Since its formation in 2020, Arts Los Altos has installed nine art pieces in downtown Los Altos and another on University Avenue.
Many of those involved in the nonprofit previously served on the city’s Public Arts Commission, including director of development and outreach Maddy McBirney and director of communication and development Karen Zucker.
On the commission, they found it difficult to get artwork installed because they had to go through multiple steps and people for approval, McBirney said.
After finishing their terms, McBirney and Zucker determined it was easier to get artwork installed through private funding – and on private property – rather than submitting to government processes.
Some 3D art installations throughout downtown include “Mandahlia” by HYBYCOZO; “Inflorescence” and “Luminous Waveforms” by Liz Hickok, Phil Spitler and Victoria Heilweil; and “Shaken – Not Stirred” by Richard Starks.
In addition to the 3D installations, Arts Los Altos has been instrumental in getting murals painted on downtown buildings.
More information on the murals follows.
Nora Bruhn’s ‘Floral Therapy’
Installed September 2020
Located at 138 Main St., “Floral Therapy” was the first art installation Arts Los Altos placed downtown. The group chose artist Nora Bruhn, known for painting peonies throughout the Bay Area, because members concluded flowers painted with muted colors would be a safe option.
It is placed near a seating area, which McBirney said adds to the art experience.
“There’s this whole thing about public art and placemaking, so I figured this is the perfect place where people gather to eat and drink,” she
Martha Sakellariou’s ‘200 Main Street [an inventory of time and place]’
Installed May 2021
Because “Floral Therapy” was the first art installation, McBirney said the group directly reached out to Bruhn to paint it. However, for all other art installations, such as “200 Main Street [an inventory of time and place],” Arts Los Altos has put out a call for artwork, giving artists a theme.
Martha Sakellariou is a Palo Alto-based artist who worked with the Los Altos community to gather images for the mural, which initially focused on history. McBirney said she reminded Sakellariou to implement more of the present, so the artist added technology aspects to the mural.
“She put a little kid in her drawing and tried to make it look like a home,” McBirney said of Sakellariou's work. “One of the requirements is to be interactive, so she created this door where people could stand and get a picture.”
Each of the details has meaning and ties to the city’s history or present, McBirney added. There are pictures of when it snowed in Los Altos, and the city’s first female mayor, Audrey Fisher.
The mural was created digitally, so it is actually a vinyl wrap and not directly painted on the wall. Because this was Arts Los Altos’ first time dealing with vinyl wrap, members were initially hesitant.
“We hadn’t done vinyl wrap before, but (Sakellariou) was particular about who installed it, which makes a difference,” McBirney said. “I loved her concept. Another thing that’s cool is that once you pay the artist, you have the digital art, so if it starts to peel off, we can just get the whole thing printed and reinstall it.”
Soon after it was put on the wall, someone peeled a sizable part of the mural, but Arts Los Altos reprinted a new piece and replaced it, and now it is difficult to tell it was patched.
Emily Fromm’s ‘Main Street Movie Theater Remembered’
Installed October 2022
San Francisco resident Emily Fromm painted the mural “Main Street Movie Theater Remembered” on the wall outside Satura Cakes, adjacent to Sakellariou’s “200 Main Street.”
Fromm’s work is an ode to the movie theater that was once on Main Street, which closed in 1976.
“Originally, this design was going to go all the way to the top, but Emily came here and (decided) she did not want to do that, and wanted the outline of the buildings to be the top of the mural,” McBirney said.
The entire mural starts a few feet off the ground, partially due to the shrubs that cover it, McBirney said. Arts Los Altos urged the city to remove the shrubs, so Fromm started the mural higher. In contrast, Sakellariou’s work goes directly to the bottom of the wall.
Cameron Moberg’s ‘Be The Change’
Installed November 2021
Cameron Moberg, another San Francisco-based artist, painted “Be The Change” at 169 State St., a mural depicting
orange monarch butterflies and California poppies. McBirney said the ® mural provides people the perfect opportunity to take pictures around the corner of the building, which is the interactive aspect of it.
“There have been a lot of pictures,” she added. “I saw a couple doing an engagement photo shoot in front of this corner.”
Everything in “Be The Change” was made with spray paint, McBirney noted. As a result of complications with the painting process, Moberg had to retouch everything and get rid of the drips from an anti-graffiti coating.
Roan Victor’s ‘Apricot Blossoms’
Installed July 2022
San Jose resident Roan Victor implemented her first vinyl-wrap public art installation, “Apricot Blossoms,” above BK Collections at 342 State St. The property owner wanted something removable, because he is trying to sell the building, McBirney said.
Victor worked with both Arts Los Altos and the owner of BK Collections to create a design that complemented the building as well as connected to Los Altos’ apricot orchard history.
“(Victor) tried to match the background,” McBirney said. “She originally had a blue sky, but they said they preferred to match the buildings, so she did her best. It’s so cool. From that, everybody wants to do a mural, but they have not really committed to us doing it.”
Jose Di Gregorio’s ‘You Are Here. You Are There’
Installed August 2022
Jose Di Gregorio’s colorful “You Are Here. You Are There” mural, located at 398 Main St., features galactic rainbows and geometric designs.
The Sacramento-based Di Gregorio is known for his cerebral-looking artwork, but he does not typically do figures, which McBirney thought would be a good implementation into the piece. Di Gregorio accommodated the request and added two profiles of an adult and a child facing one another to represent the community.
Everything is spray paint, and Di Gregorio uses masking and tape to create the shapes he wants, according to McBirney.
“It’s his thing to include geometry and rainbows,” she said. “Sometimes his work is super bright, but we had to keep it a little toned down for Los Altos, so we told him to go with the black.”
McBirney added that Di Gregorio had a great energy when he was working, especially on the opening night, and was generally a pleasure to work with.
The Future of Arts Los Altos
McBirney said Arts Los Altos has accomplished much in a short period of time. Once the organization became part of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Intersection for the Arts, it was truly able to flourish.
“It’s a lot, and we only have six of us that volunteer. It takes a lot of time to work with contractors,” she said. “Our goal is to do two or three projects per year, and I think last year we did seven.”
One of the projects Arts Los Altos is tackling next is a mural on the side of Comerica Bank. The group issued a call for art for environmental designs, McBirney said, but there have been a few that were too ambitious. It remains a work in progress. .
For more information on Arts Los Altos, visit artslosaltos.org.
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