Q&A with Sierra Brown

Sierra Brown, a Cal State Long Beach student, swam 11 miles through the ports to her campus as part of an art project. Brown thought up the “Port To Class Supercommute” as a way of encouraging people to get out of their cars and take alternative forms of transportation.


Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a 28-year old MFA student at CSULB and I live in San Pedro, Ca. I was raised in Flagstaff, AZ and Albuquerque, NM but fell in love with surfing at 16 when I moved to Perth Australia. Since then I’ve lived and travelled around the world. For the last 4 years I have supported myself as a graduate student by working 6 months per year as a wildland firefighter on the El Cariso Hotshots along with intermittent work on sport fishing and dive boats. Last year I obtained my 100-ton captain’s license, quit working for the forest service, and I continue to work on boats. I prefer water over fire.

Describe your recent artwork.
Most of my recent work revolves around concerns related to global consumerism and the transportation not only of goods, but of ourselves. I’ve been working on a video series called Import that includes numerous 3 to 5 minute clips of cargo ships, cruise ships, and oil tankers moving through the Ports of LA and Tokyo. The Port-to-Class Supercommute is a sort of reaction to Import, where starting from San Pedro I will navigate through the Ports of LA and Long Beach in 8 different human powered methods as I commute to my Monday night class at CSULB. I had an intimate encounter with the busiest port in the western hemisphere on October 1st when I crossed its 11 mile span by swimming for 6 hours and 37 minutes.

What type of planning and preparation do you engage in before starting on a new project?
In the case of the Port-to-Class Supercommute it took me about 6 months of brain storming and research to come up with the design of the project. There were many small, but important details than I needed to cover, such as the legalities of swimming through the port. I had to prepare by researching long distance swimming and then doing the right kinds of training swims to feel confident in the project. It seems like I’ve been on the phone for the last two month just trying to plan out the logistics for Port-to-Class.

What steps do you take to minimize the risks involved in a project?
Take vitamins, and notify the port police. I forgot to do the latter last time.

What are you currently reading?
Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox. It’s been a refreshing break from academia, and she makes me feel like a wimp! She swam across the Bering Strait in 1987, easing cold war tensions in an area where borders were closed, and swam across the Ohio River in Cincinnati when water quality standards were going to be decreased. I discovered Cox and her book after I came up with the idea of swimming through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and it may have been the determining factor in my finish. I never knew the act of swimming could have such social and political power.

Favorite short story or poem:
The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

Tell us a little about your website.
My friend, Rick Logan, helped me tremendously with my website. I wanted a nebula, outer-space kind of theme to go with the concept of long-distance endurance travel in the Port-to-Class Supercommute project. The website also contains a blog where I’ll be posting the aftermath of each week’s commute from San Pedro to CSULB, as well as a survey of videos and art from undergrad and graduate school.

To read or listen to 89.3 KPCC’s interview with Sierra Brown: link

Sierra’s website

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