The Sacramento art scene has been booming, after artists at the core, like Shaun Burner, David Garibaldi, and too many others to name, invested decades pushing the movement for more appreciation of the arts. Collectively, these influencers in the creative world brought districts full of crime, addiction, and poverty to up and coming neighborhoods and culture-filled real estate. The general morale in a downtrodden area is uplifted through the new events and energy in the places artists can afford to live. This transformation is still growing with a strong sense of community and purpose pushing collaborators to stay driven.
Much of Sacramento’s makeover was fueled by the graffiti writers in that era, or graffiti writers that became artists and muralists. Unfortunately, the city had a fearful approach to that culture, and often funded vandal squads to combat what they saw as a threat to our town. This was difficult for the evolution of the art scene, as many artists were aggressively stifled and often relocated to a more accepting city before they had a chance to grow.
Many outside Sacramento felt, until recently, our culture was nonexistent. In the rest of the country, the most common tale of the state capital was of simply “passing through on I-5”. Although I defended my town, it’s true that the urban art scene existed underground. Unless we could show visitors ourselves, the scene was difficult to find. Gaining momentum with venues like Joe’s Style Shop and Horse Cow in the early 2000’s was extremely difficult. When popularity rose, the government came in and shut us down.
Most initially minors, Art vandals knew things were corrupt, and they brought change to the streets. Crews have been living rough lives punished by the same system that was supposed to help them. The budget and attention to graffiti, paired with the degree of punishment, was often overboard. In 2001 I witnessed a graffiti artist face 18 felony charges- for marker tags, on alley dumpsters. That same artist was my partner, and we went through hell that year. To this day, I still don’t understand how it’s constructive to punish someone for putting art where it’s a visual improvement. The people who disagree don’t typically go to those places, and the people who do appreciate the work.
Over the years, dealing with raids, jail, lawyers, and months of anxiety-ridden court dates got old. Vandal squads in Sacramento tried, and sometimes succeeded, in pitting artists and crews against one another. This method may have been integrated into the system after the Zoot Suit riots, a historic account of the government turning ‘Mexican citizens that dress nicely’ into ‘gang members’, and essentially creating MS-13 which as you probably know is still a current issue. According to google
“Pachucos became influential beyond their numbers in 1943, during the famous Zoot Suit Riots, when gangs of American servicemen prowled the Eastside, beating up the zoot-suiters. The riots underscored a building prejudice toward Los Angeles‘ burgeoning Mexican community.Dec 11, 1988” More Zoot Suit History
And, together the military and law enforcement, through prejudice and corruption, created the formula for creating gangs, as seen paraphrased here (and based on my own experience). The Police focused primarily on youth, using very serious tactics to bully them with real-life threats to their freedom and safety. They accused children and young adults of snitching on one another to get other people to talk, and fueled or even created crew rivalries in a previously calmer scene.
Police reports were used as evidence of writers who gave up others’ information, the strongest violation of a graffiti writer against one another. After seeing first-hand how inaccurately the department recorded their paperwork, and how individual cops selectively omitted information, I would not trust the police any more than a neighbor I’ve never met before. I have seen them lie, and I know they are capable of lying to accomplish their goals.
Vandal Squads nationwide turned art communities against themselves, into graffiti-battle war-zones, turning beautiful pieces into offensive chicken scratch. Then they turned around and told the public what a nuisance graffiti is. People got in real fights over these issues, and in some cities people were killed over these police-fueled feuds. Sometimes, they were killed by the police, for changing the color of a surface.
Artists who should be honored and respected like Shepard Fairey, who sacrificed and built their following on a grassroots level, are not recognized today. Instead, these passionate writers spent years they could have been painting behind bars in different cities throughout the country. Artists the public loves spent years in and out of courtrooms with their futures hanging overhead in permanent purgatory.
I can honestly understand why the police wanted the funding to create and fight these art crimes. Stalking artists all day is much more pleasant than addressing the overwhelming shortage of housing for homeless, better solutions for the mentally ill, or the international human trafficking epidemic affecting Sacramento. While focusing on petty vandalism all day means looking at pretty pieces, and confiscating art supplies instead of weapons, some great artists were deeply damaged by law enforcement. For years writers have been beaten down by prison culture, under the guise that they’re gang members, an image started by the police. The graffiti writers never deserved the kind of treatment they received.
