The murals are being painted on the side of Santa Monica restaurants including Rustic Canyon. Photo by Todd James.

With Santa Monica’s nonessential businesses temporarily closed, the plywood covering storefronts across town is creating opportunities for local artists to enliven deserted streets.

Since the pandemic began, Ruben Rojas, co-founder of public art organization Beautify Earth, has painted colorful murals across town bearing reminders that people can continue caring for others even while physically distancing themselves.

Locals walking past the Chestnut Club will see the message “You can’t quarantine love” on a multicolored background painted over the lounge’s boarded-up window. Rustic Canyon is now embellished with murals telling passers by that “Love is standing six feet apart” and “Together we can.”

“Right now, we’re being bombarded with negativity and fear,” Rojas said. “Our eyes love color, and if I can get your attention I can take you out of this fear-based mentality and show you there’s still love and beauty in this world.”

Rojas said painting murals on temporarily closed businesses will deter the vandalism and break-ins that might be more likely to happen without eyes on the street. Art helps protect public spaces by indicating that people care about and respect them, he said.

“This situation could easily lead to an avalanche effect of neglect, and this is an easy, inexpensive and powerful way to protect our streets,” Rojas said.

Beautify Earth co-founder and CEO Evan Meyer is preparing to scale up the effort as public health officials predict that the shutdown could last through May or June. The sooner public art is installed, Meyer said, the more effective it will be in preventing blight.

“It’s urgent that we keep our streets alive,” he said.

Meyer is calling on property owners and businesses to donate walls or boarded-up doors and windows via Covering artists’ labor and materials costs less than $2,000 for smaller murals and a few thousand dollars for larger pieces, he said.

Meyer said he also plans to collaborate with neighborhood groups, business organizations and the city of Santa Monica, and may launch a crowdfunding campaign.

“Like so many others, artists in our community are in a hard place right now and they need to get paid,” he said.

As new murals proliferate throughout Santa Monica, Rojas said people can safely view them by making them part of their walking, jogging or biking routes, or taking a drive-by tour.

“As long as you’re keeping your distance from other people and wiping down your bike, you’ll be safe, get some vitamin D and exercise, and enjoy our amazing city,” he said.

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