Resident Brings Color and Smiles to Community – One Step at a Time

Residents at Lenzen Square apartments in San Jose may notice a bit of color added to their community lately: a stunning mural that spans the underside of the atrium’s stairway. This work of art was the result of a collaboration between CPP and local artist Sarah Joy Espinoza-Evans – herself a Lenzen Square resident!

You wouldn’t know it from the vibrant colors she so quickly brought to her new community, but Sarah Joy was going through a tumultuous time in her life before she arrived at Lenzen in February 2019. Following a rocky divorce, she and her two daughters – like so many Californians affected by the high cost of living – were without a permanent home to call their own. She says that residing in affordable housing within her community is a blessing that allows her to make a living as an active artist in the Bay Area.

CPP, looking to continue its long-standing partnership with the City of San Jose to provide affordable housing for residents, acquired Lenzen Square in February 2019. Extensive renovation efforts including new cabinets, countertops, and Energy Star appliances in the interior as well as numerous exterior improvements were underway by summer.

When approached by Sarah Joy, a proactive member of the community who wanted to ensure the  rehabilitation would be as smooth as possible for the community, CPP assured her that all efforts would be taken to minimize the impact on residents to complete interior renovations within five days in most cases. Little did she know that CPP was also looking for a local artist to liven up the community – and thus, a chance partnership was born.

Bringing new life to the stairway was an intensely personal project for Sarah Joy, as she says all her creations are. The composition for the piece was created using pages from her own sketchbook, and each step has its own story to tell.  Two of the steps are adorned with orchids- the favorite flower of an elderly woman who warmly welcomed Sarah Joy into the community. Though her friend passed away not long after they became acquainted, Sarah has forever memorialized the kindness and generosity this woman brought to the community. Since the steps are perfectly shielded from the elements, Sarah Joy is thrilled that her unique creation will be around for residents to enjoy for years to come.

The creation of the mural brought a host of physical challenges. Sarah Joy overcame her fear of heights to reach the top steps, which were 20 feet in the air – though from the top of the lift it felt like 60, she said. She also had to lay horizontally to paint the lowest ones. Her young daughters were happy to help with those, she said with a laugh.

All the while, members of the community helped in their own way, offering water and snacks as they saw their friend and neighbor toiling away. They made not have picked up a brush, Sarah Joy said, but they made it all possible.

“I view this piece as a gift to the residents of Lenzen Square,” Sarah Joy said. “I felt like the residents could use something positive, and that’s what I tried to give them with this mural.”

This creation is just the latest in a long line of projects for Sarah Joy, who continues to work as an active Bay Area artist. Her works include collaborations with local nonprofits and education institutions. Inspired by the word of Spanish authors, Sarah Joy was also a resident artist at the Palo Alto Art Foundation.

Those seeking more information about Sarah Joy’s work can email her at iloniarts@gmail.com.