Improv Alley between Seventh and Eighth streets in downtown Sacramento is a short, drab stretch lined by dumpsters and the faded backs of buildings. Only a burst of street art low on one wall – a colorful depiction that includes a stylized orange octopus – hints at what’s to come.
Next month, the alley nestled between I and J streets will become a kind of urban canvas, the site of several new murals created through Wide Open Walls, an outgrowth of last year’s inaugural Sacramento Mural Festival.
“An area that used to be sort of dark and ugly is now going to be bright and pretty,” said David Sobon, the local art collector and auctioneer who organized Wide Open Walls.
The goal, to “activate” dull streets and alleys with art, is essentially the same as last year’s festival, which introduced about a dozen murals to downtown and midtown Sacramento. But the event is growing. Wide Open Walls, set for Aug. 10-20, will bring 40 new murals to the central city and surrounding areas, painted by more than 50 local and international artists representing a dozen countries.
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Onlookers can watch the artists work in real time, creating murals up to several stories high on the sides of buildings and other public spaces. Organizers plan to augment the live painting with gallery showings, artist panels, and running, walking and biking tours.
“Unless you saw (David) Garibaldi paint live at some show you had to pay for, or saw somebody painting at the river, you don’t get to see world-class artists paint live on the street,” Sobon said. “It’s just an incredible opportunity.”
Sobon, who serves on the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, co-founded last year’s festival, which was produced by the nonprofit Friends of the Arts Commission. This year, Visit Sacramento is the presenting sponsor. The new name reflects that change as well as the event’s expansion in its second year.
Its nucleus is still on the grid: Sobon said a dozen murals will go up in a three-block radius of Cesar Chavez Park with more near R Street and around midtown. But murals will also appear in areas such as the River District, Power Inn Road, Mack Road and Oak Park. A full map for the event will be released soon.
The artists, meanwhile, will represent 12 countries including Australia, China, France, Germany, New Zealand and the U.K. There will also be more than two dozen artists from the Sacramento area, including Maren Conrad, whose work includes pieces in the State Capitol and at Mather Airport.
“For the current period we’re in, this graffiti-street art movement is really defining this time,” Conrad said. “Some of these muralists are doing murals in Belgium, London, in Miami, on the biggest stage there is for contemporary art. Being able to celebrate that in our city can kind of put Sacramento on the map as an art town, not only in California.”
Conrad said she has been tapped to create her first large-scale exterior mural for the back wall of the MARRS building on 20th between J and K streets in midtown. The space, facing the railroad tracks, is 20 by 110 feet, she said. Over 10 days, Conrad will coat the wall in a metallic sheen with the aid of scissor-lifts and a crew of 10 assistants. Even with the help, she expects to put in 12-hour days.
Conrad said she has secured a $15,000 donation from a private citizen in Sacramento to help fund her project. All Wide Open Walls artists, who have their mural designs approved by owners of the buildings where they’ll appear, receive a stipend for participating and have paint and other materials provided to them. Sobon said artists arriving from out of the country will also have accommodations and airfare covered.
Sobon said funding for the event is provided by dozens of public and private sponsors. Like last year’s festival, Wide Open Walls also aims to raise money for art programs in local schools, partly through ticket sales for The Wall Ball, a party featuring live music and interactive art set for the night of Aug. 19.
Mike Testa, president and CEO of Visit Sacramento, said the visitors’ bureau got involved this year after seeing the “visual impact” last year’s festival had on the downtown and midtown areas. Between publicizing Wide Open Walls locally and nationally, in-kind donations and a direct monetary contribution, Testa estimated Visit Sacramento will likely commit at least $100,000 to the event.
“Wide Open Walls really shows the vibrancy of the arts community here,” Testa said. “And I think just as important for us, it helps create a sense of place here in Sacramento.”