Urban Art: San Jose’s (free) Art Tour, Accessible by Day or Night

KQED Arts recently interviewed San Jose native, and founder of Empire Seven Studios, Juan Carlos Araujo. He talked about murals, particularly the work he and fellow artists have created atop vacant walls and otherwise unusable spaces throughout downtown San Jose.

You see, there’s a bit of a buzz surrounding San Jose’s growing art scene. Many outlets have covered the mural movement, from ABC7, to Content Magazine, KQED, the Mercury News, and a number of bloggers.

Perhaps you’ve seen one or two of the murals yourself? For instance, the iconic “Welcome to San Jose” mural by South Bay artist J. Corbeaux has been a popular landmark since it was created in 2013. Much like the famous “Facebook Thumbs Up” it attracts locals and tourists alike who use the “Welcome to SJ” mural as a popular backdrop for photos. This particular mural can be found at the intersection of West San Fernando St and Delmas Ave.

Intrigued? There’s a terrific interactive map that shows where all of the Silicon Valley murals can be found. Software engineer Yan-Yin Choy has created “Heart of the Valley,” an open source, online map that shows the locations of murals and other pieces of public art, along with a short description (and when possible) the name of the mural and artist, as well as a photo of the art piece. The project is part of Code for San Jose, a collaborative effort by techies who volunteer their skills for civic projects. Links are all listed at the bottom of the page.

So, who’s behind these murals? One of several organizations championing the cause, is a non-profit called Exhibition District – an organization that aims to strengthen the local economy by keeping artists engaged, employed, and active. Their goal is to curb graffiti, beautify streets, instill civic pride, and create a free, outdoor public art gallery of high quality murals. In fact, many of the locations listed on the interactive map are backed by Exhibition District. They also have a great website with photos of their artists’ work.

Another driving force behind San Jose’s street art, is Empire Seven Studios- the guy you heard from earlier. Empire Seven Studios is an urban contemporary art gallery located Japantown. They’ve been an advocating for artists for over a decade, through their local studio and commissioned projects — such as the many murals you’ll find covering the exterior of local businesses throughout the downtown area.

And you know, it makes sense. If you think about it, downtown San Jose has a lot of bare walls. In collaboration with the “Street Life Project”, Exhibition District alone is committed to completing an additional 40,000 square feet of murals in downtown San Jose- rapidly decorating bare walls to reflect the city’s expressiveness. The murals are often chosen for their originality and contribution to the actual space surrounding them; so there’s a sense of context that reflects the city’s commitment to celebrating its communities through urban street art.

Fun Fact: Exhibition District is in the midst of planning for a Guinness World Record called “100BLOCK”. They’re planning to create a mural in downtown San Jose jointly created by 100 artists, a Guinness World Record for the largest collaborative mural – if you’re interested in participating, click the link below to learn more.

You can literally complete a walking tour of the murals, or simply keep an eye out the next time you’re in downtown San Jose. Art is all around us.

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