Up in Seattle in 2002 there was no overzealous task force. Valuing the arts in all forms, the northwest has always been a very progressive environment. Instead of focusing on prosecuting kids for art, the city gave them walls to paint. Instead of wasting energy on petty crimes, low level offences were decriminalized. Things like wheat pasting, or plastering posters on poles for advertisement or art, were organically going to keep happening, and they considered it harmless, so they legalized it. Sacramento on the other hand had my friends going to court for years over a wheat paste case, after advertising their band. They could barely afford to take off work to make it to court. I moved to Seattle to get out of the system, and it was a breath of fresh air. There I met tons of amazing artists and even participated in my first all-female street-art show hosted by Angel 179, circa 2004. She became a very good friend later down the road. It was such a relief to finally be able to paint without police knocking on my door.
Slow acceptance of teenage rebellion retarded Sacramento’s cultural progression, whereas cities like Seattle and San Francisco were creating the sought after Legends, like Shepard Fairey, we now eagerly commission to bring inspiration to our town.
Like Fairey, the graffiti writers who survived and stayed in the game are often sought after for live painting at festivals, fundraisers for social causes, and commissioned for murals. Art activists who went to jail for what they believe are now paid for their work, dedication and notoriety. And rightfully so, as they not only helped pave the way, they created this influx of amazing art, with most muralists today at least somewhat influenced by graffiti culture. People in all walks of life now have access to graffiti mediums, and innovative ways of thinking about the scale and placement of their work.
With strong values pointing towards real life issues, artists have always been a catalyst for positive social change. Graffiti writers brought heavy Hip Hop and Punk Rock values to the streets and they speak for the underdog in the forgotten corners of the world. Where run down abandoned projects become art, writers fought, died, broke bones, fell off buildings and billboards, and crawled in asbestos filled ruins. They have been hit by trains, bitten by dogs, shot by cops, and chased by civilians. Graffiti writers have gone to jail, and even prison, lost their brothers and sisters, fought the system, and lived in the shadows, so today the international art scene can offer worldwide communities epic works of uplifting art.
Inspired by the growing art culture in the city, perhaps after meeting neighbor (and street artist) Johnny Knudsen, Wide Open Walls founder and producer David Sobon had the idea to bring this growing art movement to the local mainstream. International festivals like Pow Wow and Art Basel frequently empower entire cities with skyscrapers covered in art. Sacramento had never experienced an art festival of that magnitude… until David teamed up with Warren Brand, and started Wide Open Walls.
In collaboration with Branded Arts, Wide Open Walls hosts an annual festival, along with other inspiring art events throughout the year. Together, they brought strong artists from other cities, while still supporting many local creatives. This organization hosts a 10-day festival where artists from around the globe travel to paint the walls of Sacramento. On their website you can read
“Wide Open Walls is a 501(3)(c) whose mission is to promote and celebrate public art. We believe that art is an integral part of the human experience, and can empower, inspire and transform lives. Wide Open Walls promotes diversity through artistic expression. We think art should be part of daily life, and want art to reach a wider audience. Our mission is embodied in Wide Open Walls – our annual festival in August that brings our region together to celebrate Art for All. The festival brings both local, national and international artists together to transform our region with amazing street art. We also produce other public art events throughout the year – including The Mural Jam, Sac Republic’s Paint The Park, and the upcoming Playa Art Trail. Wide Open Walls brings underserved neighborhoods public art that encourages a sense of pride and identity; provides community gathering spaces; generates impactful, measurable economic growth for our region; and promotes greater cultural understanding and appreciation amongst diverse groups.”
In 2018, there were 35 different international artists featured. Each year, the city faces a fast visual transformation as huge sides of buildings are completely overhauled into beautiful works of art. The team hosts parties throughout, and encourages mural tours and activities based on the new attractions.
