With the arrival of May comes many things. The beginning of a new season, the realization that 2020 is almost halfway complete, the hope for the COVID-19 pandemic to slow, and, for the city of San Luis Obispo, it means reminding people that Downtown SLO is a vibrant center for creativity and commerce and it will be opening once recovery begins.
“We really wanted to do something light and bright, in a time where it’s been, you know, a lot of darkness and quiet and uncertainty,” Downtown SLO Chief Executive Officer Bettina Swigger said.
Starting the first week of May, several businesses in downtown SLO will be painted with environmentally-friendly temporary paint with floral art themes. The paint will be on the exterior of windows, but business owners can also create floral displays inside their windows if they choose to.
Some businesses that are taking part are Creeky Tiki, The Blade Runner, Linnaeas Café, and Sidecar. Swigger said that once businesses saw the art being painted, others asked if they could also participate. The map of businesses can be viewed here.
“We know there are a ton of really creative people who are business owners and we also have a really vibrant arts community in San Luis Obispo,” Swigger said. “So we thought, okay what can we do that combines the powers of all that creativity and does something so people can experience downtown, maybe go downtown in a safe way so that they’re not contracting the disease, but they can still feel like downtown is vibrant and bright and cheery.”
Swigger said she originally came up with the idea while working from home in San Luis Obispo on a rainy day in April.
“People know the nursery rhyme adage, April showers bring May flowers,” Swigger said. “There are children in my neighborhood on one of the sunny days doing sidewalk chalk and that just made my heart sing.”
While the project didn’t have a lot of parameters, the only requirement was that artists use environmentally safe paints.
“This was a very fluid, it was an idea that, like a flower, you plant a seed and then you kind of wait to see what comes up from the ground,” Swigger said.
The paintings on each business’ windows vary from all different types and styles of flowers.
Many businesses had creative ideas, such as The Blade Runner, which took recycled New Times papers and painted those and then created flowers out of the newspapers.
“That’s kind of a double commentary right, it’s like, here’s a recycled material and here’s also a statement about how we can send things to meet to be to be more optimistic and dark times,” Swigger said. “Making something bright and cheery out of the news which as we know hasn’t necessarily been all that good lately.”
Swigger said Downtown SLO is uncertain how long the paintings will last, but will learn more about the reopening guidelines for shelter-in-place order in San Luis Obispo from County Health Officer Penny Borensetin.
“It could be an evolving project where more flowers cropped up over the course of the month,” Swigger said.
Similar movements have taken place throughout the county, Swigger said. A residential type Easter hunt was seen throughout San Luis Obispo and a teddy bear hunt in Arroyo Grande, based on a children’s book.
Swigger said the goal in the May Flower Initiative is to remind people that even though downtown SLO is sleeping right now, it will come back.
“We’re inviting people to go and look at the flowers and remember their fun memories of being at farmer’s market, shopping for and dining with friends, and that they could do so from a bicycle or from a car or on a walk while they’re there, maintaining that physical distance,” Swigger said. “Just to remember that downtown is still a very very vital part of our community.”