West County Health Centers hired Isabel Lopez in December to help get people signed up for the vaccine.
"The state system to register them is only in English, and it's not very user friendly, and you have to have an email in order to sign up," Lopez said. "And there's even elderly people that aren't able to sign up because they're not tech savvy."
Lopez, the Executive Director of the Santa Rosa nonprofit Raizes Collective, said she quickly realized how hard it was for Spanish-only speaking residents to navigate the vaccine process. 65 percent of the county's COVID-19 cases have been in Latinx communities, but only 18 percent of Latinx residents have been vaccinated.
Signing up for the shot isn’t the only problem. Lopez also received panicked phone calls with questions about the safety of the vaccine. Lopez knew the county’s generic messaging wasn’t reaching her community.
"And for me, I always resort to art right as my go to, to try to solve issues that I see in my community," Lopez said. "We need pictures, we need visuals."
Lopez reached out to nine artists in Santa Rosa to help create simple, powerful messages about the vaccine in Spanish. Like Martin Zuniga, a local artist and educator.
"I came up with a kind of a slogan, one word idea, which is like 'pontela,'" Zuniga said.
Zuniga painted slogans like “put it on” and “the vaccine cures” onto t-shirts and Lotería cards, from the Mexican bingo game. He knew it would be familiar to his community.
"I love his work," Lopez said. "I love the concept of turning art, like, nothing into something."
And it wasn’t just Zuniga’s art that spoke to Lopez. He’s also from Mexico and worked as a farmworker when he first arrived in Fresno, California in the late 1970’s.
In addition to creating art for the campaign, Zuniga goes with outreach workers and doctors to farms to answer questions about the vaccine. He mostly goes to make sure the farmworkers feel comfortable. As an artist he never thought he would be working to convince people to get a shot.
On the other hand, Dr. Brian Prystowski has been convincing parents to get their kids vaccinated for a decade as a pediatrician in Santa Rosa. But the use of art was eye opening.
"These artists in Raizes Collective are geniuses," Prystowski said.
Prystowski jumped in to help answer medical questions and plan events for the Art Vaccine campaign, like its first showcase on Valentines Day in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood. The group gave away thousands of posters, banners and Lotería cards, answered questions about the vaccine and urged folks to sign up.
"You're propelling this section of our community to actually consider getting vaccinated in a way that all over the country, people are like, 'how do we reach people?' You just empower them," Prystowski said.
Lopez is planning to hold another event on April 3rd to showcase more vaccine art and get Lainx residents signed up for appointments.
And when he’s not creating more artistic messages, Zuniga’s continuing to go out to farms to urge agriculture workers to sign up for appointments.
"This time around, I have to step into shoes that I haven't worn in a long time," Zuniga said.
You can find more about the Art Vaccine Campaign here: https://sites.google.com/view/covidartcampaign/portfolio