The variety of talent, styles, and influences of recognized artists from home and around the globe has added significantly more life and value to Sacramento. Some of the featured muralists include John Pugh from Truckee, California, Franceska Gamez and Brent Patten from Sacramento, international artists Pixel Pancho and Mateus Bailon, Rainbow California’s Charmaine Olivia, and of course, the infamous Shepard Fairey. From sculpture made from recycled materials to aerosol art and brushwork, each work of art reflects a different artist’s background and delivers a different cultural experience. Those who visit Sacramento can be inspired by a vast range of globally diverse styles and techniques.
In addition to the annual festival, WOW hosts small events throughout the year amping up the local community and inviting all artists to participate. I got to see their system first hand, for the Sac Bee Mural Jam and the Paint the Park contest for Sac Republic FC. They gave us a format to follow that even a novice artist can use to gain a leg up as a professional in the art world, and a fun sponsored project (thank you Leave Your Mark) that looks great on a portfolio to gain future employment. I was also able to connect with several artists I wouldn’t have crossed paths with who have supported my own local events, like Wolffio, Alikasattic, and Ten of Neverboard.
The events took over unused spaces- a building soon to be demolished and tarps on fencing, making something that served no purpose aesthetically- into an art show! The community building and the buzz around town for both artists and spectators, gives every kind of art appreciator (or non appreciator) so much more to talk about!
With the WOW team hailing from a variety of different backgrounds, they have a unique assortment of resources to bring a heart-filled movement to an even greater audience, while fueling a stronger image of the State Capital, and a better quality of life for the people who live and visit a free museum on Wide Open Walls.
This year, I was excited to be chosen as a participant, and was given some room to choose a location and theme. With organic images and Sacramento Pride in mind, Warren Brand awarded me the Visit Sacramento/Farm to Fork building to represent the capital of California.
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Some progress shots getting the lower part of the mural, and practicing my fence walking skills. #artninja #wideopenwalls916 #wip #process #quiethours #sacramentonights #ilovemyjob @wideopenwalls @brandedarts @visitsacramento @behrpaint @sprayplanet #californiamural #ilovesacramento
This was completed mostly throughout the night to avoid the 103 degree summer heat and constant tour discussions during a 10-day time crunch… while making a daily 2 hour commute from home. However, some daylight hours were necessary, and the conversations we always uplifting.
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Came to see the babe while she creates, ending up watching her enchant her (art) admirers. So proud of you Ms. Ponci!!!! 🎨❤😚 #jennponci #jennponciart #wideopenwalls2018 #wideopenwalls916 #graffitiart #muralist #sacramentorocks #sacramentoartist #sacramentoart #badassbabe #iloveher #spraypaintart #dopeness #sacramentoca #hashbrown
Kate Gonzales even came out for a Capitol Public Radio interview, Featuring David Sobon.
After one last night painting past sunrise, friends and acquaintances in the community joined us to celebrate the completion of this awesome mural and ‘Busking Sunday’ by Wide Open Walls, which was something most people didn’t know the definition of.
gerund or present participle: busking
- play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways.
“the group began by busking on Philadelphia sidewalks”
The day was open to all spectators, and drew a revolving crowd, which we estimated was somewhere around 400 people
Smegr and Gallery Trackside
Sacramento artist Eric Bradner is a frequent supporter of the arts and often attends, as well as throws events for the public.
Emer, always bringing 100% to live painting events.
Artist Ten Blair from Neverboard Graphics in Sacramento paints murals and also holds workshops for children.
Separately from my event, Ten painted this for the WOW festival
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Watch out street artists, the competition is starting young 😉 Thank you for the Photos and making this awesome colab with talented little Johannah @jenpmeadows 💕 @rhinokhan @spanishforpearl @wideopenwalls @brandedarts @sprayplanet @behrpaint @visitsacramento #wideopenwalls916
Ryan Winchell kicked off the live model painting on Chico-based stylist Perla, and everyone else got in on the collaboration. Johanna, however, was very concerned.
Little Johanna beginning her painting
She caught on quickly!
