“It's hard to image a place that has no art program, right? That’s why we are in Greenfield.”
“The arts can teach us so much in the ways that the arts engage us in such a beautiful way to participate and to collaborate … the arts show us who we are.” When she first took on the executive director role at First Night Monterey, Ellen Martin found herself attending a workshop in Greenfield, a Salinas Valley community that for many can feel like a world away—separated from Salinas by a 30-minute drive and from the Peninsula via the Santa Lucia Coastal Range.
“I learned that it had the lowest per income capita,” Ellen reflects. “And it didn’t have any formal arts programs and that it was in the heart of the migrant farming community.” First Night Monterey is most known for their New Year Eve’s celebration in downtown Monterey. Its a local cultural tradition that brings together families from all walks of life. But, a
side from busily preparing for this grand celebration, they have taken on an even greater mission of appealing to our community’s diversity and bridging the cultural divide it brings, while broadening and deepening our appreciation for the arts.
FNM serves the community year-round through ArtsWorks, an outreach program providing the community opportunities to learn how the arts can enrich their lives and their community. These hands-on workshops provide youth, young adults and families across the County an outlet to create art and work with artists and educators. The art produced is showcased at First Night Monterey as well as at Monterey Peninsula Airport Gallery, Sunsent Center, The National Steinbeck Center, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco and other public venues throughout the region. “We are always trying to honor, showcase and lift people up. To really be respectful of who they are, where they come from and what their cultural traditions are.” In 2016 First Night Monterey too on the theme “Art is the Next Peace | Connecting Communities” and featured art to promote non-violent resolutions to problems, such as gangs, bullying and domestic violence. FNM utilized the symbolism of fence posts—which have a history of separating neighborhoods—to present peace and justice issues the participants deeply care about.
Hundreds of individuals collaborated to paint and write on 8-foot fence posts depicting stories through words and symbolic images. The Oaxacan community also made dolls—an important handicraft tradition—dressed in traditional clothes with tiny storybooks that depicted their journey to the U.S. (Monterey County is home largest Oxacan community outside of Mexico).
Accessibility and inclusivity are built into First Night Monterey’s ethos. Through intentional programming, they bridge the art gap by serving historically underserved communities and working within communities to create projects that reflect back those they serve, such as through their murals.