The Art Cave

The Art Cave is a cozy gallery and studio tucked away in a renovated warehouse in Santa Cruz. Previously a chewing gum factory, currently an oasis for local makers, creators, owners, and innovators, the building is eclectically embellished. To reach your destination, weave through passageways adorned with schools of metal fish, abstract paintings, motorcycle models, colorful doors, and sticker-coated water fountains.

On arrival, you’ll meet Danielle Peters and Leigh Erickson, resident artists and gallery curators of the Art Cave. Though the space was initially only used as a studio, Danielle and Leigh’s uncurbed enthusiasm spilled over into numerous creative adventures, including a drawing workshop and a fundraiser yoga lesson, followed by a series of group art shows. As local artists caught word of their endeavors and started introducing themselves, they matured into solo shows. “We have more surprises now,” Danielle laughs, noting they never know what intriguing human being might pop up in their inbox next.

Danielle Paters

Besides the shows being, as Leigh playfully puts it, an excellent excuse to meet their “art crushes,” it gives the partners an opportunity to cultivate the Santa Cruz art scene. The two aspire to familiarize everyone (including themselves) more intimately with the latest local art happenings. “We’re about connecting people together who might not necessarily have found each other,” Danielle says, joking that they’re a little like art matchmakers.

Both relatively new to the area, Danielle and Leigh were each other’s solitary art friend for years. On arrival in Santa Cruz, Danielle recalls being disappointed at finding mostly idyllic beach scenes in pastel colors. But after the opening of the gallery, contemporary artists emerged in waves.

“From the outside, it could look like just touristy beach art and skate art, but then there are cool interesting in-betweens,” Danielle says. “I love it when things are regional, but also specific to a time and place. Beach art has been around forever—but you want to be a little bit more specific or topical or aesthetic in your approach to art.” To elaborate, she motions at the currently displayed paintings of pop surrealist Caia Koopman. A mysterious raven-haired girl swims with eerie deep-sea fish, bewitching underwater scenes Danielle lightheartedly describes as of a “dark Little Mermaid.”

Leigh Erickson

One intriguing strategy the partners have discussed for reaching new residents is displaying local art in homes on the market, an idea suggested by a friend in the real estate business. “There are so many new people coming to Santa Cruz, and we want them to be an art audience,” Danielle says. This service would provide new homeowners a hassle-free way of buying local art—or, at the very least, expose them to local artists.

Apparently, the real estate idea is one of many enthusiastic suggestions shared by fans of the Art Cave. The duo’s eagerness to take ideas and dance with them seems to sweep up everyone around them. Perhaps the magnetism surrounding the gallery is also inspired by the human interaction. “It’s a dying art,” Leigh notes. Beyond the galleries, the two have even started hosting dinners to introduce the artist. “We have artist friends who were following each other for years but would never have met in real life if it wasn’t for us!” Leigh smiles.

“We really want to be in the physical world and make physical things,” mentions Danielle, who left architecture for art school when the industry replaced tangible rulers and Micron pens with computer-aided design and drafting software. She now enjoys layering paper in ways that resemble feathers or scales to achieve an ephemeral, ghostly air. She also designs dioramas with portals and holes, representing passages between realms.

Leigh made a similar transition when she realized she wasn’t built for the amount of screen time required of a full-time graphic designer. “I started finding myself really missing the nitty gritty of painting—you know, having a brush in my hand versus a mouse.” Inspired by the liberating movement of freestyle skiing, her abstract technique allows her to paint an instinct-fueled first layer, adding quirky details in ink or pencil afterwards. “It’s kind of a mental release for me,” she explains.

Though the friends certainly diverge in mediums and styles, their shared affinity for contemporary art, their unflagging pursuit of new ideas, and their proclivity for connection fosters a compelling shared vision. Keep them on your radar. Whatever they bend their hearts and minds toward in days to come is bound to be worth taking note of.

The Art Cave
2801 Mission Street, #2803
Santa Cruz, CA 95060



Written by Johanna Hickle
Photography by Daniel Garcia 

This article originally appeared in Issue 11.0 “Discover”

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