Together We Rise
Jennifer Cordery (from left), Mary Tartaro, Jane Wrankle, Devi Pride and Liz Payne helped create “Together We Rise: Artists and the Responders of the CZU Fire,” which will be on display at the Felix Culpa Gallery and Sculpture Garden at 107 Elm St. in Santa Cruz. — submitted

In August of 2020, local artist Mary May Tartaro almost lost it all. She and her family lived on 25 acres in the San Lorenzo Valley with multiple buildings on their property, including their family home, Tartaro’s artist studio, her son’s cabin, a guest house and their barn. When the CZU Lightning Complex tore through the area, Tartaro was certain that she and her family would return to rubble following their mandatory evacuation. Incredibly, the fire consumed four buildings on the property but their home was untouched.

“We were incredibly lucky,” Tartaro said.

Tartaro has parlayed that luck into a voice for local artists. She developed the idea for “Together We Rise: Artists and the Responders of the CZU Fire,” an exhibit showcasing the work of various artists at the Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz. The city’s Arts Recovery Design Program funded the idea, and Tartaro joined forces as the curator with artists Devi Pride, Jennifer Cordery, Jane Wrankle, Sam Clarkson and Liz Payne.

The pandemic had forced the artistic hive on Elm Street to shutter its doors for two years, but the gate swung open on Aug. 5, marking not only the resumption of the gallery’s business, but also the opportunity for artists to once again express themselves through their photography, drawings, sculptures, clay and more.

Tartaro’s aim was to shine a light on local artists who had been impacted by the fire. “Together We Rise” features exhibits from artists in Ben Lomond, Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek and Swanton Road in Davenport.

The six participating artists had all been given small grants by the Santa Cruz City Arts Commission, lending to the excitement of the return of the gallery. With over 200 people attending the First Friday event, Tartaro said she and her fellow artists were blown away by the initial reception. 

Each artist was asked to provide a fire story to display with their work, along with a list of area residents and organizations that helped to support the artists in their time of need. There was a common theme among the artists’ stories: loss.

“We all shared our lists with each other, and there was a lot of overlap between us. It was a great way for us to thank all these people and show the resiliency of the artists, and the tightness of the community,” Tartaro said.

In addition to reading the stories, viewing the exhibit and connecting with the artists during the First Friday event, Mountain Community Theater’s Peter Gelblum was on hand to share his new film, “The CZU Fire In Their Own Words,” which details the impact of the fire as told by local San Lorenzo Valley residents. 

“The screening was outdoors in the garden, which made a lot of people happy,” said Tartaro. 

The show will run for two months, with another First Friday event happening on Sept. 2. Tartaro hopes more people will come out to support local artists. 

“In 2020, the gallery had closed and the artists had been displaced, so the grand reopening of the gallery was about how people bounced back from disaster and began their healing process. It’s a display of courage and resilience, and a way for everyone to tell their stories. It’s a celebration of that determination, and how we rise together,” said Tartaro.

“Together We Rise: Artists and the Responders of the CZU Fire” will be on display at the Felix Culpa Gallery and Sculpture Garden at 107 Elm St. in Santa Cruz. For information, visit

Previous articleArt, Wine & Beer Festival Returns This Weekend To Skypark
Next articleSLVUSD Parents Blindsided by District’s Suspension of Bus Route
Christina Wise covers politics, education, art & culture, and housing issues. She has a degree in Communication from San Diego State University, and has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley since 1996. She's a community advocate and a mother of two.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here