Arts & Theater

Wide Open Walls 2018 ‘extravaganza’ kicks off, turning Sacramento streets into works of art

Billed as a “full-blown street art extravaganza,” this year’s Wide Open Walls festival kicked off Thursday morning outside Sacramento State’s Shasta Hall.

There, Rep. Doris Matsui, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and others gathered to celebrate Sacramento’s artistic legacy and witness the first Wide Open Walls 2018 mural: a giant version of the word “SACRAMENTO” for which each letter will be designed by a different artist.

John Horton, a Sacramento native, is one several dozen artists collaborating to embellish public spaces across the capital for this year’s event, running Aug. 9-19.

Matsui looked at the illustration expanding inside the blown-up letter “C” on Shasta Hall’s outside wall and said she saw an aerial view of Sacramento’s cityscape, textured and geometric. Horton, who was finishing up the base of the letter Thursday morning, laughed at the thought – he’d just been spray-painting abstract pixels, he said.

Street artist Raphael Delgado, who curated the mural, said the project was a place-making endeavor.

“We’re out here in the dirt parking lot and now it’s going to be like bustling with activity,” Delgado said. “You are not on Instagram if you don’t have a photo in front of this thing.”

Over the next two weeks, 37 murals will turn alleyways and walls across the city into photo ops and conversation starters.

Opening night and closing night block parties on Del Paso Boulevard bookend the festival, which features gallery showings and a Friday meet-and-greet. All festival events are listed on the website’s calender and open to the public.

Steinberg said last year’s Wide Open Walls festival helped to cement Sacramento’s “national reputation as a destination city.”

He repeated his 2017 invocation that “in Sacramento, we do not build walls to keep people out, we paint walls to bring people in.”

The 2018 festival features artists local, international, and world-renowned.

Shepard Fairey, who designed President Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster and founded the OBEY clothing brand, will begin his illustration on the east wall of the Residence Inn at 1121 15th St. Monday.

A digital graffiti mural incorporating art made by seven Sacramento State students.

Speakers at the press conference took pride in the diversity of artists contributing to the festival. Shamsia Hassani, the first female street artist in Afghanistan, will join painters from China and Spain in making their mark on Sacramento, as will more than 12 other female street artists, Wide Open Walls founder and producer David Sobon said

Once marginalized as lowbrow, street art has for the most part entered the mainstream. But for Horton and fellow Sacramento Wide Open Walls artist Norman Ayles, Sacramento’s relationship to their art isn’t straightforward.

Ayles said Wide Open Walls was an opportunity for him to get his name out there. He’s decorating the letter ”N” in SACRAMENTO with mountains, a night sky, and a California bear as a way to convey his urge to escape the constraints of city life, he said.

Horton said he was grateful to be part of such a big project, but “more often than not,” the city gives him and other street artists “the cold shoulder.”

To Matsui, open-air festivals like Wide Open Walls represent an important step in empowering both artists and citizens.

“Public art is there, stares you in the face. You have to see it. And all of a sudden, a conversation develops in meaningful ways,” she said.

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