Armed with a $20,000 grant, 11 artists from around the country have been chosen to create public art that will change the face of Sacramento’s Broadway – virtually.
The pieces – be they sculptures, murals or other works of art – will exists as digital files, visible to pedestrians only through apps on their smartphones or tablet devices. Project curators envision scores of art lovers walking the Broadway corridor, stopping occasionally for drinks or a bite along the way and using their digital devices to reveal what each of the artists has created.
“Nobody has done a project quite like this,” said Sacramento State professor Rachel Clarke, the “Broadway Augmented” project’s technical director and one of the artists. “The (National Endowment for the Arts) funded this because it’s augmented reality.”
Augmented reality is an emerging technology, using mobile computer interfaces to see computer-generated sound, video, graphics or data.
The project is a collaborative effort of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, Sacramento State, the Greater Broadway Partnership District and the Urban Land Institute. A September 2014 “Second Saturday” kickoff has been tentatively planned once the projects are digitally created and the viewing application is built.
On Nov. 21, Reno artist Joseph DeLappe was the last of the 11 artists to tour the project area, which runs from Ninth to 24th streets.
“It’s going to transform this entire neighborhood, but nothing will be there,” said DeLappe, while finishing a cup of coffee at the Tower Cafe.
The project is an outgrowth of a Greater Broadway Partnership District effort launched in 2012 to reinvent the eclectic stretch of furniture stores, ethnic restaurants, music shops, auto parts dealers and a historic theater. Cut off from downtown and midtown by an elevated freeway, the Broadway corridor is hit and miss: on one side of the street, the iconic art deco Tower Theater; across the four-lane roadway, Tower Liquor, its broken sign held together by wire.
Physical upgrades to the corridor are expected to be months behind the virtual upgrade, but there’s still plenty for people to see and do, said Teresa Rocha, executive director of the partnership. Rocha said it’s possible one or more of the digital pieces will eventually take physical form, but that’s not the purpose of the project.
“The priority is to experiment,” said Shelly Willis, interim director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and director of the Broadway Augmented project.
Willis said artists will be free to work without the limitations of cost or feasibility. She added that the artists will be free to design for people who choose to see the art, unlike traditional public art projects, which must accommodate the sensibilities of the entire populace.
Willis, who helped select the art for the $1 billion Sacramento International Airport Terminal B, said augmented reality will change the design community.
“This is the future. This is the direction in the design community,” she said. In the future, art won’t be selected from scale models, but through virtual reality – allowing it be seen in the context of its environment, she said.
In addition to helping with the digital implementation of the project, Sac State students will also help in the marketing of the project, from creating a website to fliers and physical signage along the 15-block project area.
For inspiration, each of the artists spent several days in meetings with Rocha, Willis and Clarke, touring Broadway, learning the history and meeting business owners.
DeLappe, who is originally from San Francisco, said he might need more time to develop a meaningful idea.
“I like the idea of trying to learn something about the place,” DeLappe said. “I live in Reno. I’ll be able to come back.”