Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local women artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2017. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.
Erin Salazar grew up in the Mojave Desert, the daughter of a teacher’s aide for high risk youth. When she left Southern California at 17 to pursue an arts degree at San Jose State, “I’d heard that it had a good arts program and it was far enough away from Hesperia so I didn’t have to go home for minor holidays. It was just the right distance away,” Salazar says. “At the time, I thought San Jose was a beautiful, cosmopolitan city.”
Today, her passionate affection for San Jose takes the form of her work beautifying its neighborhoods with murals. As the founder and executive director of the Exhibition District, Salazar is on a mission to fill 40,000 square feet of blank space in downtown San Jose with art, receiving support from both the San Jose Downtown Association and the Knight Foundation.
Salazar started as a muralist herself, taking on commissions so modest she was sometimes paid with free beer and food. Then, in 2011 and 2012, both of her parents died, and Salazar began thinking of her own mortality. “I thought I could be more impactful working for other people," she says, "than just working for myself.”