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Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who came out to participate and enjoy our wall party yesterday, we had such a good time!! it was so awesome to close down the mural project with a bang! I am so proud to be a part of this amazing community. Thank you @visitsacramento for letting me paint a California themed mural on your wall, and special recognition to @dsaevents, Anna Sobon @brandedarts and @mowens521 of @wideopenwalls for putting together such an amazing event for our State Capital. This week will be hard to top. ❤▶ @behrpaint @sprayplanet @rhinokhan @themicahabides @thirdsman @lexalion @_danielmeidinger @dark_rainbow_meracorn @miss_moth_design @spanishforpearl @salty__redhead @pettycrimes @possumvomit @djswerve1 @duchess_of_nada @djtrashepiphany @designingchris @boulevardskateshop @lynn.tobin @ericbradner_art @mountainliar @games_music_skating_crap @melissauroff @notreallyyourfriend @nikikangas @gallerytrackside @neverboard @karbear1986 @tubemag @fierygingerfarm @nicoleboller @teameley @jenpmeadows @original.mermaid @zaplipzach @sureena24 @areukidneyme @emerclothing_official, Allison @wideopenwalls, anyone who lent a hand or support, the homies @maveriquestylehouse @starrclymer The babe brigade, @mentalmorphisis @artprimoseattle @shannonmarlin @spanish_fly_hair_garage @crushedvlvt @candibirdsalon, my partner in crime, and my super awesome Dad. You guys are the BEST 🙌
Danielle Ferroni from Visit Sacramento and Myself
This painting represents the California Grizzly Bear, or California Golden Bear, our State Flag icon and State Animal. It’s showing motherly love in a circle made of water, a blazing red sun, the night sky, and local agriculture. California Redwood and Palm tree silhouettes contrast our red star bordering a night sky transitioning to a queen honey bee. Golden poppies and lavender blow alongside wheat fields. Overlapping watery splashes lead back to the hungry baby bear.
The blazing sun looks almost as if the tree silhouettes are on fire, speaking to the importance of fire issues in California. Every summer the state lights up, losing an average of 158,460 acres a year, but in 2018 that number skyrocketed to 1,258,880 acres, and the year isn’t over yet. Water conservation can help with fighting fires once they start, but prevention can help exponentially reduce losses of land, lives, and property.
According to National Geographic, many fires are started by human error.
How to Prevent a Wildfire
- Contact 911, your local fire department, or the park service if you notice an unattended or out-of-control fire.
- Never leave a fire unattended. Completely extinguish the fire—by dousing it with water and stirring the ashes until cold—before sleeping or leaving the campsite.
- When camping, take care when using and fueling lanterns, stoves, and heaters. Make sure lighting and heating devices are cool before refueling. Avoid spilling flammable liquids and store fuel away from appliances.
- Do not discard cigarettes, matches, and smoking materials from moving vehicles, or anywhere on park grounds. Be certain to completely extinguish cigarettes before disposing of them.
- Follow local ordinances when burning yard waste. Avoid backyard burning in windy conditions, and keep a shovel, water, and fire retardant nearby to keep fires in check. Remove all flammables from yard when burning
Looking past the Sun at the main focus of the mural is the California Grizzly Bear. This beloved state symbol has been extinct since sometime between the years 1922-1924, due to the introduction of the revolving rifle in 1848 when the California Gold Rush began. There is current debate about genetically engineering the animal to reintroduce into the wild. Telegraph Hiking Club doesn’t see the need for 8′, 1200 lb. meat-eaters on the hiking trails, but there could be a more relevant issue to turn our attention to.
The honey bee represented in the top right corner contributes to production of 1/3 of all food we consume. Currently this species is threatened, and so is our agriculture industry. Some solutions outlined include becoming a beekeeper, increasing native foliage, pesticide and insecticide testing/regulation, and using alternatives like ladybugs and aphids to fight pests.
I hope Sacramento can inspire positive change, and help save a species essential to sustaining America’s Farm to Fork Capital.
If we don’t burn it down first!
**PS there are three hidden images in the mural… Can you find them? 1608 I Street, Sacramento CA 95814
This mural can be viewed in person at 16th and I in the Avis parking lot, adjacent to the Ladybird mural and across from Memorial Auditorium.
David and Anna Sobon observing the mural and enjoying Busking Sunday. David called shortly after leaving, and Anna had left her purse on the ground. He came back on a bicycle from his downtown home and it was right where they’d left it. I knew we had a good crew 😉
Special thanks: @visitsacramento #visitsacramento @behrpaint #behr @brandedarts #brandedarts @montana_colors @sprayplanet @chopemdownfilms