Los Altos teacher honored with mural for creating open mic night to promote the arts

Los Altos High School teacher Eric Contreras is a poet, father and founder of what once was a regular open mic night prior to the Pandemic. 

The monthly event hosted in his parents' garage is called "ALIVIO Open Mic" and was started by Contreras nearly seven years ago to promote the arts in the cities that line the 710 Freeway. 

"I started the event in 2013 after having to leave my community all the time to share my poetry," said Contreras. "Every time I wanted to appreciate people’s art I always found myself extracting myself from the community."

The City of Bell resident decided to transform his parents' garage into a space where local artists could meet and perform. The space also quickly started functioning as an art gallery.

"We’ve had thousands of people come share their art. My parents are selling food from their kitchen. In the driveway we have vendors and artists that are selling their art and screen printed materials," said Contreras. 

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Contreras was nominated by a mentor and chosen as the subject for the Estrella Jalisco’s Artist in Residence program. The brand is on a mission to bring colorful murals to more than 100 communities across the U.S. The mural honoring Contreras is the second to be created in Los Angeles from the brand. 

Local artist Marcel "Sel" Blanco transformed the side of a flower shop at the corner of Tweedy Boulevard and San Juan Avenue in South Gate into a colorful mural. 

"It took me about seven days to complete. The splatters and birds are staples in my work," said Sel about the artwork. "The birds signify your soul and spirit breaking free and going beyond endless possibilities."

"It touched me because we’re in a place where I grew up, and as a disgruntled teenager, I used to go down the street to listen to music. Sel did an amazing job. He made me look better than I really do. Thanks, Sel," said Contreras in response to the mural.  

He plans to resume the monthly open mic night virtually on Instagram until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.