Erika D. Smith

With art, everybody’s a critic – and that’s exactly what Sacramento needs

Spray paint mars a mural painted by artist Waylon Horner for last month’s Wide Open Walls festival.
Spray paint mars a mural painted by artist Waylon Horner for last month’s Wide Open Walls festival.

“Gentrify 101: Make it hip!” The words, scrawled across Waylon Horner’s mural in Oak Park earlier this month, were gone by Friday.


Still, this is why we can’t have nice things in Sacramento. The whimsical, almost Dr. Seuss-like artwork that Horner painted for last month’s Wide Open Walls festival was there only a few days before someone tagged it with white spray-paint.

It’s a shame. And, at first blush, it would be easy to dismiss the vandalism as the natural consequence of skyrocketing housing costs and invading hipsters who have irrevocably altered this historically black and working class Sacramento neighborhood. And this might be true.

But it’s also what happens when residents feel like they don’t have enough control over the character of their neighborhood and, by extension, what role the arts should play in it.

On Monday, Sacramento will start trying to do something about that – and not just for Oak Park – with the first in a series of public meetings to draft a citywide Arts, Culture and Creative Economy Plan. The “kickoff” meeting is Monday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts at 2420 N St. in midtown.

It sounds wonky and technical, but basically the plan will be a blueprint for how to invest in the arts. It could, for example, set a citywide priority for arts education and supporting museums. Or it could spell out how the residents of a particular neighborhood want to expand existing art galleries or commission more public art.

Jonathon Glus, recently brought in by Mayor Darrell Steinberg to lead the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, is overseeing the process over the next few months. He helped do the same in Houston and, before that, in Pasadena.

“Every plan is unique to every city,” Glus explained. “There is no preconceived notion of what’s going in the plan. It’s really up to the community to help define what it’s going to look like.”

That means if you care about your neighborhood or about art, it would be wise to show up to one of these meetings. It’s important stuff.

Most cities do a cultural plan every seven years. Sacramento hasn’t done one in at least 20 years, which is probably one reason why the capital city was known for so long as a drab and boring government town. Art just hasn’t been a priority.

That is changing, of course. These days, there’s a lot of energy at the grass-roots level among young artists eager to make their mark. This summer was the second year for the Wide Open Walls mural festival, a event that truly transformed the look of midtown. Just as successful were the Art Hotel and Art Street exhibits, both of which drew fans even from the suburbs.

Sure, some of the activity in Sacramento, like so many things lately, is being driven by rising housing costs in the Bay Area and artists moving here for cheaper places to live and work. But there’s a lot of homegrown talent, too, and they have a vested interest in making their careers work here.

For that reason, it should be a priority in the Cultural Plan to provide more affordable housing and studio space for struggling artists, especially in light of the crackdown in many California cities after the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. The same goes for finding ways to create more small performance venues for grass-roots events, and nailing down a process for making sure black and brown artists aren’t shut out of projects.

Most of all, though, the drafting of a Cultural Plan presents a rare opportunity for Sacramento to make a commitment to the arts and officially declare it a core value for the city. Steinberg tried to make this very point back in June, when he banged on bucket drums on R Street to promote busking. Some people clearly didn’t get it, though.

How else to explain the operators of Pipeworks climbing gym on North 16th Street? They painted over a mural – also commissioned for Wide Open Walls – by an internationally known artist just because it “was not done as promised”? What a rubbish move.

“They don’t deserve what we do to be honest,” the artist, Elliot O’Donnell, who goes by the name Askew One, lamented on social media.

Sacramento is better than that, and with the right community support, the Cultural Plan is the way to prove it.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith