S.S. Palo Alto Project, Santa Cruz, California

The S.S. Palo Alto Project is a proposal for a new public ArtPark focusing on the sustainability of the ocean environment. Located off of Seacliff State Beach on the West Coast of the U.S., it was one of the first cement ships built for the WWI military efforts. Now, it has the potential to become a rallying symbol for the precarious future of California's State Parks, and the health of the world's oceans.

The S.S. Palo Alto ArtPark is proposed as an aesthetically enhanced public space on the California coast, engaging transformative education, inspiring environmental awareness and promoting ocean sustainability.

Joining Art and Science, we hope to set a precedent in social responsibility and ocean advocacy worldwide by uniting all 28 internationally renowned marine institutes and labs of the Monterey Bay for the first time. As a conceptual project, students and artists are challenged to research new processes to engage the public in creative change. Dialoging with California's State Parks, our “catalogue of ideas” offers sustainable solutions to a precarious economic and environmental situation. It is a symbolic place to visually bring together our private and public selves.

Located off of Seacliff State Beach on the West Coast of the U.S., the park is already an eco-friendly attraction to four million annual visitors, and the sinking WWI military ship, a magnet. Focusing on sustaining the unique marine life of the surrounding Monterey Bay, with the beloved 'Cement Ship', as it is locally referred to, will provide an educational, recreational, and artistic platform for students and researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, spearheaded by our association with the Social Practice Arts Research Center. The 400 foot long pier leading to the slowly sinking Ship , which is now becoming a new reef, will be filled with imaginative kinetic and solar sculptures, installations, and interactive modules of information. All artworks are completely safe and non-obtrusive to the delicate balance of the surrounding eco-system, and are made with natural, biodegradable materials or otherwise non-toxic systems.

International artists are invited to create the initial works of art at the site, along the pier, on the beach head and with an interior space at the California State Parks Visitor's Center nearby. All access to the ship itself is closed. Viewing will be possible for miles up and down the coast, by sea and from the cliff above. Pressing environmental issues will be addressed in the various projects, including:

  • alternative potable water sources/desalination plants

  • marine debris and fish entanglement

  • ghost nets and fishing line

  • agricultural (toxic) runoff

  • endangerment of the local marine life due to chemical and plastic pollutants

  • PoPs presence in the food chain

  • ocean acidification, red tide, and coral reefs

  • climate change and rising sea levels

  • clean alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power

  • overfishing and sustainable solutions

  • oil drilling and sonar testing

  • tourism and natural marine habitats

There will be a bicycle-powered milkshake "machine" for thirsty tourists, and an effort to convert the nearby concessions stand to a green example of organic and healthy food packaged in recyclable containers. An underwater live video camera around the ship will feed to the Visitor's Center up the beach, giving people a real vision of life under water. Posters and interactive art will illustrate the effects of plastics now polluting the 5 gyres of our oceans. An underwater sculpture garden can be seen by video links to the sea floor, as new sponges and marine life grow.

Our team is composed of artists and environmentalists, marine biologists, scientists, sea explorers, architects, activists, designers, and engineers. Working in tandem with colleagues at UCSC, in both the Art and Marine Science Departments, as well as the local research labs of the Monterey Bay, this is an ongoing project which can grow into a permanent "living lab" in the future for students and general public alike. 

We are proud to work with the UN Safe Planet Campaign which works towards a toxic-free future, specifically the PoPs presence now found increasingly in the human body. Art represents the creative spirit of humankind, and the positive force of new ideas, technology, imagination. This project echos the mandate of California State Parks, which includes providing recreation, promoting preservation, and fostering imagination. It will be at no cost to the State Parks system, but conversely, will hopefully contribute to raising much needed revenues. Establishing an environmentally friendly sculpture garden near the SS Palo Alto is positive momentum which California needs to take the lead in public awareness about our oceans that are in critical health. Blue, which covers 70% of our planet, is the color that gives every human on the planet oxygen to breathe. Art creates a paradigm shift in how we perceive and experience that planet. Time is running out.

Short FILM by Eric Thiermann of IMPACT SS Palo Alto Video

Short FILM by Nomi Talisman SS Palo Alto (7:40)

Barbara Benish, Project Organizer ArtMill/Art Dialogue, o.s.

United Nations Safe Planet Campaign Contact: Michael S. Jones,

Social Public Arts Research Center, University of California, Santa Cruz Co-Founder: Dee Hibbert-Jones,