A year after the unexpected success of ArtHotel, the 12-person not-for-profit collective M5Arts, is at it again, this time transforming a warehouse off Broadway into an immersive public art experience. From February 3rd-25th, visitors will walk through the temporary exhibit space, viewing and engaging with the works of over 100 artists from every medium possible–painting, photography, new media, music, dance, theater, video, film, and literature, you name it. And this time, there are even three bars.
Greater square footage and a longer exhibition run, not only means that more of the public can view the space, it also allows for ArtStreet to become a destination. M5Arts has plans to activate the space after general visiting hours with a series of ticketed events, ranging from movie nights, performances, and concerts.
At the end of the day, ArtStreet’s main objective is “to be a forum for serious and playful thinking about art and the vital role it plays in a culture’s success in the world today.” And before its opening, Sacramento365 sat down with five local artists–Wel Sed, Mehran Mesbah, Franceska Gamez, Molly Devlin, and S.V. Williams–to discuss just that.
Chatting in what would become historian William Burg’s West End Club venue contribution to ArtStreet, the mood among the artists is a mixture of anticipation and exhaustion. These artists have been working around the clock, upwards of 12 hours a day, to make M5Arts’ most ambitious project to date a reality. These artists are not only working on their individual projects, they’re also building the foundation of the once-empty warehouse. “From the screws in the frames of the walls to the paint on the trim of the molding to the air you breathe in the space…[we artists] have become one with this space and it is one with us,” says Wel Sed, who is building an interactive post-Internet chapel in the warehouse.
“It’s funny. People think of artists in terms of the ‘what people think I do’ meme,” jokes abstract painter Molly Devlin. “We’re not in here just making whatever we feel like, it takes a lot of work. It’s a job outside of my job.”
But the exhaustion is more than just from the lack of sleep, it stems from the challenges many local artists face when living and working in Sacramento. Simply put, the Capital City isn’t yet recognized as an arts destination. But it isn’t for the lack of trying. Our arts community has welcomed creative transplants like teaching and multimedia artist Mehran Mesbah with open arms, “I have never lived in such an active, inclusive, and unpretentious community.”
The long lines around ArtHotel, the numerous Instagram selfies taken at Sacramento Mural Fest locations, and Crocker’s Warhol exhibit show that there is a genuine thirst to engage in the arts.
So what do they see as the problem?
Much of it lies in the real and perceived gaps in opportunity. From funding, undervaluing art, to permitting, there are current top-down ideologies that limit creative freedom. “Existing structures make it hard for [ArtStreet and] these kinds of experiences to exist,” says artist and M5Arts team member Franceska Gamez. “[The City] could streamline processes and work with us so we can make local art flourish.”
“At a certain point, people have to leave Sacramento…[because] certain art styles aren’t appreciated here,” says Devlin. “Those same styles will sell well in cities where there is a general respect for art…where people regularly view and collect art…in communities that respect an artist’s time and actually pay [him/her] for their work.”
Another concern is how artists are marginalized and forced to live/work in unsafe conditions. Just looking back at the Ghost Ship tragedy, you see a group of people who were unable to do what they love and make enough money to live in a safe place. Most people appreciate art, but they don’t quite understand the lives that artists live in order to share what they create with the world.
M5Arts and the ArtStreet project is a step in the right direction, welcoming a diverse talent pool in the City of Trees. “Having a diverse group of artists will help bring a diverse audience to ArtStreet,” says Mesbah. From fine to street, to established to emerging, artists of all types are represented on installation walls. Working in close proximity to other artists could spark new collaborations and strengthen the relationships within the creative community.
And with the variety of installations and events available on site, ArtStreet sets its sights to be a destination for all walks of life. “This project is artist made, but built for the entire community, says Gamez. “ArtStreet isn’t just for artists; it’s for everybody.”
The City of Sacramento too is making a concerted effort to make us an arts capital, dedicating $500,000 to support food, technology, and art projects through the Mayor’s Growth and Innovation Fund–of which, $25,000 is granted to ArtStreet.
Plus, M5Arts itself plans to further build up Sacramento’s artist community by producing a Sacramento Biennial, a regional art exhibition (à la Art Basel in Miami) that will activate the artist community beyond the borders of downtown in the near future.
And even in our brief conversation, all the artists threw out their own ideas on how our community can help to better sustain the creative community, ranging from connecting art collectors to emerging artists, creating entertainment events that engage our local food, art, tech communities, to building relationships with institutional partners.
