The S.S. Palo Alto is a curious oddity with a rich history. It has also become an inspiration to artists who use it to inspire environmental awareness and promote ocean sustainability through the arts. Social Practice Arts Research Center at UCSC is sponsoring the “S.S. Palo Alto Project” which uses the ship as a “thought hub” around which to host art-based projects and events to teach ocean education and inspire environmental awareness.
Richard Desanto, who is coordinating the project says “I wouldn’t look to any one of our events or projects as a distillation of our goals; instead, each functions as a building block to a more environmentally sound future.”
Event: Armour Our Shore
In 2014, across from the visitor center near the “cement” ship, the S.S. Palo Alto Project partnered with Save Our Shores and the Public Art class of Professor Dee Hibbert-Jones to bring art to the shores of the park. Joined by local students of the Mt. Saint Madonna Middle School, teams performed skits to highlight the state of our waters. Alongside the plays were information rich posters covering various issues concerning the oceans as well as activities to further engage with the public. Local television broadcasters were present to cover the event.
Art: Fish Pack Your Trash
Kim Abeles from the S.S. Palo Alto Project has created the “Dolphin Suitcase” made from found trash that had washed up on the beach. The suitcase is a functional “prop” made up of disposable silverware, lighters, straws, and much more. Inside are larger pieces of trash. Abeles, accompanied by her Dolphin Suitcase, visits classrooms and teaches about how trash can become part of the pollutants that get into streams, and then flow into rivers and the ocean.
Dynamic Art: Bike Around the S.S. Palo Alto
The Velodrome Powerstation Project by Nathaniel Freeman and Paul Hempstead, aims to have people bike around a the S.S. Palo Alto on a temporary platform. The bikes are set up with batteries charged by the human-mechanized energy of the riders. These batteries are then plugged into a charging station (in visual range of the Moss Landing coastal power station located 20 miles south) that serves as the central power source of the structure itself, as well as being available for visitors to charge personal electronic devices.
The structure is designed to mimic the existing architectural elements of the pier, and will use reclaimed and sustainable materials as much as possible. The walkway is made in part of a transparent material to allow for views of the vessel and the surrounding water; the same material is used to surround the interior of the track, ensuring rider safety and a clear view of the ship. The project aims to produce enough energy to sustain itself, as well as to incite visitor dialogue and create experiential learning opportunities for alternative energy generation.
For more information and upcoming events as part of the S.S. Palo Alto Project, check out the S.S. Palo Alto Project website and contact Barbara Benish at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour
This piece is part of the Santa Cruz Marine Protected Areas Beaches Tour made possible by the Santa Cruz Collaborative with support from the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Resources Legacy Fund. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.
- SS Palo Alto Art Park, by Barbara Benish. Social and Environmental Practice in the Arts at UC Santa Cruz, 2012. Sparc.ucsc.edu website.
- Personal communication with Barbara Benish, University of California Santa Cruz Art Department Research Associate, Santa Cruz County, April 2016.