Sacramentans are discovering more amenities in their hometown than beer, bacon and basketball.
With the $8 million acquisition of the Jeff Koons sculpture “Coloring Book” for the soon-to-open Golden 1 Center, the idea of art in Sacramento is no longer just insider salon discussion. Everyone has an opinion about the striking, multicolored work, even though the sculpture won’t be installed until next month.
The local art landscape is livening up, not just with the Koons sculpture but also the remarkable success of the downtown Art Hotel installation earlier this year and the ongoing Midtown Murals project.
For Sacramento’s art lovers, gallery owners and artists, the question has become how these high-profile hits can boost an arts landscape that’s historically suffered from low visibility and dismal public funding.
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Barry Sakata, who has run his b. sakata garo gallery in midtown since 1998, is one of several Sacramento art veterans who are optimistic about the effect of the Koons deal, including a $1.5 million commitment by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission to fund local public art around Golden 1 Center.
“The Art Hotel was a very wonderful thing. I know people came from the Bay Area just to see it,” said Sakata, who has shown such major Northern California artists as Wayne Thiebaud, Roy De Forest, Fred Dalkey and Jimi Suzuki.
Gallery owner Elliott Fouts, however, is looking out for the long-term health of Sacramento’s art scene, and not just short attention span seductions.
“Anything that gets people thinking about art, gets them excited about art is really great,” said Fouts, who started his contemporary fine art gallery in Granite Bay in 1999 before moving it to 4749 J St. and then 1831 P St. in midtown four years ago.
Fouts said he felt the effects of the 2008 recession as much as anyone did but said weathering that storm and staying in business has let him build a solid business of repeat customers and referrals.
“Longevity is very important, but also just being able to learn from our mistakes and fine-tune what we carry,” Fouts said.
Sakata and Fouts both maintain commercial galleries who primarily represent and exhibit artists while taking commissions on sales of featured work.
They curate to their own taste and sense of the marketplace. Having the idea in the air that Sacramento is a place where art happens boosts their prospects, at the very least, indirectly.
Still, civic support for the arts in Sacramento lags significantly behind other cities. An arts commission study showed that the city of Sacramento has spent 73 cents per capita on grants awarded to artists this year, while Seattle is spending $3.31 per capita; Portland $6.17; Austin, Texas, $9.66; and San Francisco $13.30. More grants in Sacramento could help support projects such as the Art Hotel and Midtown Murals.
“We have very little funding for arts on a civic level in Sacramento compared to our demographic and our size,” said Liv Moe, executive director of the midtown Verge Center for the Arts. Verge began in 2009 as a private contemporary art gallery selling art before transitioning into a broader-based art nonprofit that doesn’t sell the work it exhibits. Verge now includes a gallery, artist studios and a community education component.
“Any time resources are really scarce; it breeds a way of operating and a level of what you’re used to, which isn’t always super healthy in terms of development of what you’re doing,” Moe said. Though Moe no longer sells art, she said she understands “there’s a lot of hustle there” from those who do, and most art spaces don’t survive for long.
Facing such unpredictability, no one model has proved entirely successful for Sacramento’s commercial galleries. The few that have survived the recession and shifting market tastes have managed with purposeful agility and clear-eyed pragmatism. Sentimentality doesn’t keep many galleries in business.
Longtime gallery JAYJAY, located far off the midtown grid on Elvas Avenue, is celebrating its 15th year in business this month with what it’s calling a “reboot.”
Co-founders and owners Beth Jones and Lynda Jolley have been engaged in Sacramento’s art struggle for years.
Jones began her apprenticeship with the downtown Jennifer Pauls Gallery in 1984. She now works as an art consultant (clients included Kaiser Permanente, Lucas Public Affairs, UC Davis Medical Center and Sprint). She and Jolley partnered on the first version of their gallery, Beth Jones and Lynda Jolley Present, on Franklin Boulevard in 1999.
“That was an experiment and it worked,” Jones said. “We were surprised, but happily so.”
They closed after six months and reopened on Elvas in 2001 as JAYJAY. Last year they sold paintings by the internationally acclaimed artist Peter Wayne Lewis to the Sacramento Kings’ administrative offices.
Yet after 15 years as a traditional gallery, JAYJAY is experimenting again. This week, it will move across the parking lot from the old 1,500-square-foot gallery space into a newly remodeled 2,400-square-foot primary exhibit and work space that was previously a storage annex. There, they’ll present work in a different way than they ever have.
“In the past it’s been more toward how a museum hangs work – lots of space, very formal,” Jones said. Instead of a seven-week show run featuring one or two artists, the new conception will have greater variety in a more casual setting. Several walls will show artists grouped together in what’s called “salon style.” The idea is to show more work with wider flexibility for changing it.
“This way we can change the space whenever we want and probably do our receptions on a different kind of schedule than before,” Jones said.
The change was bred by several factors, but a top cause is hitting galleries industrywide: Fewer people are physically visiting galleries, and exhibitions are having less of an impact.
“People do a lot of art viewing online now,” Jones said. “They do a lot of art buying online, they feel more comfortable doing that.”
Though both Sakata and Fouts get midtown foot traffic, JAYJAY doesn’t. Still, online sales have changed how everyone is doing business.
“Because people have another way to visit the store, there are artists we show that all of the paintings will sell off the website before we ever have the show,” Fouts said.
What hasn’t changed is the continual dynamic of aesthetics and marketplace. “There’s plenty of art out there I really like but I know I can’t sell, and so that’s futile,” he said.
“We’ve done it many times, taken somebody on because we love what they’re doing, but we’ve learned over the years what actually sells and what doesn’t.”
Even so, he said, they will still on occasion take on a project in which they don’t expect much economic return.
Moe said she examines what kinds of art have recently engaged the mainstream public in Sacramento and looks for more of the same.
“Keeping the conversation going within all these different communities would be transformative,” Moe said.
At JAYJAY, Jones and Jolley have coined the term “slow art.”
“We’re interested in how important and how precious one piece of handmade art can be,” Jones said. “At the same time we want to make that work more accessible to people who are used to looking at everything online and seeing things change more often.”
REBOOT: New Work from JAYJAY
What: The gallery celebrates its 15th anniversary and the grand opening of its new exhibition and work space.
When: A reception for the artists will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, with music and refreshments. The exhibit runs from Wednesday, Sept. 14, to Oct. 29.
Where: JAYJAY, 5520 Elvas Ave., Sacramento
Information: 916-453-2999; jayjayart.com