S.S. Palo Alto Project

Barbara Benish, UCSC Social Practice Arts Research Center and SeaCliff State Park in Aptos, CA, UC Santa Cruz

The S.S. Palo Alto ArtPark is proposed as an aethetically enhanced public space on the California coast, engaging transformative education, inspiring environmental awareness, and promoting ocean sustainability. Joining Art and Science, we hope to set a precedent in social responsibility and ocean advocacy worldwide by uniting  all 28 internationally renowned marine institutes and labs of the Monterey Bay for the first time. As a conceptual project, students and artists are challenged to research new processes to engage the public in creative change. Dialoging with California’s State Parks, our “catalogue of ideas” offers sustainable solutions to a precarious economic and environmental situation. It is a symbolic place to visually bring together our private and public selves.  Located off of Seacliff State Beach on the West Coast of the U.S., the park is already an eco-friendly attraction to four million annual visitors, and the sinking WWI military ship, a magnet. 

Focusing on sustaining the unique marine life of the surrounding Monterey Bay, with the beloved ‘Cement Ship’, as it is locally referred to,  will provide an educational, recreational, and artistic platform for students and researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, spearheaded by our association with the Social Practice Arts Research Center.  The 400 foot long pier leading to the slowly sinking Ship , which is now becoming a new reef, will be filled with imaginative kinetic and solar sculptures, installations, and interactive modules of information .  All artworks are completely safe and non-obtrusive to the delicate balance of the surrounding eco-system, and are made with natural, biodegradable materials or otherwise non-toxic systems.

10-12 international artists have been invited to create the initial works of art at the site, along the pier, on the beach head and with an interior space at the California State Parks Visitor’s Center nearby . All access to the ship itself is closed. Viewing will be possible for miles up and down the coast, by sea and from the cliff avove. Pressing environmental issues will be addressed in the various projects, including:  alternative potable water sources/desalination plants; marine debris and fish entanglement ; ghost nets and fishing line; agricultural (toxic) runoff; endangerment of the local marine life due to chemical and plastic pollutants; PoPs presence in the food chain; ocean acidification, red tide, and coral reefs; climate change and rising sea levels; clean alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power; overfishing and sustainable solutions; oil drilling and sonar testing; and tourism and natural marine habitats.

Our team is composed of artists and environmentalists, marine biologists,

scientists, sea explorers, architects, activists, designers, and engineers. Working in tandem with colleagues at UCSC, in both the Art and Marine Science Departments, as well as the local research labs of the Monterey Bay, this is an ongoing project which can grow into a permanent “living lab” in the future for students and general public alike. We are proud to work with the UN Safe Planet Campaign which works towards a toxic-free future, specifically the PoPs presence now found increasingly in the human body. 

Art represents the creative spirit of humankind, and the positive force of new ideas, technology, imagination. This project echos the mandate of California State Parks, which includes providing recreation, promoting preservation, and fostering imagination. It will be at no cost to the State Parks system, but conversely, will hopefully contribute to raising much needed revenues.

Establishing an environmentally friendly sculpture garden near the SS Palo Alto is positive momentum which California needs to take the lead in public awareness about our oceans that are in critical health. Blue, which covers 70% of our planet,  is the color that gives every human on the planet oxygen to breathe. Art creates a paradigm shift in how we perceive and experience that planet. Time is running out.