One of my first memories of Sacramento is taking a stroll over to Southside Park and gazing with more than a little awe at the mural along the back wall of the Callahan Memorial Bandstand.
I plopped down on the ground and took in the bright colors. I had just moved from Indianapolis, you see, a sports-obsessed city where art is even more of an afterthought than it is in Sacramento. So I was excited to live in a city with murals that appeared to be more than few years old.
It was only later that I found out it was painted by members of the Royal Chicano Air Force, and later still that that the group had murals all over the place in the ’70s, but “time and demolition took their toll,” as historian William Burg told me.
So the idea that Sacramento could build upon its past, adding new murals to old ones that dot midtown and downtown and few people seem to notice anymore, is cool.
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Starting Saturday, a dozen artists will get their hands on walls across the central city, spending a week turning them into art as part of the inaugural Sacramento Mural Festival. Word is most of the walls will be along a suspiciously blank Jazz Alley in midtown, between J and K streets.
We’ll know for sure on Monday, after a news conference at LowBrau – the center of all things young, hipster and creative in Sacramento.
It’s a far cry from the era of the creation of many of the other murals that dot midtown, which were painted over several years without a whole lot of coordination from on high. Closer to 2000, artists painted a few more with some direction and central planning.
For this latest push in the form of the Sacramento Mural Festival, we can credit David Sobon, the arts advocate and collector who told my colleague Ryan Lillis: “The grid is a good place to start because there are a lot of things going on right now.”
He’s right, of course. There are new restaurants, coffee shops and bars opening so fast that I can barely keep up. You can almost feel the excitement as Golden 1 Center nears completion.
But if I’m honest, I’m worried that, eventually, midtown and downtown will end up looking like every other city center designed to appeal to millennials with money and an affinity for bicycles. Cool in design, useful in function, but bland in character. A testament to misguided urbanists.
Murals are a way to counteract that a bit.
When artists, particularly local ones, are able to put their mark on a city, they help define it. This is particularly important for Sacramento, often still cast as a bland government town. It’s a way for residents of all ages to establish a sense of place and identity in a rapidly changing city.
That’s what makes the Callahan Memorial Bandstand so powerful.
Murals are an exceedingly approachable form of public art. They’re also a low-cost way to bring art into the mainstream – again important for Sacramento, where everyone knows art isn’t in the DNA here the way government and dive bars are. Arts groups have faced an uphill battle since the recession, scrambling to find funding from a small or at least reluctant pool of donors.
Yet there’s clearly a desire for public art. Residents from neighborhoods outside of midtown already say they want a piece of the next mural festival.
Sacramento might not be known as a hotbed for public art these days, but perhaps times are changing.