Sacramento community gathers to discuss the state of the arts

What will it take for Sacramento to become the next Berlin?

That idea kicked off last night’s California Groundbreakers debut event, “The State of the Arts: What Will it Take to Make Sacramento’s Art Scene Great?” The argument came from Seumas Coutts, co-founder of M5 Arts, which was responsible for the wildly successful Art Hotel in February. Basically: Sacramento has a lot of empty space, cheaper rent than surrounding big cities, and if Sacramento wanted to, it could offer incentives for artists to live and work here in a similar fashion to Berlin. Read more about that train of thought in this Comstock’s article, which actually inspired the writer, Vanessa Richardson, to put on the event and dive deeper into the topic. 

With a panel of Coutts, artist and professor Gioia Fonda, Barbara Range of the Brickhouse Gallery, full-time artist Bryan Valenzuela, the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission’s Shelly Willis and ZFG’s Andru Defeye, a range of perspectives were presented for more than 150 artists and art enthusiasts.

Funding is the obvious key issue. Willis offered up an intriguing statistic: Sacramento invests 32 cents in the arts to San Jose’s $2.78, yet Sacramento’s arts community produces a greater economic impact. Clearly, everyone on the panel argued, there is immense talent here.

While more government funding for the arts is needed, Willis said, there’s much more involved: affordable housing, affordable studio spaces, arts journalists promoting art and galleries to show and sell art.

“It can’t be thought about in isolation,” she said. “It’s a complicated ecosystem.”

Range asked Willis where that money goes, and why it’s not reaching underserved neighborhoods like south Sacramento or Del Paso Heights.

“How do we get beyond just white galleries, white patrons? … Inclusion is the word I’m looking for,” she said.

Fonda emphasized the education angle, both in convincing students that it’s worthy to pursue art as well as educating the public and the media about art.

For Valenzuela, retaining artists is a huge, Sacramento-specific problem. “Artists get some attention, then they leave for San Francisco, L.A. or New York.”

The dialogue lasted for about an hour, followed by a Q&A that was far too brief for the number of people who wanted to comment. Still, though, few actual solution-based ideas were brought up. The panelists agreed that there needs to be more than just Second Saturday—Sacramentans should get into the habit of viewing art on a regular basis, and perhaps promoting other specific days would help. Willis called on folks to join her at Sacramento City Council meetings, to bring ideas to her commission. And, of course, if people really want to help the arts community, they should buy a painting or two.

“Making art is a business,” Willis said. “The art you create deserves to have some sort of payment.”

And, finally, Coutts briefly teased what M5 Arts is up to next. As Art Hotel was one building, M5 will scale up with Art Street. After that? Art City, taking over the entire grid.

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