It is said that “there is nothing new under the sun”, but if you visit the new Alyce Gereaux Park in Brawley, you are likely to come away thinking differently. Alyce Gereaux Park and projects like it are a welcome relief from the wave of uniformity exemplified by the rise of nearly identical restaurants and big box stores. With franchise expansion in full swing, it has become more important than ever for communities to retain their unique culture and heritage, protecting their historic and original architecture. So much of a city’s identity is in its parks and public art. Community beautification projects provide locals with a sense of belonging and pride in where they’re from.
Upon entering the newly remodeled Alyce Gereaux Park for the first time, during the June fourteenth opening, a uniformed ranger from the State of California Parks and Wildlife marveled at the giant lizard sculptures. He proclaimed, “I can’t believe that this is happening in Brawley.” This awe inspiring remodel never would have happened without the tenacious advocacy of Karin Morgan and Victor Nava. They exemplify the very spirit of community by giving of themselves and their personal resources freely for the benefit of the greater good.
Oakley students enjoy a rest on the on the Gecko Bench prior to official opening of park. The lizard benches represent regional desert wildlife, and are created using hand forged steel and thousands of polished stones from around the world, representing a very accurate coloration and texture of the animal.
The Rainforest Art Project understands that community renovation requires a great deal of respect toward the culture and people who we serve. RAP does not go into a community with a preconceived notion of what their public art should look like, or represent. Our artists work with the locals in order to translate their vision into a design. The artists lend their technical skills, instruction, and support to enable the community to artistically express itself, ensuring that the concept and execution of the art is high quality and succeeds in communicating the intent of the locals.
This transformative process always begins with the advocate. The advocate is a member of the community, be it a politician, an administrator, a businessperson or a parent who wants to make a difference for the future of their children and their neighborhood. Advocates always possess the courage of their conviction, and are willing to speak up for what they feel is right.
Madalyn Willis was the Superintendent of Imperial Unified School District when she became the very first Rainforest advocate in the Imperial Valley. She wanted the students at Ben Hulse Elementary School to participate in creating a mosaic mural for the community, but before we could move forward we needed a believer in City Hall. We approached city manager Marlene Best, who after reviewing the RAP portfolio, became the next enthusiastic supporter of the project, leading to the creation of the giant undersea ceramic and mosaic mural at Papa Eager Park. As the program gained momentum in the City of Imperial, Dr. Robert Pletka, then superintendent of El Centro Elementary School District became very impressed with the quality of work which the RAP students were producing. As a result, he requested similar programs within El Centro schools, beginning with McKinley Elementary on Eighth Street. Once again, the vision exceeded the budget, and Rabobank was contacted to see if they would like to partner in the project. Branch Managers, Victor Nava and Randy Taylor became committed advocates for the Rainforest Art Project, and remain so to this day, nearly ten years later. In fact, it was Victor who introduced the Rainforest Art Project to Karin Morgan, then Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Brawley. The students within Brawley Elementary Schools, working with the Rainforest programs are largely responsible for the design and creation of the amazing sculptures and mosaics throughout the new Alyce Gereaux Park.
Oakley Elementary School Principal Craig Casey and former Brawley Parks and Recreation Director Richard Rubio relax on the new Bobcat Family Bench at the grand opening of Alyce Gereaux Park.
At the Rainforest Art Project, we praise the art advocates. Their generosity and love for their community has jump-started so many positive changes, and made it possible for us to stand by our mission statement: “changing the world one piece of art at a time.” Although, many of these people have since moved on to different communities, and accepted new responsibilities, their impactful humanitarian efforts continue to be felt in the Imperial Valley. Many others remain local, and grace us by persisting in their partnership with Rainforest Art Project and their beloved communities. Without these individuals countless children would have lost the invaluable experience of creating master art projects alongside their peers and a supervising professional artist. These wise souls saw a need in front of them and answered it with a powerful and calculated response. They recognized what art can do when it is used to the extent of its fullest potential to unite us and resolve larger issues, like lack of opportunity or methods for healthy self-expression. If you want to be a part of this change, become an advocate and sustain the efforts of those who set this transformation into motion.
Art Advocates, Randy Taylor and Victor Nava, unveiling the latest Rainforest mosaic project, a partnership with Meadows School, the Imperial Irrigation District, the Imperial Valley Foundation, and the UC Desert Research and Extension Center. The mosaic is currently on display at the entry of Rabobank in Downtown El Centro.