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Residents invited to nominate someone special for art project on Sacramento waterfront

Listen to artist Joshua Sofaer explain the new art installation coming to Sacramento’s riverfront

The period where people can submit names they want honored in the project "River Crossing" opens May 25, 2019 and runs through July 10, 2019.
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The period where people can submit names they want honored in the project "River Crossing" opens May 25, 2019 and runs through July 10, 2019.

City officials Thursday invited Sacramento and West Sacramento residents to pay tribute to someone important in their lives with a special art project in the works for the Sacramento River waterfront.

From May 25 to July 10, residents can nominate people they want to see commemorated in a large-scale public art installation, officials announced at a press conference Wednesday in Old Sacramento. The names of the winning nominees — one from Sacramento and one from West Sacramento — will be memorialized in large light boxes on either side of the river spelling the names using maritime signals, which look like colorful flags.

The public docks on both sides of the river will be renamed after the winning nominees as well, and the two installations will face each other in what officials hope to be a display of unity for the two cities.

“For a long time, rivers have been dividing territories, they’ve been dividing lines for cities,” Eric Guerra, Sacramento’s vice mayor, said. “But today is another clear example of how our river and our river crossing is a uniting part of our cities.”

The docks face each other across the Sacramento River between the Tower Bridge and the I Street bridge. The dock in West Sacramento will be built this fall, officials at the press conference said.

A submission by London artist Joshua Sofaer was chosen out of 70 other proposals. Sofaer has done naming projects in the past, and he said that the participatory aspect of this project — which is officially named “River Crossing: I Want to Communicate With You” — is what piqued his interest.

“When I first found out about it and this desire to connect these two cities,” Sofaer said, “I immediately thought that this is an opportunity to engage the people of the two cities in the formation of the project.”

The naming process is unique because officials are not necessarily interested in the famous figures that usually get their names on plaques. Instead, the goal is to “build up a portrait or a biography of people that live in these two cities,” Sofaer said.

“What we’re really interested in here is not exceptionality, but in heartfelt stories of real people,” Sofaer said.

Residents submitting names must write 250 words explaining why they believe their nominee should be commemorated. Guerra said they want to collect as many submissions as possible. A panel of judges will select the winning names in August, and the project will be built in late fall.

The project is managed on behalf of both cities by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts commission under the Art in Public Places Program, according to Committee Chair William Ishmael. Funding comes from a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

Ishmael said although Sofaer is not a Sacramento native, he will be employing local talent to help execute the project.

“A big chunk of the budget will be going locally,” Ishmael said.

Maritime flags are an old form of communication used at sea to spell short messages between ships. Flags are graphic and colorful, and because Sofaer will be using the flag imagery as light boxes, the Sacramento installation will make a pretty picture at night.

This project joins a recent proposal by Mayor Darrell Steinberg to use up to $47 million in hotel tax revenue to transform the Old Sacramento waterfront by adding a long lawn and concert stage, two rooftop bars and potentially a docked barge with a swimming pool.

City officials hope the project will help expedite more planned riverfront improvements so that Sacramento can full embrace the riverfront as a real amenity.

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