A new mural in downtown Vista may be tough to miss: 50-feet long and 22-feet high, with giant eyeballs and cosmic slugs. Vine tendrils snake through Ghandi-inspired words: “Be the change you want to see.”
The edgy look and positive message is just what Lev Gershman wanted when he commissioned the painting on the side of his newly purchased building on Broadway, facing busy South Santa Fe Avenue.
“I am a huge believer in the power of art to change people and places,” the real estate investor said.
Gershman has keyed in on a growing vibe in the city’s historic downtown core as new restaurants and craft breweries bring in a long-sought renaissance. The infusion of life has also turned the newly hip neighborhood into a canvas for artists.
“It is very evident to me that there is that (art) community here,” Greshman said. “I think that is a unique aspect of Vista.”
Alley Art Festival
When: 11 a.m. to 9 pm., Sept. 5
Where: downtown Vista
More info: alleyartfestival.com
Sarah Spinks, a 33-year-old artist and third-generation Vista resident, said she welcomes the emerging downtown art scene, from colorful city-commissioned sculptures to a young urban art festival to pop-up art shows.
“I feel like new energy is being ushered in downtown,” she said. “It has to do with the fabric of downtown changing.”
Spinks pointed to the breweries and to revitalization projects — including new apartments — on long-dilapidated South Santa Fe Avenue. The city is in the first leg of a project to narrow and beautify the corridor.
The idea is to spark redevelopment. Along the way, it’s also sparked art.
Spinks’ group, Backfence Society, has twice hosted pop-up art shows in vacant buildings on South Santa Fe. In June, their one-night-only “Get Weird” show inside a former lawn mower shop drew 1,000 people — double what the group’s show drew the prior year.
Perhaps the most popular face of the emerging art movement is Alley Art Man, a motorcycle-parts sculpture at an alley entrance near Main Street.
Alley Art Man boasts his own Facebook page and has become a frequent backdrop for selfies taken by downtown visitors. The sculpture has grown so popular that the city’s Planning Commission recently backed a plan to name the nearby alley after him.
Maureen Barrack, president of the Vista Art Foundation, said funky and fun works like the metal man are the idea behind the foundation’s Alley Art Festival, a free daylong event introduced last year. It will take place again this year on Sept. 5.
The festival “stimulates the creative vibe that is going on,” Barrack said.
Alley Art Man debuted at the inaugural event. This year’s festival will leave behind a new sculpture: an alley cat.
Other public art programs designed to dress up downtown include the city’s Kites over Vista sculpture contest, which takes place every 18 months or so. The fabricated metal kites hover 10 feet off the ground atop a pole. Eight new pieces were installed in May, including a pelican by Sergey Gornushkin and Benjamin Lavendar.
“Walking on the street, you want to see something beautiful and preferably thought-provoking,” Gornushkin said. “To me, that is what public art is all about.”
Take a live look at downtown Vista on ArtBeat’s livestreaming webcam
Downtown is also home to three-year-old ArtBeat on Main Street, which owner Kait Matthews said is Vista’s only art gallery and features works from local and regional artists.
At 3,800-square feet, ArtBeat also features studios for rent, a workshop for classes, a boutique with art and jewelry for sale, and a wine and beer lounge.
“Vista needs this,” she said. “They need a cultural hub where people that like art can meet and talk.”
Gershman said downtown’s resurgence spurred his decision to relocate his Tidelines Partners company on Broadway, less than a block from South Santa Fe.
“The public art in downtown Vista is one of the things that jumped out to me more than any other city or community in San Diego,” said Greshman, whose company specializes investing in underperforming real estate.
Gershman also bought a small red building that houses a shoe repair and print shop down Broadway. He plans to morph the quaint midcentury site into an eatery, in keeping with the idea of making downtown a destination.
The shoe repair shop owner Tom Fleming, retiring after nearly 30 years in downtown, said streets that were once empty after dark now are full of cars, people, energy.
“The art is a key part of it,” he said. “Art is a draw.”
Gershman said he hopes the new mural, by Travis White (aka Teddy Pancake), will spur other property owners to “invest in tired inventory.”
The two-story artwork, which could be done by this week, faces a planned linear park on busy South Santa Fe. That proximity further spurred Gershman to commission the mural.
“I thought it would be a great place to put up something that brightens people’s day,” Gershman said, “and maybe excites them about having a positive impact.”