Broadway art exhibit offers more than the eye can see

Unlike its New York namesake, you won’t find many people soaking in the atmosphere or architecture along Sacramento’s Broadway.

On any given afternoon, you will find badge-wearing state workers scurrying across an intersection, bus riders shuffling as they await transport and, on occasion, someone legging it with an armful of goods.

Sight seers? Not so much.

But a new art exhibit promises to change the visual landscape of the work-a-day corridor without the use of a gallon of paint, a steel beam or any other supplies typically used to create art. Instead, “Broadway Augmented” allows viewers – using a smart phone or tablet – to see 16 virtual-reality art pieces interacting with the existing landscape along Broadway between Ninth and 21st streets.

The only visible signs of the project, markers telling users the location of the virtual 3-D pieces, were installed Thursday morning. The art is visible through the “Broadway Augmented” application, free on the Apple and Android marketplaces.

An opening reception, featuring some of the artists, is Saturday at the Sacramento FC Republic office at 2421 17th St. from 4 to 9 p.m.

The project utilizes an emerging technology that’s increasingly being used by designers and architects to allow them and clients to visualize a project before construction begins. The Sacramento Kings organization is using virtual reality to help drive sales at the new arena.

The project comes amid a flurry of action aimed at making the corridor, which is anchored by the iconic art deco Tower Theatre, more people-friendly. In 2013, the Sacramento chapter of the Urban Land Institute and the Greater Broadway Partnership used a $12,000 grant to craft the Broadway Vision Plan, which calls for narrowing the roadway to make it more pedestrian friendly. The ideas will be given serious study by the city, thanks to Caltrans and matching city funds.

City officials already say there is renewed interest and they are expecting to file proposals to redevelop commercial properties along Broadway in the coming weeks.

“Broadway Augmented” invites people to stroll the sidewalks of the wide four-lane roadway as they explore the virtual pieces.

“I would be thrilled if people came down and were engaged in looking at the built world on Broadway,” said Shelly Willis, director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. “That is the point, get people down to Broadway and get people thinking about the built environment.”

Broadway can rightfully boast of its collection of ethnic restaurants, but its landscape is uneven. The roadway doesn’t really invite people to walk from one block to the next. Parking is often a challenge and the four-lane road is a challenge to cross.

Teresa Rocha, executive director of the Greater Broadway District, said the project is already a success in that more people are thinking about Broadway.

She said Sacramento is at its best when its neighborhoods are healthy.

“What is happening downtown is real exciting, but one of the strengths of Sacramento is its neighborhoods,” Rocha said. “It’s not an either/or.”

One of the new stars of the boulevard is New Helvetia Brewing Co. Its beer offers, frequently complemented by a food truck, bring a youthful, but cosmopolitan vibe to the block. Owner Dave Gull, who is also on the board of the business district, said he hopes in addition to bringing extra foot traffic to the area that the project will bring entrepreneurs with ideas of what to do with the empty storefronts and underutilized properties.

“Hopefully some enterprising people will see that and think of a way to fill the void,” Gull said. “Midtown didn’t turn around overnight and Broadway isn’t going to turn around overnight, either.”

But not everyone believes that art that can’t be seen without a cell phone or tablet is the way to a reinvigorated Broadway.

Stan Forbes, owner of the Avid Reader bookstore, described himself as a bit more than skeptical and said he “will be interested to see how many people do it.”

“I think they will be better off just commissioning some art,” Forbes said.