Artist of the Year

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.
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Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda
Santa Cruz County 2021 Artist of the Year

Learn about Yermo Aranda's history and work below.

A Profile Performance honoring Yermo will be held Oct. 23 at 3:00 PM. For more information, please click here.


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.

Artist of the Year Nominations

Learn about the nomination process for Artist of the Year!

Nominee Criteria
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
Nomination Process


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.

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