City Beat

On mural, Sacramento becomes art critic

This mural on the side of a building on 28th Street in midtown Sacramento was painted over by the city after code enforcement officers determined it included the work of “known graffiti vandals.”
This mural on the side of a building on 28th Street in midtown Sacramento was painted over by the city after code enforcement officers determined it included the work of “known graffiti vandals.” Courtesy of Jenn Ponci

The way it looks today, no one could call the wall at 2030 28th St. a work of art.

It’s on the side of an abandoned massage parlor that doesn’t look like the kind of place that hosted a lot of mother-daughter spa days. The wall’s gray paint is only a few days old but is already peeling. All the grass in front of the wall is dead.

As ugly as it is, the wall is also a point of tension between a vibrant group of artists and a city trying to cultivate that kind of talent.

Graffiti taggers had turned the wall into a canvas of obscene drawings. They drew scenes you wouldn’t want your kids to see. A lot of people in the neighborhood wanted something to be done, but no one could seem to find the building’s owner.

Jenn Ponci took control. She’s a tattoo artist at Side Show Studios, one of the city’s best-known shops. It operates out of an old home, right down the street from the wall.

Ponci is also part of Few and Far, a collective of women who paint murals and teach art around the world. They’re a social justice organization that tries to get young people interested in self-expression and improving neighborhoods. The group has painted a few murals around Sacramento, including a striking, colorful display near R Street.

Ponci tried to contact the building’s landlord, but never heard back. Public records show a San Francisco family owns the place. Finally, Ponci and her friends did something. Last month, they bought $2,000 worth of paint and covered the vulgar graffiti with a colorful mural. Ponci said the mural was going to be included in a bike tour of the central city’s best work.

Then some neighbors complained. Again. The city sent its code enforcement officers out to the wall. It was determined that the new mural “had several monikers of known graffiti vandals,” city spokeswoman Linda Tucker said.

Photos of the mural show a bright display of flowers and clouds. There were also graffiti-style letters on the mural and the city thought that was trash. And the city had the last word.

So the mural was covered with gray paint by a city crew last week. The city is charging the building’s owners $873 for the work, although Tucker said they haven’t been able to contact the family about the fine.

“On one hand, Sacramento is trying to embrace arts and culture, and on the other hand, they’re paying a New York artist millions for his art at the arena,” Ponci said, referring to the much-debated Jeff Koons sculpture. “And this wall was a case where the city had local artists contributing to the community.”

City Hall supports a lot of public art. Many downtown buildings have murals on them – work endorsed by city officials and business leaders.

Maybe that’s the key: Ask the city if it’s art before getting to work.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.

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