Wide Open Walls mural festival to spotlight rising rents, femininity

If you’ve visited Golden 1 Center, you might have noticed an art installation made of 400 glass balls suspended above an escalator in the southwest corner, meant to represent the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers.

That is the work of local artist Bryan Valenzuela. And it marked a branching out of sorts for the Sacramento resident, who often creates smaller mixed-media drawings composed of such elements as ink, thread and acrylic paint. Next week, Valenzuela will undertake a new challenge: his first large-scale, outdoor mural. And the public is invited to watch.

Valenzuela is one of about 50 artists, local and international, converging in Sacramento for the Wide Open Walls mural festival Aug. 10-20. His canvas will be the broad façade of a building near 27th and R streets in midtown, he said, measuring 90 feet wide and 20 feet high.

“This is providing a huge opportunity to kind of branch out for me, go out on a limb and do something really big,” Valenzuela said Thursday. “Trying to challenge yourself is the name of the game.”

Wide Open Walls grew out of last year’s Sacramento Mural Festival, which created about a dozen murals on buildings in midtown and downtown. This year’s event is expected to introduce 40 new murals and expand to areas such as Oak Park, Power Inn Road and Mack Road. Wide Open Walls gives onlookers a chance to watch artists work in real time and aims to infuse public spaces with art and energy.

A few local artists who are participating in this year’s event attended a press conference Thursday morning at Beatnik Studios and discussed their plans for their walls.

Ursula Xanthe Young is part of Few and Far, a group of female artists who paint murals around the world. Young said she and two other group members will be creating an “art nouveau-themed” work at their location in the 3900 block of Power Inn Road.

“It’ll be very feminine, very flowery, a lot of art nouveau lines and lighter colors,” said Young. “We kind of want to keep this very fresh and light, which sometimes street art isn’t, so we want to really kind of bring up the feminine energy.”

Few and Far, according to its website, has produced murals in Asia, Canada, and South and Central America. Young, who is from England and lives in Grass Valley, said the group has several works in Sacramento, with locations including an alley at S and 26th streets and the wall of a midtown beauty salon.

“I think that murals in general only can add to a city and the vibrancy of a place,” Young said. “Having art available for everyone to see in public is such an integral and important part of city life.”

Encouraging Sacramento’s arts scene is a priority of Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who also attended Thursday’s press conference. Steinberg said the growth of the mural festival – from about a dozen artists last year – is “a strong sign that our progress is rapid here.”

“There comes a tipping point where you don’t go back, and we’re crossing it when it comes to art and culture here,” Steinberg said. “We just have to keep going.”

Along with enhancing the cityscape, Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui said a thriving arts scene can be an “economic driver” for the city.

“We have the intellectual capital here, but you need more than that,” Matsui said. “You need people to want to be here.”

Wide Open Walls is being organized by local art collector and auctioneer David Sobon and presented by Visit Sacramento. Along with live painting, the festival will include artist panels and walking and biking tours. The “Condensed” exhibit at Beatnik Studios, which runs Aug. 4-24, features works by some of the participating artists.

That includes Sacramento artist Jeff Musser, who will be painting a mural on Power Inn Road, close to that of Few and Far. Musser said he collaborated on a mural with another artist in China in 2015. But this time the space is larger and he’s working by himself.

“It’s a little exciting,” Musser said, “and yet terrifying.”

Musser said his mural “will be making a statement about art and the gentrification that is happening as a result of the art in Sacramento.” What will that look like?

“You’ll have to come see it,” he said.

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