NURTURING ART IN HEALDSBURG
While most Healdsburg locals have spent the 10 months of the Covid-19 pandemic sheltering in place, Jessica Martin has been working to make Healdsburg a more creative and inspiring place to shelter. Martin, 41, who is a professional artist and serves as art instructor at West Side Elementary School southwest of town, also is the curator of VOICES, a four-part public art project that started in October and will continue through the spring. The exhibit pulls together works from a variety of artists—local and regional talent alike.
“Art creates meaningful connections—in this case, between us and our town,” she said recently. “Now more than ever, we need those connections to feel whole.” The VOICES project has included giant sidewalk marigold drawings as part of Corazon Healdsburg’s Dia de Los Muertos event in October; large murals that went over barriers demarking temporary street closures this fall; a series of light sculptures, light tunnels, and film projections dubbed ILLUMINATIONS that runs until the end of this month; and a forthcoming walking tour with interviews and archival footage that corresponds to specific spots around town. See gallery below.
The project was underwritten by grants from Creative Sonoma, the National Endowment for the Arts, Healdsburg Rotary Sunrise, Cartograph Vineyards, Summit Bank, The Hotel Healdsburg Fund, and Garret’s Ace Hardware. It also received support from the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District, and many other local arts committees and businesses. For Martin, VOICES is just the latest artistic escapade in 20 years full of them. She grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains and in San Francisco, and she studied anthropology at Vassar College in upstate New York.
Because her mother was a designer, Martin knew what a life of art would entail. She was not daunted, and she chose creativity as a career. In the beginning, Martin spent her time creating contemporary art pieces for individual collectors, for herself, and also just for the heck of it. Her art career took off, with exhibitions in international galleries and museums. Three years ago, she took a job as the lead teaching artist at West Side Elementary School. Basically, she became the school’s art teacher. During the pandemic, Martin has leaned into this role, nabbing grants from the California Arts Council and other sources to bring in guest artists to present on Zoom.
Of course, the VOICES project was something she’d been thinking about for a long while. “I’d always had this vision of art all over downtown,” she remembered. “Of all the towns in the country, I haven’t heard of any other embracing art the way we did with this project during the pandemic.”
You might remember Martin from “Roving Venue,” the itinerant gallery and one-day event we sponsored at the Mill District site a week before we demolished the old buildings to make way for our project. She and fellow artist Patrick Rhodes organized the whole thing. Because the mother of two has such deep connections to this part of the world, because she’s overseen so many great projects in Healdsburg and lived here for so long, Martin has pretty specific perspectives on what it is about our northern Sonoma County town that makes it such a special and creative place to be. In a word, it’s all about community.
“What piqued my interest about Healdsburg was the nature all around us, the proximity to the ocean, forest, city and mountains,” she said. “But what’s kept me here are the people. We have an incredibly creative and resilient group of people who have been here through the different changes. They’re loyal. They’re authentic. They’re the ones who’ll come running if you need them at 3 a.m.”