Demo carves out space on Sacramento’s grid for experimentation

Esther Wang and her father, Jerry Wang, inside Demo Art & Books during a vintage clothing and books pop-up on Friday, June 28. (Photo by Kachiside Madu)

By Hannah Ross

Demo Art & Books is unassuming. Set back between a cigar shop and Farmers Insurance on 16th Street in Sacramento, the clean, white warehouse space is minimally adorned with plywood bookshelves, a few benches and a box fan on high, fighting off the city’s typical summer swelter. 

The multipurpose gallery is also a bookstore, music venue and event space for pop-ups like local tattoo artist expos and vintage clothing, and offers a generally experimental outpost and gathering space for an underserved sect of Sacramento’s creative community: young people of the multi-hyphenate creative sect. 

Since cannonballing onto the grid on May 10, Demo Art & Books has become the un-air-conditioned place to be, in many parts due to the community surrounding the space’s conceptualizer Esther Wang. Wang, a tattoo artist, muralist, painter, skater, and now gallery operator, decided to launch Demo Spot  — as it’s known on Instagram — earlier this year as a trial for herself, an opportunity to see what she could create for a community she knew existed in Sacramento but saw few physical spaces for beyond tattoo parlors and skate parks. 

“A lot of my friends, they don’t have to be defined by one thing that they’re doing. I feel like the spirit of this spot wants to embody that kind of mindset in its existence,” Wang said. “Why can’t you be a bookstore and a gallery and, I don’t know, a venue, a skate park? It’s just whatever the people who come to it want it to be.”

Demo Art & Books is a new experimental, multipurpose space hosting events, exhibits and a curated bookshop with a varied selection of books, zines and underground print media. (Photo by Kachiside Madu) 

Demo gets its name from the building’s previous fate: Wang’s uncle, who owns the property, had been using it for storage and ping-pong tournaments and was gearing up to demolish the space before Wang stepped in to repurpose it. Since deciding to rent in January, Wang has tackled all space improvements with a crew of friends, some coming as far as the East Coast to help get the place opened. She half-jokingly assigns her friends official titles for their contributions to the space. 

Will Evans Jr., a DJ, actor and “fashion guy,” who Wang dubs the resident DJ, said working with Demo has granted him freedom in his practice to get more experimental. To him, the beauty of the space is that it facilitates crossing paths and collaboration between the creatives who frequent it. 

“Everybody just passes through and buys a book and just says ‘What’s up’, and that’s what you really want. You don’t necessarily need a place that’s going to always be packed,” Evans said. “You need something consistent. That’s what Sacramento has been lacking: consistency.”

Will Saalsaa, who Wang elects as editor-in-chief of Demo for his copywriting contributions, said his favorite part about Demo is seeing Wang’s vision come to fruition.

“It’s brought a lot of like-minded people out of the woodwork into one place that had been existing in Sacramento for a long time.” Saalsaa said, “Every time I spend time here, I’m connecting with different people. … It just feels very easy to do that in the space.”

Patrons from all over, some coming as far as  Alabama, are seen combing through the many clothing options available during the pop-up on Friday, June 28. (Photo by Kachiside Madu) 

Demo Art & Books is currently exhibiting the visual artwork of six local tattoo artists until July 12 — a smattering of colorful prints, quirky collages, sculptures and drawings that connect the artists’ more traditional art practices to their tattoo work. Demo’s next show slated for July 20 will spotlight the works of local glass artists and pro-skater John Worthington

Since launching, the gallery space has hosted a video premier with Pizza Skateboards, local musicians Lab Rats for a show with resident DJ Evans, and held a pop-up with Two Fold Vintage

At the vintage pop-up on the last Friday of June, Demo teemed with young creatives, browsing rare tees and chatting with artists whose work is on display. 

Julianne Villegas, whose prints are part of the current exhibit, typically tattoos from their home studio, and said that as a queer person, they often don’t have a place or want a space in traditional tattoo studios. Demo has become a necessary third space for them that has made connecting with people “airy and fun.”

Photo by Kachiside Madu

Villegas has appreciated the opportunity to be directly involved in a creative space and is helping Demo with its first Zine Fest and show in October with painter and fabric artist Alisa Turner and support from printmaker Jazel Muñoz. Demo will also be launching its zine library with assistance from Liz Seeley, an archivist with California Revealed, sometime this summer.

Demo’s name holds a second level of significance to Wang, who aligned her vision with the concept of demo tapes, a usually low-budget production of music or skate content that gives a sense of the final vision. Wang views the space, and the art and artists featured, as a place to experiment. 

“I think the end goal isn’t for anything to last forever,” Wang said, “But it’s more so that those intangible things: like knowing that you can do something, having more confidence in your skills, or just that you could create something [like Demo] in the future, on an individual level, on a community level … it’s more just to show myself and others, you can do something like this.”

Photos line a windowsill inside Demo Art & Books during a vintage clothing and books pop-up on Friday, June 28. (Photo by Kachiside Madu) 

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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