These days, many consider the arts scene in Paso Robles to be thriving. A new downtown mural adds to a blossoming of public art. But it hasn’t always been so.
Paso Robles artist Anne Laddon remembers:
“Absolutely nothing was going on in the arts community when I arrived here in 1984,” Laddon said.
Laddon is the founder of Studios on the Park, the nonprofit open studio gallery in the center of downtown. But back in the 1980s…
“There were always lots of artists hidden away in the north [San Luis Obispo] county that loved it like I did,” Laddon said. “But we didn't have places to show. Occasionally there would be a small gallery or frame shop that would open and close over the years. The city has told me that there were 22 auto repair shops here and this was the place where you stopped only if your car broke down.”
Before moving to Paso Robles, Laddon had been part of a large, successful studio full of working artists. She was on the lookout for a perfect location in Paso Robles where the artists could create and sell art, all under one roof.
“Well, I found the last remaining example of an auto parts building that hadn’t been torn down and made into a restaurant or a bunch of stores and it was empty for five years after the 2003 earthquake,” Laddon said.
Turning that building into Studios on the Park was a long process, but for the last ten years, artists, visitors and students have livened the arts scene as downtown Paso Robles has become a tourist destination, with wineries, shops and restaurants. An idea for a large mural was formed.
The executive director of Studios on the Park, Sasha Irving, was visiting Denver, Colorado when she discovered the artist Pat Milbery and his crew.
“She saw him painting a mural on the streets of Denver and sent me pictures of his work and I thought, ‘oh my gosh, this style would be perfect in Paso,’” Laddon said.
Milbery was happy to do a mural project out here. The artist spoke to KCBX from Denver:
“She downplayed it like I wouldn’t know what she was talking about, but I actually did know where Paso Robles was from traveling as a teenager, going on a vacation with my family, and we stopped in the town as we were driving up and down California,” Milbery said.
Milbery visited the area again, to get the feel of Paso Robles - and to try the wine.
“I realized there are so many young entrepreneurial minded people within that industry doing super unique, non traditional things within the process of making wine,” Milbery. “And so I started getting a lot of that energy after we visited the wineries.”
Studios on the Park collaborated with a donor to get the project going. Laddon helped the artist with some design ideas.
“I wanted to make sure he knew what the iconic symbols of our area were besides our wine; which is of course the economic driver for everything,” Laddon said. “I said Pat, you need to have a tractor and a cow.”
The mural is called “Enjoy Paso,” and it covers a wall on the north side of a restaurant. Milbery and his crew drew a crowd of onlookers and helpers as they painted.
“We had close to 50 people out there; young kids, teachers, parents, families, everyone painting with us,” Milbery said. “It wasn’t just like an artist came into town, painted this mural, and that’s what Paso Robles is supposed to be like. And a lot of young art students came out and this was the first time they ever put paint on a wall.”
Milbery sees public art’s influence growing, and hopes the new mural will become a digital postcard.
“Wow, for the first time ever we can measure the results of public art,” Milbery said. “With the digital era you can now track how many people share a photo. Instead of just being a mural, now a mural becomes a landmark. They took a photo in front of it then shared to their profile. It shows where their location was and shows that they hashtagged a photo.”
Just this week, the Paso Robles Planning Commission moved to streamline the process for public art.
The mural is located at 12th and Spring Street in Paso Robles. Be sure to take a selfie!
The Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.