe choose a couple of them. After they reworked it to fit the building. The students then would go to the property to paint.”

The class has no prerequisites. As Morrison explained, “Any students can enroll in this class, and what’s required is a great attitude.”

Engaging in cooperative team building is one of the goals for students in the class. Morrison said, “Students roles are not divided, but united, through teamwork. We encourage a profound discipline of working with each other and succeeding as a team. The individual persona gets lost within our inclusive wave of camaraderie.”

The newest edition of artwork joins a collection of works that are supported by UCSB community leaders, instructors, students, and apartment building owners who provide a canvas space along buildings.

The first mural was created on Sueno Road and was a painting of a squid, meant to add vibrancy to the area. Birchim described another mural’s creation process saying, “A property owner was feeling that Del Playa was very male centric, too much testosterone, and wanted to lighten things up so they painted a peacock.”

Each mural has a different creation process. Birchim said, “One mural beside El Colegio on CBC in The Sweeps started with the vision of one student who had the idea of an underwater scene while another student in the class envisioned a galaxy scene. They decided to combine them.”

In fall of 2013, students in the class were tasked with creating their rendition of a popular New Yorker cover called “The View of the World from 9th Avenue” by Saul Steinberg. Birchim said, “The owners of Plaza Lofts had a vision of doing a painting similar to the New Yorker cover. Students created their own rendition called “A View of the World from Isla Vista.”

When describing the significance the class project has on students, Birchim said, “Students now come back, who had been doing them since the 2012,-13,-14, and they see the mark they left on the community. I think in a really positive way, it’s fun and creates such an amazing feeling. I went to school here back in 1996-2000 and there were murals everywhere that got painted over as they aged. Our hope is to maintain these and keep them going.”

Andrew Morrison is the current instructor of the class. In fall 2018, students painted at the Tahitian Apartments off El Colegio. The painting depicts a fallen brick wall that a person can look through to see a sunset overlooking the ocean. The scene captures people surfing, a wandering raccoon, and a resting monarch butterfly. Like the other murals, this one represents unique tokens of Isla Vista culture.

Morrison’s class is currently working on a piece on the 66 Block of Del Playa. Simultaneously throughout the year his class has been working on a documentary, filming the process of creation and success of students in the mural class. It premiers March 8 at 2 p.m. in the MultiCultural Center and is open to the public.