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Artwork draws events, crowds to Sacramento ‘dead zone’

Video: PORTAL artwork enlivens Sacramento "dead zone"

PORTAL is a steel-framed art installation covered in mirrored Plexiglas and 9,000 LED lights. Really, it’s the hook that’s attracting musicians, bloggers and artists to the city’s most unlikely gathering spot, a shuttered ice plant on R Street.
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PORTAL is a steel-framed art installation covered in mirrored Plexiglas and 9,000 LED lights. Really, it’s the hook that’s attracting musicians, bloggers and artists to the city’s most unlikely gathering spot, a shuttered ice plant on R Street.

A young musician named Xochitl sang and played her guitar last week while a small crowd lunched nearby on lobster rolls from the Cousins Maine Lobster food truck. A few feet away, artist Maren Conrad was setting up a display of creative table settings made of recycled books and hand-blown glass.

It’s not the kind of scene you’d expect to come across in front of an old ice warehouse on R Street that’s been empty for years.

But that’s what Portal has done to the area around the planned Ice Blocks development. Portal is a steel-framed art installation covered in mirrored Plexiglas and 9,000 LED lights. Really, it’s the hook that’s attracting musicians, bloggers and artists to the city’s most unlikely gathering spot.

“It’s done what we wanted – and that’s activate a dead zone,” said Kimberly Garza, a landscape designer with a company called Quadriga.

Garza and art promoter Tre Borden were the creative minds behind Portal. The work was fabricated at the Hacker Lab and moved to R Street last month. It will move across the river to West Sac on Sept. 18 for a three-day showing at TBD Fest.

Before it leaves midtown, Portal will anchor an eclectic lineup of events.

It’s done what we wanted – and that’s activate a dead zone.

Kimberly Garza, landscape designer

Sacramento Steps Forward, the region’s primary homeless services organization, will be out there at 6 p.m. Tuesday for a discussion on one of the city’s toughest issues. The next night, there’s a book signing with author Wayne Wiegand and a talk on how neighborhoods can draw visitors with temporary art installations, miniparks and parties.

The Sacramento Philharmonic and the Capital Dance Project ballet troupe will perform Thursday evening. There’s yoga scheduled for Saturday morning. Later that day, from 4 to 9 p.m., expect to see a crowd wearing wireless headsets dancing around Portal in a “silent disco.”

Next week brings an open-mike night, a yoga class during which participants will wear glow-in-the-dark clothing and a mixer for the Metro EDGE young professionals group. The complete calendar is at www.portalsac.com.

This stretch of R Street – between 16th and 18th streets – won’t return to a dead zone after Portal departs. Construction crews were already out there Thursday, taking part in the early stages of what’s expected to be an $80 million, two-block stretch of shops, workspaces and homes. Lead developer Michael Heller was shy with the details last week but said “the world is going to change down here in the next couple of months.”

Heller did say public art would be prominently featured in his development. He helped pay for Portal and said it was “an expression of young, talented people – people who are pushing us outside the box.”

Borden and Garza are those people. They think R Street could become a larger version of the MARRS complex on 20th Street, also developed by Heller – the “new new,” as Borden said. Another place where free parties, concerts and art exhibits bring us all together. Portal is the start.

“From patrons to the homeless, everyone has to have access to cool stuff,” Borden said. “This is the hook. We’re trying to train the public to expect more from this city.”

PORTAL is a steel-framed art installation covered in mirrored Plexiglas and 9,000 LED lights. Really, it’s the hook that’s attracting musicians, bloggers and artists to the city’s most unlikely gathering spot, a shuttered ice plant on R Street.

The interactive 'Portal' art tunnel aims to inspire and point to future of Sacramento's R Street. Video by Ed Fletcher.

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