Oh, The Things That You'll See!

Posted on February 27, 2017

The downtown art scene is about to blossom, starting with pieces at Golden 1 Center and DOCO.

Photography by Ryan Angel

WHILE THE FOOD IN MOST OF THE RESTAURANTS DOTTING THE LANDSCAPE of Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons will be locally sourced, so will much (but not all) of the public art surrounding and within the arena.

Local arts administrators Shelly Willis and Lial Jones—respectively, the executive director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission (SMAC) and the chief executive officer of the Crocker Art Museum—have been intimately involved with the selection of the four artists whose works are expected to draw as much attention to the entertainment sports complex as the games, concerts and special events already on the calendar.

Well, maybe not all at once. “I’m not sure that looking at art will be the first priority for locals and out-of-towners,” says Willis. She grins mischievously and adds, “But I sure hope it’s the second thing.”

Willis and Jones agree that the new arena and public square will benefit from the inclusion of visual stimuli other than the complex itself, which is an architectural and ecological marvel. Golden 1 Center is already being described by industry experts as the most technologically (and environmentally) advanced indoor arena in the world. But the building also has what Steve Hammond, president and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, calls “the cool factor. This is monumental design and execution. The tourists and convention goers we’ll be bringing to town are already buzzing about it.”

So are members of the arts community—though when the buzz first started almost two years ago, it briefly had the tone of angry hornets more than merry honeybees.

Bryan Valenzuela
Bryan Valenzuela


In May 2014, the Sacramento Kings formed an alliance with SMAC to ensure that the new center would be a showcase for public art as well as hoop legends, rock stars and traveling road shows. Accordingly, the Sacramento City Council and Sacramento Kings teamed up to buy an $8 million oversized, family-friendly, Crayola-inspired sculpture of Piglet, Winnie the Pooh’s pal, from famed New York artist Jeff Koons’ “Coloring Book” collection. The decision kicked up a controversy, as many locals felt the purchase of such a piece from an out-of-area artist slighted our regional arts community.

A panel of art experts and collectors under the aegis of SMAC—with a $1 million donation from artist/philanthropist Marcy Friedman and $500,000 from the arena’s construction budget—next chose, from a field of 135 applicants, three regional artists to create additional public art pieces for Golden 1 Center.

The exceptionally qualified nine-member Public Art Selection Panel includes the Crocker’s Jones, as well as: Paul Jacobs, CEO, Qualcomm Incorporated; Marcy Friedman, the artist, collector and philanthropist who, as mentioned above, is largely funding these public art purchases; Cheryl Holben, who was vice chair of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission at the time and began her term as chair on July 1; Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins, a writer, art historian and curator; Annabeth Rosen, an artist who’s been named to the Robert Arneson Endowed Chair at the University of California, Davis; Rob Rothblatt, senior architect of Golden 1 Center, whose company is AECOM; Rachel Teagle, founding director of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California, Davis; and René de Guzman, senior curator of art for the Oakland Museum.

The Northern California artists are:

• Bryan Valenzuela, whose sculpture of 400 blown-glass spheres that form a channel meant to evoke the area’s rivers will make their way—suspended from the arena’s ceiling and lacing around, over and through one another—to the escalator atrium in the southwest portion of the building. Valenzuela lives and works in Sacramento and was awarded “Best in Show” in the Fine Arts Competition at last year’s California State Fair.

• Gale Hart, also of Sacramento, is creating a series of sculptures for both the front of Golden 1 Center and at one of the main entrances. The piece, according to SMAC’s Shelly Willis, “looks like a very large, disassembled dart game” that’s been strewn all over the street. In addition to showing her work across the country, Hart’s been featured at the Elliott Fouts Gallery at 19th and P streets (please see the sidebar) and created/curated the “2nd Annual Circus Show and Other Atrocities,” a much-discussed invitational exhibit in Sacramento in 2008 that commented on the inhumane treatment of animals while ironically featuring the elements of an all-American circus. 

• William Fontana, a San Francisco-based artist famed for his use of sound in sculpture. His piece, which will be on the north side of the arena, will feature 34 loudspeakers installed within and among the plaza’s planters. The sounds emanating from the smallish speakers “will reflect Sacramento and the building itself,” according to a SMAC report. Fontana, a composer and artist, has shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and both the Tate and Tate Modern in London, among other celebrated international venues.

Royal Chicano Air Force
Royal Chicano Air Force


But wait, there’s more.

This past June, SMAC’s volunteer board of directors voted unanimously to directly select the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF), an arts group that’s been in the Sacramento area since the 1970s, to design and produce new artwork inside Golden 1 Center—the design and details are still being discussed—as well as to restore, update and fabricate with more permanent materials “Metamorphosis,” a mural of a colossal swallowtail butterfly originally commissioned by SMAC 39 years ago. It’s scheduled to be displayed on the downtown parking garage at Third and L streets.

The members of RCAF who’ll work on both projects are celebrated Sacramento-based artists Esteban Villa, Juanishi Orosco and Stan Padilla. Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna is the lead funder of the project; it’s what one might call a circular act of love since his father, the late Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna, Jr., was a member of the RCAF collective in its heyday. Serna’s office will make the initial contribution of from $75,000 to $100,000 and work with SMAC to find the additional money that the project budget will require.

At the time of the announcement, Padilla said, it was “an honor and a great creative opportunity for us to be able to bring to the Golden 1 arena a new artwork. We will express our vibrant cultural roots and the seeds of our common humanity in an innovative project respectfully dedicated to the Sacramento community and region.”

SMAC’s Shelly Willis says she’s also excited about two “humongous LED screens” pegged to flank the entrance to Golden 1 Center that will advertise upcoming events as well as display regional artwork. “Think of Times Square,” she says, referencing Manhattan’s neon wonderland, an illuminated expanse that makes it clear why that city never sleeps. It can’t.

Willis and Golden 1 Center’s owners hope to see additional art on display, at both DOCO and throughout the area, as development continues there. And both parties give the distinct impression the majority of work will be that of regional artists—expanding the definition of “locally sourced.”

Gale Hart
Gale Hart