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Artists’ mural brightens Sacramento freeway’s under side

The artist’s rendering of the Bright Underbelly mural shows what it would look like from a distance. The 70,000-square-foot project on the underside of Sacramento’s W-X freeway is being unveiled Thursday.
The artist’s rendering of the Bright Underbelly mural shows what it would look like from a distance. The 70,000-square-foot project on the underside of Sacramento’s W-X freeway is being unveiled Thursday. LC Studio Tutto

The underside of freeways is usually the artistic domain of taggers and graffiti artists.

But after a two-year effort to get the project approved, funded and painted, “Bright Underbelly” will officially be unveiled to the public Thursday.

Bright Underbelly is a 70,000 square-foot mural, turning the once drab underside of Sacramento’s W-X freeway into a vibrant bird-dotted ode to the City of Trees. The space, between 6th and 8th streets, is the home to the region’s largest farmer’s market, bringing hundreds to the space weekly.

The project depicts the blue sky as seen through a lush tree canopy. The four seasons of the canopy are tied together by an arching lunar cycle and are dotted with season-appropriate bird and insect life.

The project is a collaboration between artists Sofia Lacin, 31, and Hennessy Christophel, 30 and project manager Tre Borden.

“It was really a great place to highlight. Not only because it represents our culture, but because it represents our identity,” said Borden. “We really wanted to make this place that was already so resonant a beautiful gathering place.”

The team raised more than $140,000 to fund the project from a variety of state and benefactors, including $50,000 from The California Endowment and $25,000 from Kaiser Permanente. Locally Metro Edge and Mulvaney's Building and Loan restaurant each contributed $10,000, according the project’s website.

Thursday’s 9 a.m. unveiling and ribbon cutting kicks off a series of events celebrating the new addition to the Sacramento arts landscape. A community day is scheduled Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday’s farm-to-fork dinner at 5 p.m. features chef Patrick Mulvaney.

“Bright Underbelly is a really valuable addition to Sacramento on so many levels,” said Mike Testa, chief operating officer of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Creating a one-of-a-kind art piece at the site of California’s largest Certified Farmers’ Market establishes a landmark that celebrates both our local arts community and the region’s national farm-to-fork identity.”

Sacramento City councilman Steve Hansen said the mural is a step to filling the void caused by the freeway’s construction.

The mural offers “a new way to think about these ‘left behind’ spaces,” said Hansen.

This project comes on the heels of another artist-driven project that captured the public’s attention. But whereas “Art Hotel” turned an doomed structure into a temporary avant-garde gallery, Bright Underbelly aims to turn a permanent – but drab – structure into something that inspires awe.

“Projects like Bright Underbelly contribute to a healthy arts ecosystem by enhancing the opportunities to experience and engage with art in our community,” said Liv Moe, executive director of Sacramento’s Verge Center for the Arts. “I think it's great that this exists in a place where so many people will engage with it who might not go out of their way to experience art otherwise.”

One thing that’s quickly apparent when visiting Bright Underbelly: It’s impossible to see it all at once. Guests can take in the details – there are 24 animal species depicted – as the walk the cavernous underpass, but as much as one might like to there is no way to step back and absorb the whole thing at once.

“We wanted to transform it into something that reflects the energy that comes into here every Sunday,” said Lacin.

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