Focusing on Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone

Welcome to the Funk Zone!

Recently, a tight knit group of artists, shop holders, museums, and wineries in the Funk Zone warmly welcomed the greater Santa Barbara community into their neighborhood for an event dubbed “Focus on the Funk Zone.” The all-day effort was aimed at showcasing the unique mix of culture and creativity tucked away near Santa Barbara’s waterfront.

The streets were buzzing with liveliness as the LoaTree crew made its way through the festivities. Business doors were open with the hum of good conversation and live music flowing out onto the sidewalk. We didn’t know where to go first: should we wander into open art galleries, stroll through the surf museum, look around an antique shop, or lounge in a wine tasting room? The decision was made for us as we were instantly drawn to the sight of live paintings…a perfect place to start!

At the ready.

The Funk Zone’s mural project, Artist’s Making A Street Scene, was in full swing as we neared. The exterior walls of buildings on Helena and Mason Streets had eighteen spaces allocated to them where artists had the opportunity to create vibrant outdoor street murals. Murals of all colors and styles adorned the buildings’ outer walls, depicting nature, Santa Barbara, political statements, artists, and more.

Sean Calen Blake’s ocean deity, “Mother Ocean.”

The first mural we stopped at was a two-toned painting of a woman with a piercing stare. Upon closer inspection, we found that there was much more to the piece than her deep gaze alone. Fish bones, spray paint cans, star fish, and words like acidification and mercury were integrated with utmost detail into the woman’s shell shaped hair, providing a political context for the piece. The mural, “Mother Ocean,” is artist Sean Calen Blake’s depiction of a deity of the sea, and his way of addressing the degradation of the world’s oceans. Sean was among several artists at the event who focused on the sea as their muse, bringing attention to its significance through their art.

We continued on and were pleased to find local high school and Santa Barbara City College students contributing their own artistic prowess to two other murals, bringing a youthful perspective to the event. Sixteen-year-old Jose Ramirez and two friends proudly painted a lively and imaginative ‘graffiti’ mural. Palabra, an anti-violence youth organization, and Youth Interactive Santa Barbara partnered to secure the space for the boys to help “keep us out of trouble,” according to Jose. The good graces of The Arts Fund Santa Barbara provided a similar space for Jessany Rodenas and Rachel Scheib, two young artists encouraged to follow their own artistic inclinations by painting a very cool ‘drip’ style mural on behalf of the Arts Fund.

From there we made our way into the art gallery of Tracy Beeler. Her metal sculptures focusing on Native American culture were on display in her private work space, which oozed of creativity. Half-finished sketches were left out, eclectic decorations adorned every inch of the surrounding tables and walls, and soft lighting and music enveloped us. We complimented Tracy on her work and the inspiring environment she had created in her studio, as she gestured to follow her up the stairs to her personal living quarters. “We haven’t even seen the best part,” she said.

Fire spinning as night falls.

Tracy recounted a bit about her background as an artist and how she wound up in the Funk Zone. She grew up and spent much of her adulthood in Santa Barbara, but after a series of life events felt the need for a change. She moved to Florence, Italy, to go back to school at the Florence Academy of Art to study anatomy. After settling in and spending a few years in Florence, she longed to return to Santa Barbara, missing the comraderie that she had grown up with. “The art scene in Santa Barbara is focused on collaboration over competition,” Tracy explained. “If you needed a material or idea for a project you could just go over to the studio next door and someone would be eager to help.” She says, “It’s a real special thing we have here, it’s unlike anywhere else. The scene in the Funk Zone is all about art and not ego.”

The Funk Zone – supporting the dream.

These same statements were echoed by other artists, business owners, and attendees of the Funk Zone as the festivities continued on into the evening. As we ended our adventure, we strolled merrily past a mural we had bypassed earlier.  The mural read, “THE FUNK ZONE SUPPORTS MY DREAMS.” It was evident in the wine stained smiles of our accompaniment that the sentiment to share, promote, and support the kind of community collaboration found in this unique bit of Santa Barbara was shared by all.

Written by Meghan Hart, LoaTree Intern; Photos by LoaTree


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