She didn’t want to come to Sacramento. Now she’s helping build its new economy

In an alternate universe, Shira Lane is still a Sacramento artist who hasn’t connected with the city creatively.

Until the city launched the “Creative Economy” grant program over the summer, Lane, a documentary filmmaker, lived here, but didn’t intellectually play here. While she had physically moved – reluctantly at first – to Sacramento two years ago, her video production work remained in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Six months later, she spent the final week of 2017 showing artists around a 38,000-square-foot office building near the Sacramento State campus. She has reached a deal with the landlord to turn a portion of the building into “Upcycle,” a shared work space for other creatives looking for connection and a desk to call their own.

The landlord has offered to be flexible with the rent, at least at first, as the effort gets underway.

“I’m trying to find out what people can pay and reverse engineer it,” said Lane, as she showed three prospective tenants the spacious 7300 Folsom Boulevard office building, which in mid-December hosted her UpcyclePOP, a temporary (or pop-up) market selling art, furniture, fashion and furnishings made from existing materials.

The three days of UPcyclePOP attracted hundreds of people as more than a dozen local artists displayed and sold their works, from end tables made from car pistons to televisions with the appearance of old tube sets to ash trays turned into beautiful windows. Prior to the event, she knew none of the artists.

Lane, 41, said she had passed through Sacramento on the way to the Burning Man festival from her then-home in Marin County, but she’d never considered moving her until her partner took a Capitol job.

“I didn’t want to move to Sacramento; I was scared,” said the Australia native, explaining that California’s capital is the least-populated place she has lived.

Prior to her Upcycle event, she’d produced some political videos locally, but said she was eager to better connect with her new city. That’s when she learned Sacramento was offering $500,000 in micro- and mini-grants to help residents launch creative endeavors in art, technology and food.

In July, she applied for a $25,000 creative economy pilot grant to create UPcyclePOP.

“If you’re not up on the green lingo, the best way to think of upcycling is that it’s like a sexier, even greener version of recycling. Upcycling adds value by transforming or reinventing an otherwise-disposable item into something of higher quality,” Lane wrote in her bid. “It’s the ultimate in reuse – and we believe a whole new industry sector is shaping up around it.”

Lane’s proposal was one of 481 applications seeking $7.6 million in funding. The 57 winning proposals included light shows, a food business incubator and music events.

Lane’s proposal was one of 424 rejected bids, but a funny thing happened on the way to disappointment. As the city’s deadline for announcing the winners slid, Lane kept planning and telling people her plan.

“The first question was, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to find a location?’” said Lane.

Getting the place – for free – turned out to be relatively easy.

Lane said she knew from four years in commercial real estate that property owners can benefit from filling their vacant buildings. Her creative economy application still pending, she began calling business improvement districts.

“I called them all,” she said.

A positive response from the Power Inn Alliance came “really quickly,” Lane said. The Power Inn Alliance works to improve the business climate primarily between Power Inn and Florin Perkins roads. The district is aggressively seeking to be a center for innovation.

The benefit of putting vacant properties to use was trumpeted by a 2014 memo from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“As American cities continue to shift from centers of production to centers of consumption, the role of temporary initiatives, whether planned or unplanned, will increase in importance,” the 2014 report reads.

UPcyclePOP was just one of several temporary events that in recent years turned vacant Sacramento buildings into short-term art installations or artists markets – ArtHotel, ArtStreet and Makers Mart events are among the most notable.

ArtHotel (2016) and ArtStreet (2017) drew thousands of people to abandoned downtown Sacramento buildings to view temporary works from local and international artists.

In 2016, the then-vacant Metro Electronics was filled with knitters, welders, painters and other artisans for Makers Mart, a busy market featuring more than 40 artists from around the Sacramento region. Food and drink options from local businesses rounded out the one-day experience.

“It was pretty gratifying to see what could be done to turn an empty building into a vibrant showcase of talent,” said developer Nikky Mohanna, the property owner. She said the Midtown Business Association championed the event, but she was happy to be a part of it. An 11-story, mixed-use apartment building, dubbed 19J, is now under construction where Metro Electronics once stood.

“It may not lead to space lease … but it creates a sense of community, and that’s important,” Mohanna said. She said developers would be smart to stomach the short-term liability and take the long view on building community by supporting efforts that strengthen neighborhoods.

Marker’s Mart moved from the midtown location to the empty office building at 7300 Folsom Boulevard for its Dec. 2 event this year – the same location used for UPcyclePOP.

The Power Inn Alliance matched Lane up with the building’s owner, Jonathan Collins of Santa Cruz, said Lane.

The event was supposed to be a one-off, but when the property owner expressed an interest in turning some or all of the 38,000-square-foot office building into a co-working space, Lane started exploring the possibilities. Co-working brings independent workers to a shared office, where individuals rent a desk or a larger space.

Lane is taking the same approach to the possible co-working venture that she used to breathed life into UPcyclePOP: telling everyone she meets. So before her pop-up event ended, she was already giving tours of the additional space. Will the space be mostly for makers, sewers and artists? She’s not sure. She’s still talking to Power Inn Alliance, and Sacramento State officials might also get involved; campus officials are expected to tour the site in January.

The property owner is allowing her to start the business without paying full price, but Lane wants to charge a rate that’s sustainable, so folks won’t have to move when she’s forced to charge more.

Maureen Hefti, a Sacramento mother and artist, was one of three people touring the space formerly used by Mark Thomas Engineering. Hefti sold jewelry and had her best sales day ever during UPcyclePOP.

“One of the hardest things as an artist, you can never afford a space, so it was always a side hustle,” Hefti said. She studied art in college, but mostly focused on her family. With more time for art now, space has become an issue.

Lane’s co-working space will enter a market that’s rapidly maturing. Lane said the fact that she’s brand new to Sacramento presents a challenge, but she’s working to quickly grow her network.

“For me, the most important thing for co-working space is culture,” Lane said.

As for her relationship with Sacramento: “Everyday I fall in love with Sacramento more,” she said. “It’s a special place.”

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

Related stories from Sacramento Bee