Erin Salazar: Creating a Public Art Haven

By Julia Halprin Jackson

Photo: Josie Lepe.

“Art allows people to formulate opinions and have their opinions challenged.”

When Erin Salazar, ’10 BFA Pictorial Arts, moved from the Mojave Desert to San Jose State to study art, she was a blank canvas. Emboldened by her surroundings, Salazar started Dirty Brushes, San Jose State’s fine arts club, and worked at Good Karma Café, where she painted her first mural.

And then, between 2010 and 2012, Salazar lost both parents to cancer. The intensity of her grief forced a path forward. Art became a means of survival.

“I’ve always been bold and I’m not afraid of very much,” says Salazar. “I have very little fear of failure. Losing my parents weirdly freed me because the worst had already happened. Why not do the bold thing?”

The “bold thing” meant establishing San Jose’s Exhibition District, a project which is creating economic opportunities by commissioning 40,000 square feet of murals.

“Public art is the highest form of art because it’s accessible,” Salazar says. “It’s for you, it’s for me, it’s for old people and young people and people who are well and unwell, housed and unhoused. Public art builds community by creating a sense of place.”

Salazar founded Local Color, a nonprofit that provides studio space for artists and keeps creatives “engaged, employed and active.” She has partnered with developers to convert interim spaces into creative havens, starting with the former Ross store on South First Street and transitioning into the 15,000-square-foot basement of 300 South First Street. She was recognized for these efforts by being named one of the Knight Foundation’s seven inaugural Public Space Fellows, a $150,000 honor.

“By creating a platform for artists to tell their stories, we are bringing artists together who inspire each other,” Salazar says. “That gives me hope.”

Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson is a writer on San Jose State University's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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