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Art in the Park: Big Basin’s Transformation

From Devastation to Inspiration Through Art

By Jennifer Mount

This past Mother’s Day, I asked my children to take a hike with me in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Big Basin had been a longstanding camping tradition for our family but the boys had refused to return since the fire. I thought Mother’s Day would be an opportunity where I could convince the kids to reconnect with this beloved place. My hope was to share the mysterious and beautiful cycles of death and rebirth in nature and inspire a new understanding of the wildfire. We shed tears as we arrived not recognizing the land as our previous summer playground. However, as we drove through, our tears turned into awe. The blackened tree trunks were juxtaposed with youthful fluorescent green branches. The wildflowers seemed to smile at you as they lined the paths with vibrant colors. The birdsong traveled through the air with the sweet smell of Spring. It was breathtaking.

18 artists were chosen to visit the park and create soundscapes, architectural elements, statues, short films, paintings, fiber art, wood carvings, photography, and multimedia interactive installations.

Big Basin, established in 1902, is California’s oldest State Park. In the late 1800s, passionate environmentalists formed the Sempervirens Club and set out to protect and to convey the value of this ancient forest. The government contracted with artists and philosophers to interpret Big Basin’s natural, historical, and cultural worth with hopes to inspire the public to visit and cherish its rich offerings. Now, nearly 200 years later, 90% of Big Basin has burned alongside all its infrastructure. Now, through the Big Basin Art About program, artists and creative thinkers have been engaged to document this moment in history and to inspire visitors to come back and experience the park’s rebirth. Despite the impact of the CZU fire, there is still so much to discover and explore.  

Artists who contributed to the project include: Mary and Steve Albert, Michael Crill, Adrienne Defendi, Laura Fogg, Linda Gass, Nicky Gaston, Andres Gonzalez, Tucker Gorman, Patrick Hart, Frans Lanting, Robin Lasser, Melody Overstreet, Samantha Saldana, Chris Sícat, Tina Sommers, Cynthia Siegel, and Donna Thomas. Read more about these wonderful artists and view videos of their work at https://sites.google.com/ports-ca.us/bigbasinartabout/meet-the-artists.

Nature Journal by book artist Donna Thomas

Pictured above, a nature journal by Donna Thomas. When asked about her Big Basin experience, Donna shared: “I was impressed by the park’s focus of looking at the best ways to have a lighter footprint, to increase equitable access to the park, its dedication to understanding the science of the ecological processes, and its desire to make it relevant for all of our different cultures. There is such an opportunity to address so many things now that the park is basically starting over after the fire.”

Big Basin Art About was designed in collaboration with California State Parks, San Jose State University, UC Santa Cruz Mountain Parks Foundation, and Parks California. 18 artists of diverse mediums were invited into the park for a camping and hiking trip to capture and document the past, present, and future of Big Basin. A monumental thank you goes to Mountain Parks Foundation and Parks California for funding the project.   

On Saturday, June 15, 2024 from 10 am to 2 pm, Big Basin will present an exhibition titled “Art in the Park.” This exciting event has inspired California State Parks to continue to collaborate with artists through a new statewide Art in California Parks program. This  new project seeks to establish art installations and programs in state and local parks to enhance sustainable community connections, health and well-being. On June 15th, California State Parks hopes to engage visitors to reawaken our relationship with the natural, cultural, and historic resources of Big Basin. 

From State Parks:

Art in the Park: Big Basin
Saturday, June 15 from 10 am to 2 pm

As part of California State Parks Week, join us for Art in the Park at Big Basin! View art exhibits created through the Big Basin Art About program that celebrates Big Basin’s recovery from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, and create your own! Enjoy a guided nature journaling hike (no experience or art supplies needed), kids’ arts and crafts with your little ones, and watch members of the Central Coast Plein Air Painters work their magic on site! Food is available for purchase from food trucks (cash only) or bring your own picnic. Bring sun protection, bug spray, and drinking water as there is none available in the park. Free event. Santa Cruz Metro Service STRONGLY recommended as Big Basin parking lot will fill early. Santa Cruz Metro Route 35B bus to Big Basin will be FREE and offer EXTRA SERVICE for this event. Vehicle day-use fee is $8 with reservation, $10 first-come, first served. For more information, call (669) 899-1516 or email bigbasin@ports-ca.us. Event made possible by Mountain Parks Foundation, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, Parks California, Save the Redwoods League, Santa Cruz Metro, and California State Parks.

Please visit sites.google.com/ports-ca.us/bigbasinartabout/home to learn more about this special event and experience the metamorphosis of Big Basin.

Jennifer Mount provides educational workshops and consulting for emerging leaders. She has partnered with Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and small businesses and currently focuses on local Santa Cruz County organizations. Visit jennifermountconsulting.com for more information.

Featured photo: Artists gathered in Big Basin to document the park for a June 15 art exhibit titled Art in the Park | Photos contributed

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