Isla Vista Community Services District Directors Ethan Bertrand, Catherine Flaherty and Marcos Aguilar have formed a commission that focuses on improving nightlife in Isla Vista post-pandemic to bring the community together with live music, cultural gatherings and other events.
When Bertrand first moved to town, he said that nightlife and nighttime activities were viewed by long-term residents as “issues and nuisances” and that the community’s response focused on ensuring that parties “don’t get out of hand at night.” Bertrand hoped to reconcile that with community members’ desire to safely enjoy nightlife in I.V.
“That really got me thinking, how do we move from treating nightlife as an issue and as a nuisance to treating nightlife as one of our greatest cultural assets?” Bertrand said. “How do we make progress to planning for highly engaging nightlife that improves the quality of life for our community, that brings people together and that shapes the character of our community, while also keeping people safe?”
Bertrand said that social isolation during the pandemic reinspired him to jump on the idea of revamping nightlife.
“During the pandemic, we haven’t been able to meet in-person, we haven’t been able to gather, can’t see our friends and I think that really helped me realize how important the social connections in Isla Vista are for making it the place that is,” Bertrand said.
“So, with that in mind, I was really looking for a positive project that could bring people together and that could give us hope for what Isla Vista looks like after the pandemic,” he continued.
When Bertrand ran for re-election for CSD director and Aguilar and Flaherty ran for their first terms this fall, he said he asked his colleagues what they thought about taking on a project to change the culture of nightlife in I.V.
“I was excited about the opportunity to think creatively about [nightlife] and hopefully have a positive hand in being more inclusive to everyone, not just people who live here, but people who visit,” Aguilar said. “How do we make programming in the nighttime just better, more exciting?”
Flaherty said that the commission hopes to generate long lasting traditions within the community.
“We want to change [the stigma] so that we can establish a sense of continuity and tradition with safe, free, family-friendly events,” Flaherty said. “We want this to really be beneficial to everyone and something that people really want to sustain. We don’t want it to be something that only happens for a year and then once people turn out or graduate, the traditions kind of leave with those people.”
Currently, the directors on the commission are planning to present their plans to the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) on Feb. 25 and to hold a stakeholder meeting in March via Zoom where directors can hear from the public, community organizations and businesses about what they want to see in I.V’s nightlife.
Bertrand said that the commission wants to make the process of creating and implementing nightlife events a collaborative one and wants to ensure that all parties involved “have a seat at the table. By working with collaborative partners, Bertrand said, various groups can implement events together.
“My vision is that we’re going to have this first meeting, and that will be an opportunity for us to sit everyone down, and explain the initiative … and hear from folks about what do they hope to get out of this process, and who else should be at the table,” Bertrand said.
Though the commission is waiting to hear what the community wants from a revamped nightlife scene, Bertrand is already proposing live music as a possibility for the commission to explore. Flaherty said that movies in the park, art installations and karaoke nights could also be events of interest.
The commission is also hoping to bring forth cultural events for various communities within I.V., working alongside already established cultural organizations to create these events, according to Bertrand.
Bertrand said the commission will be looking for local talent to highlight in order to implement live music in I.V. regularly. Bertrand said that one way he hopes to work with local businesses is to have “pop up public events at their restaurants or storefronts.”
“When you’re younger and you first move here, you see other people who kind of have their identity nailed down, and when you see someone expressing themselves fully, you realize, ‘That could be me too.’ And that’s what’s really special and magical about this place,” Aguilar said.
“So, once we see some people performing and being exactly who they want to be on stage, that’s going to inspire the next generation to be like, ‘Oh, this is a very welcoming place, I can make my music, I can sing my song, I can create my image.’ And I think that nightlife is one of the main ways that we all see a performative space and that’s really special about Isla Vista,” Aguilar continued.
Flaherty said that the commission hopes to involve a diverse group of people within I.V. in highlighting local talent so that events feel inclusive to all residents, not just students.
“I would love to involve as many different communities as possible [like] the UCSB student population, and also the SBCC student population is really strong … I would absolutely love to have students involved in that,” Flaherty said. “There are a lot of really amazing organizations that are either students-run or are involved with that. I think it would be an incredible asset in this.”
Flaherty also envisions events involving local businesses, which could help the businesses with incurred losses from the pandemic.
“We’ve all seen small businesses really suffer [during the pandemic], and I.V. is such a close community and it’s really hard seeing businesses go out of business and so I think that [involving local businesses] could be a really powerful part of [this project],” Flaherty said.
Bertrand, Flaherty and Aguilar all stressed that they are only in the beginning stages of creating nightlife events for a post-pandemic I.V. and that they are excited to hear what nighttime activities the community wants to see before implementing any ideas at the community meeting in March.