Walk through the downtown core of many cities, and you’ll see the products of a strong commitment to public art. San Francisco and Davis come immediately to mind.
In Davis, bus benches have been painted by local artists. Downtown San Francisco is rich with public art.
In Sacramento, not so much. Although the Arts in Public Spaces program was established here in 1977, evidence of the program’s existence is not as obvious as it could be.
Mayor Kevin Johnson devoted a few sentences in his State of the City address last week to arts funding, connected to the new Kings arena. Interesting art is integral to the overall impression that the arena and a city will give.
This massive arena project is important to the badly needed revitalization of the downtown core. But it will take a hundred small things, not just one big thing, to make downtown accessible and livable. While the design of the arena can be debated, the need for more downtown art can’t.
In Portland, for example, along with the usual 19th-century statuary, most downtown blocks have different forms of public art, including interesting sculpture, painted bike racks, water fountains and wall art. Portland’s arena is nowhere near the downtown core. But the Kings arena is planned for downtown. Public art should be part of that plan. Perhaps painters could start by adorning drab parking structures.
Johnson took a step forward in making the city more public art-friendly. But more is needed. Funding for locally produced art would have a multiplier effect of creating a more-walkable downtown. More strollers mean more businesses. More businesses means more jobs. More jobs mean a better economy. That’s an artful way to improve Sacramento.