Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

The Palo Alto Public Art Project is helping us remember how to be in public spaces again

Mural of a marching band consisting of a variety of foods playing various instruments. The mural reads Welcome to California Avenue.

(Photo: Shala Howell. Mural: The California Avenue Marching Band by Damon Belanger, 2020)

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Santa Clara County moved into the red tier earlier this month, which means things are slowly opening up in our area. Retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums, and even some gyms are open for limited indoor use again.

I don’t know about you, but after a year of curbside pickup, virtual meet-ups, and outdoor activities designed to avoid other people as much as possible, I’m a little worried that my family has forgotten how to function in public spaces near other people. We aren’t vaccinated yet, so for now, I pretty much only want us to remember how to wander around outside in areas that have more human pedestrians than feathered or furry ones.

The folks at the Palo Alto Public Art Project have clearly been laser-focused on meeting my personal needs, because last week they announced a new temporary public art project that is absolutely perfect for this.

The 2021 Palo Alto Public Art Project

Palo Alto has installed eight new temporary murals designed to give residents struggling with the pandemic a bit of an emotional boost this spring.

The murals, all of which were designed by local artists, dot two of Palo Alto’s commercial corridors: University Avenue in downtown, and California Avenue, where we used to spend our Sunday mornings browsing the weekly Farmers’ Market. In the University area, you’ll find works by t.w.fiveRobin AppleLauren Berger, and Katherine Liu. California Ave, which we toured this week, is home to murals by Jorge CamachoDamon BelangerLiz Hickock, and Carrie Lederer as well as a truly impressive variety of outdoor dining spaces for the street’s various restaurants. 

The murals are billed as a temporary installation, but honestly, the fact that the murals will remain in place for at least a year makes me wonder if the pandemic has broken time as badly for the folks at the Palo Alto Public Art Program as it has for me. This remains the longest March ever.

I’ll have lots more to say about the Palo Alto Public Art Project in coming weeks. With our county slowly resuming economic and social activities, this installation is a great opportunity to get my entire family used to roaming freely around the world again. Also, I like writing about this sort of thing.

Selfie of me wearing a blue mask and matching hat against a portion of Carrie Lederer's brightly painted mural, Lost in my Abstract Garden. I've positioned myself so that it looks like one of her birds is perched on my hat.
There’s something different about looking at public art in a pandemic. I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Photo: Shala Howell. Art: Portion of Lost in My Abstract Garden, a mural by Carrie Lederer, 2021.)

Want to see the murals for yourself?

In the meantime, if you’d like to tour the works yourself, you can find an interactive map listing the murals installed so far here.

Did you know that I’ve got a book out about how parents can use public art to engage their children with the world around them?

What’s That, Mom? provides 15 accessible, practical strategies for using public art to spark conversations with children between the ages of 3 and 10 — no artistic talent or insight required. What’s That, Mom? is available at and Amazon.

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