El Pulpo Magnifico, pictured at unSCruz on May 3, is one of many art attractions and “mutant vehicles” featured at the local event at the San Benito County Fairgrounds. The giant traveling octopus also shoots fire out of its tentacles. Photo: Tarmo Hannula

The 12th annual unSCruz event, a four-day bounty of free style art projects, oddball vehicles, tricycles, motorized gizmos, outlandish costumes, food and drink extravaganzas, music, dance and more unfolded May 2-5 at the San Benito County Fairgrounds. 

The campout event, which sold out in an hour and 47 minutes when tickets went on sale late last year, drew about 3,000 people to engage in day and nighttime interactivity. With the theme “Portal of Possibilities,” it is put on by the nonprofit organization Santa Cruz Burners.

Also described as a “playground for adults” (although children are also welcome), unSCruz stems from Burning Man, an August festival in the Nevada desert described as an amalgamation of artists, oddballs and eccentrics of every imaginable ilk—an assemblage 70,000 strong whose themes, among others, are “radical self expression,” “radical inclusion” and “communal effort.”

UnSCruz is recognized as an official “regional” Burning Man event. 

Amber Coutts—Santa Cruz Burning Man regional contact, Santa Cruz Burners board member and an arts grant liaison for unSCruz—said this year the event will hand out $128,000 in art and creativity grants to help participants share their creations and gifts with the masses. 

“It feels great to empower artists to develop a vision and help them actuate their art,” Coutts said at the event on May 3. “Portal of Possibilities is open (as a theme), with many different interpretations as to what a portal is—but it largely refers to a transition point—to go from one area to another with middle spaces, and I feel like we are in that collectively as a community where we are transitioning into something; and what that is, we don’t know. 

“We have this event to give people an opportunity to bond and to grow as a community and learn from each other, from our mistakes, and from our creativity as we inspire each other.” 

Coutts is also a creator of unSCruz’s Rainbow Trike Track installation—a big-wheel race course for adults and kids, intricately decorated in an Old West theme and offering a variety of entertainment on a paved patio at the fairgrounds. 

Riders enjoy racing on the Rainbow Trike Track on May 3 at the unSCruz Burning Man regional at the San Benito County Fairgrounds. Photo: Tarmo Hannula

Absinthia Vermut, of Berkeley, is a creator of the Mini Museum of No Spectators at unSCruz (and a founder of the larger, original installation that first appeared at Burning Man). Vermut said she came up with the idea while visiting a Burning Man exhibit at the Oakland Museum.

“I thought it was incredible to see Burning Man at a museum, but I also felt that it was heavily curated,” she said. “It made me wonder what a museum would look like with the culture of Burning Man. The Museum of No Spectators is a radically inclusive museum.” 

The museum, located inside one of the fairgrounds buildings, featured more than a dozen walls and billboards covered with banners of blank paper where visitors could draw, paint, write and sketch their ideas without restrictions. The museum also offered workshops where artists and crafters offered to teach other participants how to create different types of artwork. 

On Friday an RV fitted with six metal dragons’ heads, each of which moves on their own and breathes fire, was on display as it awaited nighttime activation. Creator Lucy Hoskins said she has been attending unSCruz for years in her fire breathing contraption, which has become a staple of the event. 

Food, drinks and other goods at unSCruz come to ticket-holding participants at no cost, thanks to the event’s “gifting economy”—another principle of Burning Man. 

UnSCruz has taken place at the San Benito County Fairgrounds since 2023. Before that (except during the pandemic), it occurred annually at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. 

An unSCruz participant dressed as The Plague Doctor is one of many attendees who donned creative costumes as they perused the event on May 3. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
Eric Gauderman, of San Francisco, draws an original design inside the Museum of No Spectators at unSCruz, at the San Benito County Fairgrounds on May 3. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
An unSCruz participant who goes by the “playa name” Nextro, sits atop an art car he created known as Yikes! The Trike on May 3. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
Longtime unSCruz attendee Lucy Hoskins is pictured with her fire-breathing six-headed dragon vehicle, which has been a staple of unSCruz for more than a decade. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
Peter Metcalf, a creator of the Old West themed Rainbow Trike Track at unSCruz, dresses the part as he pauses for a photo May 3 at the San Benito County Fairgrounds. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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