For Sol Collective, the last 12 years have been an experiment in responding and growing to meet the creative, cultural, and educational needs of youth and underrepresented communities. At the entrance to the Sol Collective Arts and Cultural Center’s 3,200 square feet, you’ll find three words emblazoned in teal on its façade: Art. Culture. Activism.
For this Featured Artist Profile, Sacramento365 spoke with Sol Collective’s Executive Director Estella Sanchez, Director of Communications Andru Defeye, and Sol Life Media Creative Director Salvin Chahal to uncover the soul of Sacramento’s thriving — yet often overlooked — arts and cultural mecca.
Sol Collective is a community-based 501(c)(3) partnership whose mission is to provide artistic, cultural, and educational programming, promote social justice, and empower youth through art, activism, music, and media experience. The Sol Collective Arts and Cultural Center is a 3,200 square foot space providing art exhibitions, community workshops, youth programming, and a platform for public organizing. — Sol Collective’s Mission statement
Purposefully multifunctional, Sol Collective’s vibrant, ever-changing headquarters off Broadway and 21st Streets is home to young creatives across all artistic disciplines using their talents to uplift themselves and their communities. On any given day you can find art exhibitions, holistic and social justice workshops, and youth programming running simultaneously.
“We set up Sol Collective to not have borders: whatever is a need in the community, we will work to make it happen. We are open to build,” says Sanchez.
The form and function of the center was envisioned by executive director Estella Sanchez 15 years ago. Although conceived at Sacramento State as her master’s thesis project, venturing out helped shape the Collective to what it is today.
While organizing the Libertad Cultural Exchange Tour, Sanchez traveled across the US and the Caribbean with other artists, activists, and educators on grassroots, community-oriented tours. What struck Sanchez along the tours were the similarities among communal spaces that allowed creatives to network and create together.
“Life overlaps and it makes perfect sense that all these experiences should be under one roof; why not have a gallery, store, yoga studio, and teaching space all in one place?” says Sanchez.
Motivated by necessity, Sanchez set out to build such a space locally. “I wanted to host a number of the artists I met through the program but realized that those types of spaces did not exist here in Sacramento,” explains Sanchez.
Sol Collective’s first iteration came together in 2005 in Del Paso Heights. Initially, Sanchez was unsure if the community would get the concept, but once its doors opened, the community’s reception was positive: “We were pleasantly surprised that people gravitated to what we were doing so quickly.”
A fire, unfortunately, forced the Collective to start from scratch in 2008. Sanchez, a former teacher, had to resort to using her classroom after hours as an impromptu meeting space before finding its current location in 2010. At the intersection of many communities — Midtown, Oak Park, Curtis Park – Sol Collective’s off-Broadway headquarters is perfectly situated to attract young creatives.
The success of Sol Collective has also rubbed off on the rest of the neighborhood, ushering in a wave of new businesses to the area soon after opening its doors.
Andru Defeye: Director of Communications (also involved in grant writing and fundraising)
For Andru, Sol Collective fed his soul — literally and figuratively. “I was going through a hard time when (Events Director and Estella’s husband) Anand (Parmar) invited me to check out the space in 2009. I remember that day well — Estella showed up with a casserole and fed me and they paid me that same day for my work. She had no idea what I was going through or that I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat that day. I knew then that I had found where I was supposed to be.”
Grateful for the gesture, he kept returning to Sol Collective, helping wherever he could. Defeye got put to task as a grant writer, then eventually carved out his current role as Director of Communications.
Salvin Chahal: Sol Life Media Creative Director
Sol Collective’s resident cynic (or lovingly put, “resident hater”), Chahal oversees Sol Life media and music programming and channels. He first learned about Sol Collective while he was on the Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) Slam team in 2012. “The space gave me the opportunities and resources to develop my craft. I was given the freedom to invite poets from San Francisco and throw my own poetry shows here. And now with Sol Life, there is a digital platform for artists like me to share our music, poetry, and thoughts.”
Here’s just a quick snapshot of the programs and services offered at the arts incubator.
Sac Activist School:
The weekly workshop series offers political analysis and training for social justice activists, providing community education on a variety of topics, including climate change, Black Lives Matter, immigration, and Raise the Wage campaigns.
A series of art workshops/presentations provide community members the tools for self-development, healing, and empowerment through art.
Whether in the studio making beats with professional DJs and producers or working alongside local artists, Sol Labs connects youth with engaging hands-on, real-life arts education.
Sol Collective consults with local arts institutions and community organizations to create culturally relevant art experiences.
Sol Collective offers a professional audio recording facility equipped with ProTools, and MIDI controllers and interfaces.
Sol Life Media:
Sol Life Media is working to amplify the voices of traditionally underrepresented communities by collaborating with local artists and thought leaders to create a network of podcasts, informational videos, and blogs.
Monday Night Yoga:
Sol Collective offers two weekly yoga classes on Monday nights at 6pm and 8pm. Sol Collective’s community yoga classes are available for a sliding scale donation.
