On the corner of State Street and West Mason Street in downtown Santa Barbara exists a peculiar sight. Upon first glance, there might not be much to notice about the area apart from the vacant storefront that greets motorists driving past en route to the pier. However, the walls surrounding this derelict storefront are adorned with several eye-catching murals.
A painted placard welcomes the occasional passerby drawn to the colorful and bizarre murals. It reads: “Welcome to the A.M.A.S.S. Gallery.” The placard later reveals just what this acronym stands for: “Artists Making a Street Scene.” Part of an initiative headed by local community arts advocate Laura Inks, the project reportedly aims to reduce the amount of graffiti inflicted upon other buildings in the area.
What’s cool is that because the murals are constantly being cycled out, there’s always something new to see. The murals are painted on removable wooden boards that can be sold, collected by the artist or painted over to make room for other local artists to contribute. Past murals have included a Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” tribute and a mural calling for the boycott of BP following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last summer.
Often, visitors will get a chance to see the artists in action, as was the case when I visited the site last Tuesday. At the back of the building, an artist was putting some finishing touches on his latest contribution to the project — a macabre mural depicting a dance of the dead. He claimed this was not his first contribution to the gallery, and he certainly hoped it wouldn’t be his last.
Almost as interesting as the murals themselves, are the smaller contributions surrounding them. Take, for example, the poster with a squirrel seemingly pleading for peace, or the big red door encouraging onlookers to knock on it.
This ever-changing outdoor gallery really is one of the more fascinating sights downtown Santa Barbara has to offer, and is one that any aspiring artist should seek out.