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Travel BLOG
April 02, 2018

Artists Aron Altmark and Rachel Stoll Shed Light on Santa Cruz’s Best Kept Secret

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

Visitors flock to Santa Cruz for the redwoods and the coastline. They come to surf world-class waves, to catch sight of a blue whale in the Monterey Bay, and to experience the classic charm of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Santa Cruz has a well-kept secret, however, that’s hidden in plain sight. It’s admittedly still a diamond in the rough but a cavalry of local artists, environmentalists, and community builders have plans to change that.

So, what is this precious local gem that’s been sitting right under everyone’s noses? It’s our city’s primary water source, a vibrant wildlife habitat, and soon-to-be community gathering place: the San Lorenzo River.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

If you’ve spent time along the San Lorenzo it was probably in its wildest state up in the mountains as it winds through Henry Cowell State Park. Few locals or visitors, however, spend much time along its urban riverfront. This ‘domesticated’ stretch slowly meanders from The Tannery Arts Center, through Downtown, past the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and finally spills into the Pacific Ocean.

This stretch, called the Santa Cruz Riverwalk, is the City’s longest park and the focal point of the vibrant Ebb & Flow Festival, a collaboration between artists and environmentalists that will reassure even the most nostalgic old-timer that Santa Cruz's unique culture is alive and well.

We recently met with two of this year’s festival artists at the Radius Gallery in the Tannery to learn about their upcoming installation that will translate the San Lorenzo River into light.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

Meet Local Artists Aron Altmark & Rachel Stoll

Aron Altmark and Rachel Stoll of Visual Endeavors travel often for work, creating mesmerizing light shows for live entertainment experiences throughout the country and across the globe. They’ve worked behind the scenes at parties for tech giants like Amazon and Spotify, lit the stage at popular music festivals like Coachella and Life is Beautiful, and transformed the stadium for WrestleMania, one of the largest live TV and sporting events in the world.

Altmark and Stoll admit their work allows them to live anywhere in the world, but since 2015, they’ve chosen Santa Cruz as their home for its natural beauty, laid back beach vibes, and the inspiring community of artists and other innovative residents. “We’re really big into mountain biking and I’m a trail runner as well so the outdoor opportunities and the culture here was a good fit for us,” says Stoll.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

The creative duo is excited for the opportunity to give back to their community through a truly unique public art installation for the Ebb & Flow Festival. Their animated light sculpture will span the length of the Soquel Bridge, quite literally highlighting a section of the river that’s still widely ignored even though people drive over it countless times per day.

“We’re trying to create a centerpiece in downtown that brings people together and is a point of reflection using light as a medium,” explains Altmark. “I’ve always loved the idea of making public art without any barrier to entry. For this piece, we can construct something that everyone can see any time of day and encourage people to learn more about the river.” 

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

A Fusion of Art, Technology, Science, and Light

Titled River Motion, the art piece will share the story of the San Lorenzo River by illuminating a sculpture with a rainbow of colors that pulsate and undulate at varying frequencies, reflecting data points pulled from the river.

With help from the Coastal Watershed Council, U.S. Geological Survey, and the City of Santa Cruz, these data points will include the river’s depth, volume, and speed as well as temperature, salinity, turbidity, and pH. Altmark and Stoll plan to translate this data into patterns of moving, colored light that reflect the dynamic ecosystem flowing beneath Santa Cruz pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

“What you see in the fall is going to be totally different from what you see in the spring because of the changes in the data,” says Altmark. “As the watershed changes the lights will reflect that.”

Spectators can learn about each of these changes through a website and interpretive signage along the Soquel Bridge. “We’re trying to inspire curiosity and ultimately make people want to learn more about why the lights are changing and what’s driving that,” explains Stoll.

Photo by Crystal Birns

Dance Party on the Bridge!

Beyond Altmark and Stoll’s captivating light installation, the Ebb & Flow Festival promises a weekend of live music, dance performances, dance parties, art-making, and countless other surprises. Michelle Williams, Executive Director of Arts Council Santa Cruz County, has high expectations for the 2018 festival. “This year will be epic,” she says.

Ebb & Flow will be a two-day event, starting Friday, June 1 on Cooper Street in Downtown Santa Cruz. (If you’re not here in June, you can still enjoy River Motion which will remain on the bridge for about one year.) Expect live music, dancing, and art projects outside in the street and in Abbott Square. At sunset, festival goers will crack their glow sticks and walk en masse along the Riverwalk to Soquel Bridge. For the first time in recent history, the bridge will be closed to traffic for the unveiling of Altmark and Stoll’s art installation, followed by an obligatory dance party. (The bridge is closed to traffic – for locals, that means dancing on it at some point is a given.)

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

“The Ebb & Flow Festival gives you a flavor of just how extraordinary our arts and our environmental community is,” says Williams. “It’s this opportunity to step into a homegrown and yet totally extraordinary experience of what Santa Cruz has to offer. It’s so creative and such a great event for families. If I stumbled upon this as a visitor, I would think I had struck gold.”

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