“To get us [artists] where we want to be, we must work to reach across the aisle with universities and nonprofits and bring this conversation to the organizations that [we] feel ostracized by…if we’re at the table, our voices will get louder and louder [until] they’re heard. We can get to a point where we share the same ‘big picture’ for the Sacramento arts community,” say Mesbah.
Wel Sed concurs, stating that ArtStreet is a step to bridge the gap. “With projects like this, [artists] are telling outside institutions issues to come in, have conversations with us. ‘Hey, we’re here!'”
“In the end,” says Gamez, “we all have to realize that we all want the same thing: we want to see our city to flourish. Let’s rise up together.”
ArtStreet, located on 300 First Avenue, will run February 3-25. Admission is free, but first come, first serve. Reservations can be made online with a donation. To learn more, visit ArtStreet’s Sacramento365 event page.
After reading their perspectives on Sacramento’s creative future, learn more about what the artists will be presenting at ArtStreet below:
With ArtStreet, Wel Sed is intent to challenge his aesthetic, creating a multimedia post-Internet chapel, a departure from his painted works. “[The chapel] looks like a barn…with a plexiglass steeple…in the 32 ft. by 8 ft. space, the viewer is only experiencing maybe 5 ft. by 8 ft. of [it]. The rest of the piece will remain a mystery unless you’ve been specifically hand-picked to view the rest of [it].”
Sourcing from a broad swatch of inspirations–from stories like The Wizard of Oz and Alice In Wonderland to the concepts of guilt and exclusivity–the chapel does offer a new perspective on sacred spaces and the value systems that create them. However, for Wel Sed, what’s more exciting are the thoughts raised by viewers once inside.
“Take from it what you will as it is with most works of art. I’m more concerned that you enjoy the work of blood (indeed, I have shed blood there), sweat, and tears that we’ve put into [ArtStreet]. If anything, I hope my piece raises questions about how we see exhibitions like this and ultimately how we value art in our social, political, and economic environments. What are the value systems we’ve set in place for a sustainable cultural identity and the people who participate in that? How do we value experience when most of us live vicariously through proxy experiences? Why do we demand ‘meaning’ from art? Why do we feel we are often so distant from art and that it isn’t part of our everyday life? What [is] this anagram he speaks of?”
Location: North of the west end of ArtStreet. His chapel is left of the entrance to the film bar and can be seen from the central most roadway.
His creative process: Kick started from conversations with fellow ArtHotel artists in the Ruhstaller tasting room, Wel Sed’s post-Internet church has been months in the making. “I spent most of the months [following ArtHotel] devising ideas in my sketch book, and cultivating a sense of continuity out of the questions I was posing to myself.”
When he’s not working on his chapel, he’s part of the creative process of other ArtStreet artists, helping them finish up their projects.
His work schedule: “Get up, get out, and get something.” Since receiving keys to the warehouse, Wel Sed has spent 95% of his waking hours (roughly 10-18 hours/day) working at ArtStreet. “I wake up, wait for [artist] Shaun [Burner] to pick me up, or skate to the location…[and] I go home when I’m exhausted. I do it all over again ‘til we’re all said and done.” Wel Sed even spent his birthday working on his project; staff made the occasion special, throwing him a surprise birthday party.
In every working minute, his family and community stay on his mind: “[I] remember what it was like in the hood. [I’m trying] to build a better future for people like my cousin, who was shot 15 times…he should have had better options to express his voice, but I wasn’t in a place at that age to provide an outlet for him. I live with that every day.”
Where else can you find Wel Sed’s work? Other than his Instagram and Facebook account, he keeps a low profile. “I like building my connections one person at a time through the crucible of the shiny new things we participate in. But honestly, shout out to all my real folks who put in work for me specifically and, in general, this project.”
With his first M5Arts installation, multimedia artist Mehran Mesbah is going primal. With “Mythos Ad Infinitum,” he references humanity’s early mediums of communication (burnt sticks) with an interactive, repetitious charcoal drawing.
Throughout ArtStreet’s run, fellow artists will be contributing to the piece, drawing and erasing their charcoal lines on the wall. As another artist contributes to the 5 ft. by 7 ft. wall, previous drawings will be added a growing animation that will be projected onto the walls above and to the left of the piece. Visitors will watch as the original composition “shifts from a representational depiction of a forming cumulus to a stylistic, symbol of one.”
What’s the meaning behind this high concept piece? Mesbah sees these writings on the wall “are an allegory to the indefinite reinterpretation every generation passes to the next…I would like for people to feel a direct and collective connection to how they perceive and interpret the world around them. That it is an ever-evolving experience. And more specifically to form an appreciation of different interpretations, values, and worldviews.”
