Comstock's magazine 0818 - August 2018 - Page 45

“If you want a beautiful mural, you need to allow the artist to install something that inspires them.” —Emily Baime Michaels, executive director, Midtown Association Wide Open Walls has encountered similar challenges, and with input from Michaels, city officials and the business com- munity, made changes aimed at smoothing out those tensions. Fifty artists flocked to Sacramento for last year’s painting spree, which transformed the previously nondescript facades of 44 buildings into canvases for public art. The Travel Channel even praised the festival and the art it left behind as one of the top reasons to visit the city. Some of those murals created as part of WOW have become hot spots for selfies and tourists, but others haven’t fared as well. There were murals hit with graffiti, including tags implying ac- cusations of gentrification. In one case, as The Sacramento Bee reported, a building owner painted over the artist’s work days later because they felt the mural was simply “not done as prom- ised.” In response, WOW founder David Sobon says he sought to be more thoughtful and pragmatic about how organizers can ensure they are “putting the right artists in the right neighbor- hoods with the right art.” “We did fairly well with that last year. This year we’ve done a much better job, and that came from input from the commu- nity,” he adds. Even as interest from artists skyrocketed (Sobon says he received 358 applications versus about 120 last year), WOW is taking a more curated approach to the painting element of the festival, which has also expanded to include music and block- party-style events. They winnowed the number of projects slated for this month’s 11-day festival, pledging to support about 30 artists working on 40 separate murals. Organizers worked closely with businesses, elected officials, community leaders and other stakeholders to create “dossiers” on each neighbor- hood to share with applicants before the renderings were submitted. The hope was that tho se packets, which contained a description of the community, including socioeconomic back- ground, maps and history, would ensure the artist came up with a design that fit the area. Landlords had the ability to approve the images before the artists were matched. None of this is to say Sobon is trying to sanitize the art or topics tackled to meet the tastes of corporate partners. On the contrary, he says, these changes will fuel understanding — and discourse — around what art can be in a community. “I want to push the envelope a little bit every year as far as what we can do,” he says. “On a school, we’ll be pretty safe. On a bar? Look out, we might have controversy. I’m OK with that. It’s art.” The ultimate goal, Sobon says, is that WOW's evolution will inspire the city’s commitment to public art over the long term. Beyond the annual festival, Sobon’s organization is hosting other events throughout the year and connecting artists with commercial clients who can provide ongoing work and financial support (they also raised their rates by $500 for artists partici- pating this year). He’s also working on raising funds to preserve and promote murals with restoration treatments and lighting. Success, he says, will be a boon not only for the city’s art and business sectors, but for the community as a whole. “The long-term goal is to make this city much more aware of the great culture of art, and to really give everybody a free art experience,” he says. “We’re creating, hopefully, a difference in what art means to communities, to a sense of place and a sense of pride in community” n Torey Van Oot is a freelance writer and a former political reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Her work appears on, Refinery29, Teen Vogue and elsewhere. On Twitter @ToreyVanOot. August 2018 | 45