This article was written by BenitoLink intern Kinsey Canez.
On the corner of Seventh and San Benito streets in Hollister, a new artwork welcomes downtown visitors. It’s about 20 by 15 feet and the culmination of community feedback. It’s a mural painted by artist Venecia Prudencio.
For a week in July, the 23-year-old painted the mural—a visual combination of familiar symbols and themes of resilience and community—on the side of what will be the flagship store for Mmm Churros!
The design’s starting point was the city’s name at the center. “It was brought to my attention that the Hollister mural that was on the Vault building is permanently closed off,” Prudencio said. “So, I thought, okay, this is an opportunity to rebirth that Hollister banner type of design.”
Other elements of the mural explore pandemic recovery and the culture of Hollister. “I focused it on immigrant communities and the working class of this town,” Prudencio said. “The hands in the mural represent that they’re carrying a little plant and roots, representing that these communities are the foundation of our town.”
Also in the hands is a valley representing the city’s landscape. The area’s agricultural identity is depicted by fields and California poppies. Butterflies are sprinkled throughout to signify “transformation and adaptation,” Prudencio said.
A familiar landmark, the Hollister clock tower, sits at the top left.
The mural was completed on July 31, but the process began long before then.
In fall 2021, the San Benito County Arts Council received an $18,000 Impact Projects Grant from the California Arts Council to fund a project that would bring the community together after the pandemic.
After the County Arts Council selected Prudencio as the artist for the mural, three community engagement workshops were held online to gather public input on what people wanted to see in the mural.
“We brought people together to talk about things they have pride about in their community, some of their struggles during the pandemic, what they’re looking forward to, and what do they associate in terms of hope and healing in the community,” said Jennifer Laine, the Arts Council’s executive director. “In the second workshop, some of these more theoretical concepts were connected to visual imagery. So if we were looking at courage or hope, participants would sort of sketch out what that looks like to them in terms of icons and symbols.”
At the last workshop, a mockup of the mural design was shared with participants for feedback.
The workshops were advertised throughout the community and open to anyone interested in attending. Most of the time, Laine said, they drew about 10 to 15 people.
During the workshops, the Arts Council was working to select the mural’s location.
Priscilla and Mike Jones, the owners of Mmm Churros!, acquired the downtown building in September 2020 and have been renovating it to become a physical location for their business.
“We knew eventually we did want to put some artwork on the side of it for the city to enjoy and for the community to enjoy,” Priscilla Jones said. They decided to connect with the Arts Council to provide access for the mural.
Prudencio’s mural won’t be the only one that decorates the side of the building though. The Joneses have plans to add others alongside it.
“We’re hoping to put some interactive murals on the bottom of it. You know, like maybe some butterfly wings that match the butterflies Venecia drew,” Jones said. “We want it to be very centric to Hollister’s culture.”
She added, “If it’s possible, you know, we’d love our logo on it. Just a small representation, but also just some nice art to beautify downtown. We’re grateful to be able to offer up this space for the community to enjoy.”
The downtown mural is not the artist’s first. In 2021, Prudencio worked on a collaborative mural at Calaveras Elementary School with summer school students.
She is now working on another mural which will be in San Juan Bautista as part of the project funded by the same grant.
Laine said, “The whole project actually consists of three parts: a mural in Hollister, another mural in San Juan Bautista, and then a digital photography installation that we’re actually going to complete in October.”
The San Juan Bautista mural followed the same process as the Hollister mural, with Prudencio as the artist, three community engagement workshops, but it’s painted on plywood that will be installed at the Carl Martin Luck Memorial Library.
“Since both of the murals have the same prompt essentially, I made it my priority to make them very different because we’re two different communities,” Prudencio said. “I want to honor each in their own way but still have these like recurring themes in them.”
In the San Juan mural, a young girl is looking off into the horizon, with San Juan Bautista scenery behind her. A hummingbird is painted at the bottom center, signifying the Amah Mutsun Tribal community. Its installation date has yet to be finalized.
The digital storytelling exhibition will be open to the public on Oct. 22 and 23 at the Art Council’s Art Depot space on Fifth Street in Hollister.
As for Prudencio’s plans in the coming months, she’ll return to the classroom to teach art and devote time to her personal projects.
The BenitoLink Internship Program is a paid, skill-building program that prepares local youth for a professional career. This program is supported by Monterey Peninsula Foundation AT&T Golf Tour, United Way, Taylor Farms and the Emma Bowen Foundation.