Mural is bright sign of what’s possible in Sacramento

Sacramento isn’t a city with vast oceans or soaring mountains, or even overly inspiring architecture. People here work hard to create beauty with what they have and tend to appreciate it where they find it.

There’s no better example of this than “Bright Underbelly” – a new 70,000-square-foot mural that spans the underside of the W-X freeway between Sixth and Eighth streets across from Southside Park.

Gorgeous and impossible to take in all at once, the mural pays homage to our City of Trees. It’s dominated by a bright, blue sky as seen through a lush canopy of branches, all divided into quadrants of seasons and dotted with birds and insects.

On Thursday morning, cars and tractor-trailers rumbled overhead as the young artists who painted it, Hennessy Christophel and Sofia Lacin, and the project manager, Tre Borden, talked about their work at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Dozens of people, including City Council members and the two leading candidates for mayor, sat in neat rows of seats, smiling but struggling to listen to their drowned-out words.

On the surface, it’s so Sacramento – or, at least, so what people outside Sacramento think of Sacramento. The city’s signature piece of public art, one of its most beautiful attractions for residents and visitors, is literally underneath a freeway.

But as its name suggests, beneath the surface, “Bright Underbelly” is so much more than that. The mural, and the process to create it, represents proof of what’s possible for young people who want to leave a much-needed creative mark on the city.

Lacin and Christophel already are among the most well-known public artists in Sacramento. They’ve painted murals in midtown, downtown and Davis.

Still, it took two years to make “Bright Underbelly” a reality. In addition to wading through quite a bit of government red tape, Borden, Christophel and Lacin had to raise more than $140,000 to fund it.

The California Endowment donated $50,000 and Kaiser Permanente gave $25,000. Metro Edge and Mulvaney’s Building and Loan restaurant each contributed $10,000.

The team of artists chose the spot under the W-X freeway because it’s home to the region’s largest farmers market every Sunday. And given the region’s efforts to craft a farm-to-fork identity, they saw it as the perfect way to use art to connect people with a very important place.

“We’re hoping this is just a starting point,” Borden said of public art projects. “We’re not just using Sacramento as our platform and saying, ‘bye.’ This is our chance to show people that there’s a really good reason to stick around.”

Any piece of art that can inspire young people to do that is worth celebrating – even if it is underneath a noisy freeway.