Global Local Mercado:
Located inside the Sol Collective right as you walk in the door the Global Local Mercado stays stocked all year around with handmade goods, apparel, and crafts from artists from as local as Sacramento and as global as Dubai and Oaxaca.
Sol Kids Day:
Every Second Sunday Sol Collective transforms strictly for the youth at Sol Kids Day. Designed for Ages 2-12 Sol Kids Day is art, music, yoga, dance, and theater all crammed into two hours.
Monthly Open Mic programs:
Whether you’re a poet, musician, singer/songwriter, rapper, beat maker, or performance artist, Sol Collective has a stage for you monthly at one of its open mics.
Why is a space like Sol Collective needed within the community? Simply put, Sol Collective “creates a magic that is hard to put into words,” says Sanchez.
“Our programs foster positive arts experiences. Kids and teens across cultural and socioeconomic levels can play, create, and learn from each other freely — especially at a time when the arts are disappearing from schools.”
“Art is one of the best ways to spread messages…it’s visual, dynamic, and interactive. You can share ideas, views, and perspectives in a non-threatening way.”
Though reiterated by all in our conversation, Chahal passionately shared the importance of the Collective for artists: “Entering the art world can be intimidating, and for young artists/artists of color we often times lack the funding and resources needed to create, be it housing, a living wage, or just an education of which platforms are most appropriate for our work. On top of that, we [young artists of color] are on the defensive; our art is misunderstood and devalued by others. At Sol Collective we have a supportive and safe space to experiment.”
As highlighted in our October 2017 Featured Artist piece, Sacramento is currently working on updating its Cultural Plan through the Creative Edge process. As Sacramento’s cultural hub, we wanted to hear what the Sol Collective wanted to see from the plan. [Editor’s note: Estella Sanchez is on Creative Edge Steering committee.]
Salvin Chahal: “I’d like to see a truly inclusive plan that supports folks from all traditionally under-served communities and differently-abled artists. [e.g. Communities of color, LGBT, and disabled artists].”
Andru Defeye: “I want cultural equity to define and direct this plan. Cultural equity isn’t just A conversation. It should be the very beginning of EVERY conversation.”
Estella Sanchez: “I’m glad to be part of the conversation and I am proud that our city is addressing issues such as cultural equity. Many cities have not even acknowledged they have a problem, let alone engaged in the sometimes uncomfortable conversation. I would like to see a plan that supports existing spaces for artists, especially young people and artists of color, that cultivate the next generation of art lovers and supporters. How can people support the creative community if businesses and arts institutions are not paying artist fairly for their services and the younger generation is not learning about collecting or valuing work?”
After years of renting, as of April 2017 Sol Collective is now a proud owner, purchasing the space it currently occupies. And things are looking up, literally. The group is in talks with developers to see what is possible, mulling on ideas of growing vertically to meet the region’s needs for artist studios and housing.
On Saturday, December 16, the organization celebrated its purchase with a day of collaboration and listening. For Sanchez, the event stays true to Sol Collective’s community-driven modus operandi: “we plan to hear from the community to learn what is needed and wanted…ensuring there’s a shared long-term vision for this space.”
Getting to this point for the organization was an uphill battle, but worth every drop of sweat equity.
“Seeing the sustainability [of Sol Collective] as it is now is incredible. In 2010, everyone here was volunteering. Now we have a building and a staff. We’re stable and continually progressing,” says Defeye.
While poking fun of himself for ‘losing his hair,’ Chahal echoes the sentiment: “We have a lot of big wins to reflect on and hearing that the community appreciates what we do keeps us focused.”
For the godmother of Sol Collective, looking back at what’s been accomplished is humbling.
“I’m proud of growing a collective vision and collectively manifesting it…and I’m also proud of the impact Sol Collective has had on the community, on a local and national scale. What we do isn’t easy. It requires a lot of patience, a lot of trial and error to get it right. It’s beautiful that our efforts to be innovative in this work has become a model for so many.”
How could we leave out leave out these notable interview tidbits?
How can the public help support an equitable arts scene? The Sol creatives give it to us straight:
Andru Defeye (AD): “Go experience art and culture from a community that is not your own.”
Estella Sanchez (ES): “Check out to events like our Souls of the City Dia de los Muertos community celebration.”
Salvin Chahal (SC): “Go support whatever that moves you. Give your money to that work. Just be there.”
This holiday season, you’ll find these three artists at these local festivities:
SC: “If I’m not chilling with my family, you’ll find me at Mahogany Urban Poetry On Wednesday nights at Queen Sheba.”
AD: “Hands down, Drag Queens on Ice at the [Downtown Sacramento] Holiday Ice Rink.”
ES: “My family loves to bundle up and see the lights at Global Winter Wonderland.”
As for guilty pleasures, they bravely confessed to a few:
SC: “I won’t lie, I’ll enjoy a Pumpkin Spice Latte every now and then. And treats from Pushkin’s Bakery are always hit the spot.”
AD: “I have a gummy addiction. I’m a binge-gummier. Worms. Bears. Octopi. Rings. Limited edition gummy James Harden heads. All of it.”
ES: “Yerba Mate, specifically Guayaki. We’ve filled our entire soda machine with it!”