Ah, autumn in Sacramento. A chill is in the air, pumpkins are in the field and the trees are turning blue.
A globe-trotting public performance artist and volunteers started transforming 20 trees at the Sacramento Convention Center to an electric blue Tuesday, part of a living outdoor art project to bring a cool factor to the city and get people to notice trees.
Sacramento is only the fifth city worldwide to get a splash of color from The Blue Trees, the brainchild of Konstantin Dimopoulos of Australia.
He has colored trees in major cities worldwide with a vivid blue pigment to shake up familiar urban landscapes and call attention to global deforestation.
Local supporters hope the project will raise awareness about the value of the city's trees, make Sacramento an alluring tourist destination and create some buzz for the arts scene.
"This is awesome," said Nikos Leverenz, a Sacramento Tree Foundation volunteer preparing to use a paintbrush to dye sycamore trees along 13th street between J and K streets. "This is kind of a big-city thing. It's a natural fit for Sacramento, with our commitment to urban forestry. And it's great to work with an international artist."
Dimopoulos has colored trees beginning in 2006 for Melbourne, Australia; Vancouver, British Columbia; Auckland, New Zealand; and Seattle. He will take the project to Gainesville, Fla., later this month and to Houston in 2013.
The Blue Trees came to Sacramento after Sactown Magazine published an article in June about the effort in Seattle, calling on the "city of trees" to bring the artist to Sacramento.
That was seen as a challenge by Ray Tretheway, executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation, and he answered it.
The foundation partnered with the magazine, the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, and other businesses and nonprofit groups, raising $25,000 in private donations in one week to pay for the artist, his travel and supplies.
The lower 12 feet of the trees will be colored with a weak solution of pigment and water. The all-natural, nontoxic dye is safe for trees, people and creatures, and will wash off in about six months.
Calling his trade "social art," Dimopolous likes using public art to create change and involve the community.
"Art may be done at an easel or through sculpture, but basically we're just trying to change the world we live in," he said.
Dimopolous uses bright blue as a metaphor for oxygen deprivation, and because it's an "unnatural" color for trees, it's meant to jolt the viewer and spark conversation. He chose trees as his medium because he's alarmed at the rapid loss of the world's forests.
"Deforestation is the principal issue we all face," Dimopoulos said. "When the old-growth or primordial forests are gone, we will stop breathing. The problems of homelessness, poverty, mortgage payments, all of that will disappear once we're not breathing."
Local officials have more fundamental reasons for supporting the art.
Tretheway wants to promote tree planting in the Sacramento region, both for the environment and the economy.
"We are finding that business leaders and entrepreneurs look for places they want to live, then get a job there or start a business," he said.
Mike Testa, senior vice president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, hopes the trees will create some interest for some key conferences coming to Sacramento and drawing out-of-town visitors, including the California Downtown Association, the National Urban Forest Partnership and the California League of Cities.
"It's a great way for them to see something unique and to welcome them," Testa said. "We want them to finish their conference, go home, and say, 'You know, Sacramento is kind of a cool place.' "