There’s an old sign hanging on the side of an empty building in downtown Sacramento that seems so out of place. It reads: Every day is your chance to make this city a little better.
It’s out of place because the sign is one of the few things worth noticing along that block of J Street, between 10th and 11th streets. There’s a busy little sandwich spot and a popular Vietnamese restaurant, but most of the buildings are run-down. One plan after another has failed to erect skyscrapers and condos on the block. Last week, the vacant shell of the old Biltmore Hotel caught fire and investigators suspect someone may have been living in the basement illegally.
A group representing the city’s young professionals wasn’t expecting to change the scene much by adding a chalk mural. But maybe their stab at public art can help.
A couple of weeks ago, members of Metro Edge hung a large chalkboard on an empty wall on J Street, across from the Biltmore. The mural is part of the group’s “Own It” campaign, linked to its annual Emerge Summit that packed more than 500 people into the Crest Theatre on Friday.
On the mural, people were asked to fill in a blank space with chalk after the phrase: “Today I will....” The responses range from personal to comical. One person wrote “Be Mindful.” Another wrote “pay it forward.” Someone else added “paint a horse.”
Mike Marion, chair of Metro Edge, had seen a similar interactive mural in Amsterdam. The Slow Roll, a group bicycle ride in Detroit, constructed one, too.
“We’re asking people to get more engaged in their city,” said Marion. “How are you going to own it today?”
Phil Tretheway, creative director at a design firm inside the Elks Tower, helped conceive of the art project. He and Marion were standing by the mural during a recent lunch hour. Downtown workers dressed in business suits walked by. So did a guy without a shirt. Besides the mural, there wasn’t much reason for any of them to stop.
“This block needs something,” Tretheway said. “What we have right now is a 30-foot hub of creativity. This generation has chosen to speak up.”
The Emerge Summit was all about that message. A series of speakers told the crowd at the Crest to get connected and to compete. The scene was symbolic of the enthusiasm that seems to be gripping the under-40 population of this city, a population that once was fleeing for the Bay but is now running musical festivals and restaurants in Sacramento.
After a DJ warmed up the audience, Mayor Kevin Johnson took the stage. “This is the future of Sacramento,” he told the crowd.
As the mayor spoke, the stench of smoke still hung in the air over on J Street from the Biltmore fire. Most of the windows on the block were boarded up, as they’ve been for months.
Will someone own that?
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.