Erika D. Smith

Erika D. Smith: Art Hotel taps into changing soul of Sacramento

By now, the “blood” has surely been drained from the bathtub, and the TVs have been turned off in the hallway.

The light embedded in the sculpture of a man bursting through the floor is probably out. And the lonely, human-like figure sprawled on a dirty mattress, surrounded by beer cans and scraps of paper, probably has been removed.

By now, the art is surely checking out of what for nine days was the Art Hotel, a temporary exhibit inside the dilapidated, soon-to-be-demolished Jade Apartments building in downtown Sacramento.

It’s not every day that one can get a glimpse of Sacramento’s past, present and future – laid out like a montage of infrastructure and human emotion. But on Saturday, the last day of Art Hotel, it was too obvious to miss.

More than 60 local painters, sculptors, muralists and graffiti artists volunteered their time to make the exhibit happen, transforming all five floors into something amazing, weird and, frankly, rather creepy.

They said their goal was “to bring artists together (and) to inspire the community to do the same.” I say they did far more than that.

They uncovered, perhaps without even knowing they were doing it, the uncomfortable way we relate as haves and have-nots. They also revealed a budding community of like-minded young people that already exists here and is thriving and, most of all, a huge local demand for grass-roots art.

At a time when Sacramento is struggling for arts funding, searching high and low for donors to either renovate or replace the Community Center Theater, Art Hotel was the hottest ticket in town.

How hot?

Well, when Art Hotel opened, the thinking was visitors would just show up and go on a free tour. They might have to wait a few minutes, but with 1,000 people able to go inside every day for nine days, no one figured it would be a big deal. But by the middle of last week, it was abundantly clear that wasn’t going to work.

Art Hotel volunteers started handing out tickets – well, stickers – for timed tours. Twenty-five minutes, in and out. By Wednesday, people were lining up outside, and tickets sold out. By Friday, people were arriving a full hour before the doors opened to secure spots. By Saturday, people were showing up two hours early.

In the Bay Area, if an art show was sold out, the response would be a collective shrug. There’s always another exhibit, right? Here, the response was bartering and begging – that’s right, begging – for tickets. It was that serious.

I got there at 9:30 on Saturday morning, and the line already snaked down Seventh Street outside of the hotel and around the corner down L Street, across from the rising Golden 1 Center.

A burrito truck showed up right on time to capitalize on the somewhat-hungover crowd. The corner store that has surely lost money since Jade Apartments and the old Hotel Marshall closed was doing a brisk business.

Construction workers building the arena took their breakfast break and stared quizzically at those of us standing in line on L Street. College students. Young professionals. Retirees. Parents with toddlers in tow. Young creatives. We stared back at them and their bright yellow vests.

Soon, some of their colleagues in equally bright vests will be tearing down Jade and Marshall next door.

Both were single-room-occupancy hotels. Flophouses known for bad plumbing, leaky ceilings, cockroaches and bedbugs. Home to people with untreated mental illness and addiction problems who would otherwise be living on the streets – and, in many cases, had been and may now be again.

At a time when Sacramento is struggling to figure out what to do with homeless people, how to help them get into permanent housing and how to stop them from slowing the rapid resurgence of the central city, symbolized by the new arena, I can understand why they were staring at us.

What a juxtaposition. People with means, who would’ve never set foot in the Jade or Marshall when it was occupied, standing in a long line to trounce through the bedrooms of people without means. Oh, and only after largely ignoring homeless people who were asking those of us standing in line for money.

What that says about Sacramento, I don’t really know. But we should figure it out.

Soon there will be a $26 million, 10-story, Hyatt Place hotel where the old Jade and Marshall now stand. No longer will that darkened block of Seventh Street seem all but abandoned, allowing the kind of late-night conversations and networking among artists that happened over the weekend.

But there are other blocks and other buildings.

Shaun Burner, an artist who helped curate Art Hotel, told one of my colleagues days before it opened that Sacramento is full of talent, is changing and “is starving for something like this.”

That was an understatement and then some.

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

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