Even as a survivor of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, I find it nearly impossible to fathom the apocalyptic devastation unfolding in Japan. The quake of October 17, 1989 was 7.1 on the Richter scale, which makes Friday's disaster nearly one hundred times worse. There are tens of thousands dead in Japan; in the Bay Area there were 63. And though the epicenter was in Santa Cruz County, only seven souls were lost.
As I look back on the articles I wrote at the time, it seems almost quaint how big a deal it was in so many of our lives. And yet disasters have some aspects in common, whatever the scale. They can leave deep emotional scars on both community and individual and, conversely, can serve to bring people together. I have no doubt that the brave and resilient people of Japan will rebuild their shattered communities to be better than ever. And if you want to help, here and here and here and here are some options.
When the quake hit, I was working in the offices of the Santa Cruz Sun, where we were just about ready to put that paper to bed. That edition was never published. Ten days later, The Sun published its final edition. About a third of our advertisers had gone out of business, and so, consequently, did we. I was asked to survey the quake's impact on the local arts scene:
I wish we had the nerve, or the
wherewithal to grab the great mad
architect Hundertwasser and set him
loose here, designing the Garden Mall
to end all garden malls. Maybe we
could summon Claes Oldenberg to
create an appropriate local landmark;
perhaps a giant banana slug climbing
some otherwise undistinguished edifice. How about a few Bucky Fuller
domes tossed in here and there, like
tomatoes in a salad?
Whatever form it takes, downtown
will rise again; the galleries, the book
and record stores, the endless antique
brokers, the jolly caffeine dispensers,
even the haranguing street preachers
will be back. Whether the struggle
for survival can balance with the ability to dream remains to he seen. Obviously the first order of business is
to restore people's livelihoods.
Perhaps the cruelest blow, culturally, may be
the loss of all three downtown bookstores. Plaza Books may be a total loss.
Logos owner John Livingston was given a yellow tag for the rear of his store,
which is mostly records, while the irreplaceable used-book jewels at the
front were red-tagged. Livingston's
private engineers tell him, however,
that the building can he safely demolished in stages, from the top down,
which would allow recovery of his inventory. At presstime, Livingston is
fighting for the right to do so, but businesses able to reopen are pressing
the city to begin demolition of red-
tagged structures as soon as possible.
Livingston, like Bookshop Santa Cruz
owner Neal Coonerty, vows to reopen
in tents. Coonerty, who was thankfully insured, is planning a 'friends of the
Bookshop" party on November 11, at
a yet-to-be-decided location, to discuss the resurrection of his store.
Among the clichés I am overly fond
of wielding, one in particular has
come true. “You can't throw a rock in
this town without hitting an artist (or
musician)," I would intone. How
many artists or musicians have been
hit by thrown rocks remains to he
seen, but as they sift through the rubble, both physical and psychic, some
problems unique to their professions
Many arts professionals are used to
living on the edge, and might he reasonably expected to weather a few
months of diminished incomes. But
for others, the loss of studios, rehearsal spaces, tools of the trade, or day jobs may prove insurmountable. On
top of whatever immediate losses they might have experienced, the fact
remains that spending plans are being
revised, and support for the arts will
inevitably end up lower on the list.
Lance Linares, head of the Cultural Council; says, “Everyone recognizes
that funding priorities are going to be
directed elsewhere, and rightfully so.”
Among the arts organizations affected
initially are the Art Museum of Santa
Cruz County, the Tandy Beal Dance
Company, the Santa Cruz County Symphony, the Cabrillo Music Festival and
the Cultural Council itself.
Booted from their offices, many of
groups have set up temporary headquarters in homes or vacant office space,
but often without crucial records.
The Octagon Museum, while relatively undamaged by the quake, faces the
loss of much of their archives,
which are housed in the Historical
Trust Building across the street.
The canceled second week
the Open Studios tour has been
scheduled for December 2 and 3, with plans being made to arrange exhibition spaces for those without studios left to open. Many of the others are
speaking of donating a percentage of
the proceeds to artists without work
left to sell, The Artisan's Cooperative
space, for instance, remains fairly unscathed, but countless precious
works have been reduced to shards.
Musicians, though less dependant
on grant money, face the diminished
tourist dollar as well as belt-tightening by impoverished music fans, who
may, however reluctantly, need to
eschew regular nights on the town for
the time being. Jon Saggau, keyboard
player for Farrah Faceplant, came up
with the idea for a series of benefit
concerts for the Red Cross, despite
water damage to his own home,
which was the hand's principal rehearsal space. He and bandleader Carl Christ
approached Michael Alford, booking
agent for O.T.'s, who quickly coaxed
free advertising for the events out of
several area radio stations. The resultant series of shows, headlined by
Faceplant on Saturday, Boys Choir on
Sunday and Andy Santana and the Soul
Drivers on Monday, raised thousands
of dollars for quake relief, as well as
providing a crucial emotional outlet
for bands and audiences alike.
Thankfully, most of the town's major musical venues remain undamaged; the Catalyst, Kuumbwa and Cafe
Cameleon should all be back in business this weekend, barring unforeseen complications. The fate of many
of the downtown art galleries remains questionable, but given the
wealth of creative talent in Santa Cruz
County, there should be no shortage
of work to show. As we all get back on
our collective feet, we'll need the arts
more than ever to help make whatever
sense can be made of the Big Moment.
(Illustration by the great Futzie Nutzle)
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