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Poetry In Parks in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park

A Latina woman with wavy dark hair, brown skin, and a bright blue, red, yellow and white dress stands on a stage reciting from a stack of papers in front of a microphone. On stage next to her are potted orchids, flowers, and several bouquets of cut flowers against a black stage backdrop.
Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio kicked off April’s Poetry in Parks celebration. Photo by Scott Green.

Poetry In Parks returned to the Alhecama Theater at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park on Saturday April 20th, 2024. Celebrating National Poetry Month, this free to the public spoken- word and musical event was hosted by the vibrant Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, Melinda Palacio. Scott Green, Poetry In Parks event coordinator from California State Parks, welcomed around 50 poetry lovers and curious park visitors to the historic theater, delivered a land acknowledgement and introduced Tribal representative Steve Villa and Tribal Chairman of the Barbeño Chumash council, Marcos Lopez Sr.— the Chumash Kiyniw Singers — to begin the event with a traditional Chumash song. Mr. Lopez poignantly stated that:

“Art is the heart of Santa Barbara; art is where Santa Barbara started; the Chumash people intertwined art with their culture. A lot of times in modern society we look at art as separate, but it’s not. Art is always at the heart.

Other musical entertainment included performances by the nine member UCSB Middle East Ensemble and The Gruntled, a contemporary music duo. Palacio, the City of Santa Barbara’s 10th poet laureate, curated an amazing line-up of poets, including past Santa Barbara Poet Laureates Perie Longo and Emma Trellis, local poets Diana Raab, Stephanie Berber Hammer and Dr. Monica Mody, a poet and professor of Eastern Mythology. Joining these wonderful speakers was Takunda Chikowero, a 4th-grader from Isla Vista School who won awards in the Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Poetry Program and an Earth Day poetry contest. Takunda read his “Nature” poem and asked the attendees “Will you help me preserve nature?” and was answered by a resounding “Yes”!

A young Black boy wearing a sport jacket and holding a bouquet of pink tulips stands with one hand in his pocket against the outside of a building next to a black wooden “Alhecama Theatre” sign. He is looking at the camera with a serious and proud expression.
Isla Vista Elementary School 4th grader Takunda Chikowero shared his award-winning poem to a supportive Poetry in Parks audience. Photo by Melinda Palacio.

Poetry In Parks was first held at the Alhecama Theater in 2018 and was hosted by then Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, Enid Osborne. The special event series is made possible by funding from Arts in California Parks and is locally a co-partnership between California State Parks, The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture.

An audience of around 20 people are sitting in chairs in a community room, listening to live poetry readings. Audience members are diverse in age and ethnicity. There is a mural of houses with red tile roofs and community members gathering outside under trees at the back of the room. The muted colors are echoed in the dark teal drapes on the tall windows.
Around 50 people gathered to hear live poetry at El Presidio de Santa Barbara Historic State Park. Photo by Scott Green.
Four adults stand together smiling in front of a building next to a black wooden “Alhecama Theatre” sign. From left to right: a white woman with long white hair and black shirt and pants; a Latina woman with wavy dark hair, and a blue, red, yellow and white dress; a white man in a sport jacket and blue button-down; and a white woman with blond hair, sunglasses, a green leather jacket and pants and a blue shirt and scarf.
From left to right: Mona Abadir, Arts in CA Parks Advisory Committee member; Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio; Scott Green, Associate State Archaeologist, Poetry in Parks Project Manager; Ann Bown-Crawford, Senior Consultant to Arts in California Parks, PlaceWorks. Photo by Sarah York Rubin.