Walking Public Art Tour

A piece is called “Wind” in front of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools building is one of many works that can be seen on the self-guided public art tour in downtown Bakersfield.

Photo courtesy of Kern County Superintendent of Schools

The words “public art” and “downtown Bakersfield” haven’t always been used in the same sentence. But they should be from now on. Ours is a very creative city.

“We are so much more arts-inclined than people give us credit for,” said David Gordon, executive director of the Arts Council of Kern. “In fact, we have so much we had to map it!”

Earlier this year, the Bakersfield Convention & Visitor Bureau enlisted the Arts Council’s help in putting together a pamphlet mapping out nearly 100 murals, sculptures, landscape designs, painted utility boxes, tile art, fine art collections and galleries within walking distance downtown. The idea came from visitors who wondered where they could see public art.

“We didn’t have anything except a little card that the Art Association gave out listing galleries to tour,” said David Lyman, manager of the Convention & Visitor Bureau.

Thanks to a grant from The Bakersfield Californian Foundation, ArtTrek, as it is known, was born and a colorful brochure with a detailed map was produced.

The self-guided tour allows much of downtown’s public art to be viewed on foot.

“I like the overall message of the quantity and quality of art that we have,” Gordon added. “We came up with a long list. It is amazing to counteract the misconception that we aren’t cultural.”

Unveiled in April, the ArtTrek brochure isn’t just for visitors. It also encourages residents to play tourist.

“We are trying to educate locals as well because we are all ambassadors,” Lyman added.

The tour includes several murals along the north side of Wall Street Alley and the east side of H Street depicting late 1930s and early 1940s nightclubs. Another, titled “Three Guitars,” is a nod to the city’s rich musical history of locally made guitars and a past Beautiful Bakersfield Award recipient. A couple blocks over inside Guthrie’s Alley Cat is a multipaneled mural by the late American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld – one of just six in the world. It features an array of old Hollywood stars in cartoon.

Some of the ArtTrek works are playful, others nostalgic, but all the items of interest on the map, including the First Friday Art Walk, serve as a reminder of just how artsy downtown Bakersfield has truly become in the last decade.

“This brochure is bigger than I ever imagined because the number of art pieces kept popping up,” Lyman said, adding that there will likely be a second printing.

So many pieces that they were limited by space and unable to include the background on each. “Art is an economic driver,” Lyman said. “If we can get people downtown looking at art, the greater the chance they will wander, explore and spend money. That’s what it’s all about.”

So whether you are a longtime resident, a first-time visitor or somewhere in between, pick up your free copy of ArtTrek at the Arts Council of Kern, 1330 Truxtun Ave., Suite B; stop by the Bakersfield Convention and Visitor Bureau at 515 Truxtun Ave.; or download a copy at visitbakersfield.com and get trekking.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lisa Kimble.

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