Location: Furthest back wall to the left as visitors enter the warehouse from the yard.
His creative process: “Originally, I wanted to invite the audience to continue to erase and redraw the piece, but after talking with many artists I feel that could be difficult to coordinate. Instead, I’m inviting artists from the community to come and perform the drawings throughout the exhibition.”
His work schedule: In the beginning, much of this work was building ArtStreet itself, helping raise walls (he also works in construction). Once the foundation was set, Mesbah has been coming to warehouse whenever he has gaps in his schedule, weather permitting.
His current working space has thrown a few obstacles into his timeline: “Currently [I’m working at the] entrance for artists but [will be moved to] the end of the exhibition. So, the constant traffic has been interesting and a wee bit disruptive for the performative drawings.”
Where else can you find Mesbah’s work? You may have seen Mesbah’s work recently. Several ideas for “Mythos Ad Infinitum” originated from his most recent show with artist Jeff Mayry, Gold Laundry and the Advent Arrival, at Beatnik Studios.
And if you are familiar with Midtown’s Flop Haus (21st and I Street), you’ve probably walked passed his pet project, The InsideOut. Viewable 24/7, the alternative art space – made up of three bay windows from a ground floor apartment – showcases experimental art from the Sacramento community. “In March, I will be completing a three-year project using approximately 36,000 bottle caps in front of the space.” To help fund the operational costs of his space, visit the project’s Patreon page.
Painter and sculpture artist Franceska Gamez is toying with the concept of transcendence in her second collaboration with fellow M5Arts member Shaun Burner. With their immersive installation, Burner and Gamez built a room with an “explosive” wooden sculpture, complemented by a vibrant mural outside it. Together, their complementary efforts seek to help visitors escape the present and enter a new reality. “I’d really like [for guests] to enter the room, be captured by the energy in it and maybe even dream up the narrative that’s occurring. I guess the piece itself [reflects] what art and an imagination are capable of.”
The project is also a welcomed challenge for the artist: “installation is still a new medium for me but it’s very much like turning my small sculptures and multiplying the size ten-fold.”
Location: The corner at the end of the hallway leading into the open floor.
Her creative process: Completing their joint installation has been a lesson in trial and error/improvisation, but that’s expected. “When collaborating, I think it’s important to be open to changes. Even when I plan, I intentionally leave room for play, the rest is just game-planning technical aspects, what I need to execute the vision. For instance…we did start painting this wall across from our room and the reflection of it from the windows looking into the space is probably my favorite unintentional addition.”
Her work schedule: As a full-time artist, co-owner of 1810 Gallery, and member of M5Arts, to say she’s busy would be a significant understatement. Gamez has been at ArtStreet every day for 12-16 hours, pitching in whenever help is needed. “I’ve pretty much held every position–a cleaner, artist liaison, runner, clerk, builder, painter, you name it…when things need to get done, no one on our site team waits around. It’s been well over a month and I’m still trying to find a balance between these things, not to mention getting my sleep in.”
Where else can you find Gamez’s work? Follow Gamez’s and 1810 Gallery’s evolution on the social channels below.
MOLLY DEVLIN AND S. V. WILLIAMS
Step into the blue, literally. Known for painting “deviant dreams and magical delusions,” artists and real-life couple Molly Devlin and S.V. Williams are transforming their installation room into a cerulean new world. Working in three dimensions was a step outside of these painters’ comfort zone, however, the results are interstellar. Using experimental techniques and experiments, the duo hopes when visitors enter their blue room, they “step away from it and say ‘where was I just now?’”
Location: A room in the inner corridor of the “maze.”
Their work schedule: Like other ArtStreet artists, the two have worked in the warehouse for much as they physically could, even if that means staying there for over 12 hours. “Having to work a day job the day after a long night in a cold warehouse is just part of the battle. By the time I’m out of work, it’s time to start working again,” says Devlin. “Everyday there is something new to tackle and I feel we are getting closer.”
But even before getting to work, they had to get their space in order. “Building a room of this nature requires numerous steps, it took us two weeks before we could even begin to paint,” Devlin continues.
Their creative process: The duo makes their different styles work together. “We have an understanding of our strengths when it comes to execution and our ideas can be contrasting at times. After we sketch our individual concepts sometimes we will decide to mix the abstractions together, pick and choose parts. It all comes down to having a fluid piece; it doesn’t matter who did what in the end because the whole room was genuinely created in both of our minds,” states Devlin.
Where can you find their work? You can check for upcoming shows by following the artists on their respective social media accounts below.
S. V. Williams