Sacramento’s planned downtown arena also seen as art showcase

Sacramento’s planned downtown sports and entertainment arena may also be one of the city’s most notable art galleries.

City and Sacramento Kings officials announced Thursday that the team will commit $5.5 million to a public art program at the arena and surrounding plaza, possibly drawing on local and national artists to provide sculptures, mosaics and other art pieces.

The project’s art budget is the largest in the 37-year history of the city’s Art in Public Places Program, according to Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission Executive Director Shelly Willis, and could alter the city’s art landscape, given the site’s downtown location. The budget for art at the new terminal at Sacramento International Airport was larger, but it’s in an unincorporated area.

“I’ve never done a project in a center of a town that has this large of a budget and has a potential to make a significant contribution to the landscape of our community,” she said. “The scale of this is unique in the city.”

The city’s art program requires developers of public buildings to set aside 2 percent of the project construction budget for public art. In the case of the planned $477 million downtown arena, officials have estimated the construction budget will be in the $270 million range.

Although the Kings are building the arena and will operate it, the building is considered a public structure because the city of Sacramento, which will own it, is providing $255 million to the overall budget.

Kings President Chris Granger said the arena art program is an important element of the project for team owners.

“We talk about the arena being bigger than basketball, in terms of providing broad, diverse community benefits,” he said. “It is just a great place for art, culture and entertainment, broadly defined.

“We envision this as being akin to a museum, and (a place for) performance art.”

Willis said the arts commission has formed a nine-person panel to administer the program. The group includes Crocker Art Museum Director Lial Jones; arena architect Rob Rothblatt; Oakland Museum Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman; and local artist and patron Marcy Friedman, the mother of team co-owner Mark Friedman. The panel also contains a representative of the team ownership group, an arts commissioner, an art historian, an artist and an art gallery director.

Officials said it is too early to tell how many art pieces will be commissioned, what size they will be and where they will be installed. Willis said, however, she expects several pieces to involve $100,000-plus commissions.

Several people involved in the project have said they believe the site should have a signature piece of art, such as a sculpture on the public plaza planned for Fifth and K streets – a piece that could be seen from J, L and Seventh streets.

Although the $5.5 million art budget for the arena is the biggest in the city, it is slightly smaller than the recent $8 million public art budget for the expanded Sacramento International Airport, which was a Sacramento County project. The arts commission and airport officials set aside $2 million of that amount for a fund to maintain the art over time. The signature art piece at the airport is a 56-foot-long red rabbit, suspended in air, that appears to be leaping into a granite suitcase one floor down. It cost $700,000.

Willis said the arts panel must move fast to keep pace with the Kings’ aggressive construction schedule. The team plans to begin demolishing the east end of Downtown Plaza in May, if it and the city come to final deal terms. The City Council is set to vote May 13 on the deal.

Willis said the Kings have agreed to remove art now in that end of the plaza and donate it to the arts commission for reinstallation elsewhere in Sacramento.

The art program needs to be developed in unison with the final work on the arena design, Willis said, so that artwork can be commissioned in time, and spaces can be reserved for the installations.

The last of the tenants in the eastern end of Downtown Plaza have moved out as their leases ended, leaving the arena site a retail ghost town. Josh Cook, who moved to Sacramento recently from Portland, approached the AT&T store Thursday afternoon and threw up his arms in frustration: The store closed Monday.

Along the same lines, Derek Dahlkamp of Sacramento came to the mall looking for the All Sports store to buy some footwear. It, too, had closed, “along with everything else,” he said.

The Getta Clue clothing store has relocated from the east end of the mall to the west end, which will stay open during arena construction. Another retailer, Zee Jewelers, is in the middle of moving to the west end.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee