‘We’re bringing Healdsburg back to Healdsburg’: Monarch Project beautifies alley by Black Oak Coffee Roasters

Black Oak Coffee Roasters has partnered with Santa Rosa-based artists from the Monarch Project to create the mural.|

Onlookers stop, stare and take photos as Rima Makaryan mixes paint with her brush. Beaming, she covers her eyes from the sun and scans her work — a large mural she designed in the alley by Black Oak Coffee Roasters in downtown Healdsburg.

Black Oak Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop that opened in November, has partnered with Santa Rosa-based artists from the Monarch Project to create a 53-foot-by-12-foot community-inspired mural.

The Monarch Project is a group of artists from Sonoma County who use art to tell the stories of immigrants and to empower the community. They have painted various murals across the county, including at Three Disciples Brewing in downtown Santa Rosa, skate shop Sonoma Originals in Boyes Hot Springs and the Petaluma Regional Library.

Previously, Flying Goat Coffee, a well-known gathering spot for locals, occupied the Center Street space.

“We’re bringing Healdsburg back to Healdsburg,” founder of the Monarch Project and lead artist Rima Makaryan said.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to the mural is welcome to stop by and grab a paint brush. The name tags of people who helped with the mural cover a white poster board on display in the alley.

Makaryan designed the mural, which is being worked on by her team and passersby who wish to participate, and it aims to shed light on the often unnoticed work of immigrants in the Sonoma County wine industry, as well as the changes Healdsburg has experienced over time.

According to Makaryan, some Healdsburg residents feel like they have been pushed out, and the mural design is about “bringing them back” and “allowing the community to create something for themselves.”

Imagery on the mural consists of gears, brown hands, monarch butterflies and metal pipes. Makaryan says it can be interpreted in many ways, but she focused on highlighting “the people who bring us the wine that makes Healdsburg so prosperous.”

The group of artists leading the painting, many of whom are high school students or recent graduates, have worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day since June 14 to complete the mural. They are projected to finish July 8.

Chris McKee, a lead artist for the Monarch Project, grew up in Sonoma County and has seen Healdsburg change “with the takeover of the wine industry in the past few decades.”

To ensure that the design was historically accurate, McKee took Makaryan on a tour of Healdsburg, pointing out landmarks and sharing the stories his father told him about the area.

McKee knows how important Flying Goat Coffee was to Healdsburg residents ― as a child, he used to go to the coffee shop every morning with his father.

“The physical location has a lot of significance for Healdsburg,” McKee explained.

Jon Frech, owner of Black Oak Coffee Roasters, was also well aware of the historical significance of the location, and even before securing the lease, he reached out to the Monarch Project to commission the mural and transform the side alley into a beautiful space to hang out.

“This town wouldn’t exist without having people from all over the world help build our community. We want to reflect and remember what brought us all here today,” Beryl Adler, general manager of Black Oak Coffee Roasters, said.

An unveiling of the mural and fundraiser for the Monarch Project will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. July 8.

To learn more about the Monarch Project or to get involved, go to www.socoimm.org or follow them on Instagram @socomonarchproject.

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