Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda
Santa Cruz County 2020 Artist of the Year

Multi-media artist Yermo Aranda has been named 2020 Artist of the Year by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission   

Details about his Profile Performance, a free event, will be announced in March. 

Born and raised in National City/San Diego, California, Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda comes from a family of artists, craftsman, and musicians. He is a co-founder of “Toltecas en Aztlan” (1968), a collection of multi-media Chicano Artists. He is also co-founder and First Director of “El Centro Cultural de La Raza” (1971-75), a cultural art center focusing on Latino and Indigenous Art forms. As the Centro’s first Administrative Director, Yermo initiated the first Chicano Park Murals in San Diego in April of 1973. Chicano Park is now recognized as a National Historical Landmark. 

Within a year after arriving in Watsonville in 1983, Yermo began to practice and teach Aztec dance and co-founded the White Hawk Dancers, a cultural arts organization providing Visual and Performing Arts Workshops for youth. In 1985, the first “Xilonen” ceremony on the West Coast was held.  This gathering of Aztec dancers continues to this day, the second weekend of July. In 1995, ten White Hawk dancers went to Shingu, Japan as part of the Sister Cities program, where they danced at the World Exposition in Wakayama. Yermo’s contributions to the White Hawk Dancers has always been on a volunteer basis, and its focus on has always been the youth of our communities.  Yermo works with youth in helping them develop their artistic skills, utilizing murals as the means to involve youth in the arts. He has over 80 murals in the Santa Cruz and Monterey county area, all youth projects. Currently he teaches art and the process of mural painting, locally and throughout the State of California, working with elementary students in Northern California and inmates in a California state penitentiary.

Over the years, Aranda has been commissioned and sponsored by a host of agencies and organizations, including the California Arts Council, Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz County Arts Commission, Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County,  Mexican American Community Services Agency of San Jose, and the City of San Diego.  

Among the awards Yermo has received are a Gail Rich Award in 1997, Watsonville YMCA’s Community Racial Justice Heroes Award in 1999, A Community Heroes Recognition from Santa Cruz County and the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and in 2000, a Jackie Kennedy Award from TV 8, Salinas.

The Artist of the Year program is sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission and the County of Santa Cruz Department of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services.

Background - Over the last 34 years, the County of Santa Cruz Arts Commission has selected outstanding artists nominated by the public and honored them through the Artist of the Year Award.  The award recognizes artists for outstanding achievement in the disciplines of performing, visual, or literary arts.   Previous Artists of the Year include: Tandy Beal, Lou Harrison, James Houston, George Barati, Charles Hilger, William Everson, Doug McClellan, Jack Zajac, Linda Burman-Hall, Adrienne Rich, Frans Lanting, Paul Whitworth, Lynda Watson, Morton Marcus, Carol Summers, Jessica Williams, Karen Thuesen Massaro, Monica Parker, Laurie King, Richard Deutsch, Manuel Santana, Robert Kelley, Phil Collins, Susana Arias, John Babcock, Geoffrey Dunn, Shmuel Thaler, Shelley Phillips, and Cheryl Anderson. Nominees must meet the criteria established by the Commission: 

  • Must be nominated by a resident of Santa Cruz County
  • Artist must reside in Santa Cruz County
  • Artist must have a national or international reputation/standing
  • Artist must have contributed to the cultural enrichment of the local community
  • Artist must have created or presented work in Santa Cruz County.

People seeking more information or who wish to nominate someone for Artist of the Year, please click HERE, or call Santa Cruz County Department of Parks at (831) 454-7901 to request a form by mail or fax. Nominated artists will be contacted by Parks staff regarding application details. The Artist of the Year program is sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission and the County of Santa Cruz Department Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services.

2019 Artist of the Year - Ellen Bass:
Ellen’s work as a poet, educator, activist, and pioneer in the field of healing from childhood sexual abuse has enriched the cultural life in Santa Cruz County for 45 years. She has published six books of poetry, the most recent of which, Like a Beggar (2014), was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Publishers Triangle Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Northern California Book Award.  Among her other literary honors are three Pushcart Prizes, the Pablo Neruda Prize, the Chatauqua Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. She served as Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County from 2014-2016. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker and The American Poetry Review, as well as in hundreds of journals and anthologies including The Kenyon Review, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Nation, and Ploughshares. Ellen teaches in the Pacific University MFA writing program, and serves as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Over the years, Ellen ahs nurtured the work of thousands of students, including some of Santa Cruz’s most beloved writers—Maude Meehan, Elizabeth McKenzie, Len Anderson, and Laura Davis. She has also taught many creative writing workshops at schools, colleges, universities, conferences, festivals and retreat centers nationally and internationally. Ellen currently serves on the governing board for the George Hitchcock Modern Poetry Fund at Porter College, UCSC. Ellen is also a celebrated nonfiction writer and a pioneer in the field of healing from child sexual abuse. From her work with survivors, Ellen helped found and build two thriving Santa Cruz-based non-profit organizations, Kidpower, Inc. and the Survivors Healing Center. 


2018 Artist of the Year - Cheryl Anderson:
Cheryl is in her 26th year as Director of Choral and Vocal Studies at Cabrillo College. During her 26 years as Director of Choral and Vocal Studies at Cabrillo College Cheryl has taught a variety of music, as well as serving as Conductor of  Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, Cantiamo!, Cabrillo Chorale, and Cabrillo Opera, which she founded.  She is also Founder/Artistic Director of  the Cabrillo Youth Choir Project.  The various choirs under Cheryl’s direction have sung concert tours all over the world, including the Vatican in Italy, Carnegie Hall in New York. Cheryl has been a professional soloist and chorister her entire career and conducted professionally both choirs and orchestras throughout the world.  She has received numerous awards and among her most cherished are Gail Rich Award, 2008, and Cabrillo Board of Trustees “Cheryl Anderson Day – December 5, 2016.”   

2017 Artist of the Year - Shelley Phillips:
Shelley Phillips has played with many professional folk musicians in America, Ireland, and the UK. Her solo albums with Gourd Music include The Fairie Round, Pavane, The Butterfly, and most recently, The Wood Between The Worlds. Shelley is director of the Community Music School of Santa Cruz, where she runs Celtic music camps for children and teens, maintains a private studio, and presents concerts and workshops with visiting musicians of the highest caliber. Shelley serves as a board member of the Music of Bhutan Research Center, the American Pipers’ Guild, and Boxwood Flute Festivals. Here are some photos from the event.

2016 Artist of the Year - Shmuel Thaler:
Check out the  Santa Cruz Sentinel article about Shmuel, by Wallace Baine:
Shmuel Thaler's "Profile Performance - A wonderful time was had by all at the Museum of Art and History on May 27, where a crowd of over 250 joined Shmuel for his Profile Performance. In conversation with Wallace Baine, Shmuel talked about his "Photo of the Day" project while previous Photo of the Day images were projected. If you didn't have the chance to attend, here are some photos and a couple of short videos from the event.

Nominations for Artist of the Year


Santa Cruz County Department of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services
979 17th Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
General Information (Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.)
Phone: (831)