A Year in Review: A Look Back at our Featured Artists

2016 has been an explosive year for arts and culture in Sacramento and luckily, we at Sacramento365 have had the chance to chat with many of the movers-and-shakers who continue to shape our region's recent…

2016 has been an explosive year for arts and culture in Sacramento and luckily, we at Sacramento365 have had the chance to chat with many of the movers-and-shakers who continue to shape our region’s recent creative renaissance. This month we’re sharing our favorite lessons and moments of candor from our discussions with this year’s cohort of featured artists.



Photo by Faith Marie Lopez.


January: Gioia Fonda – Interdisciplinary Artist

Stepping into Gioia Fonda’s Verge Center for the Arts studio, you’ll immediately get a sense of her personality. Her den of creativity radiates joy, the very meaning of her first name. In it, you’ll find drought tolerant plants made of discarded materials, psychedelic flags, intricately patterned canvases, scraps from her daily bike rides, projects to be graded…and lots and lots of forks.

Gioia Fonda considers herself to be an interdisciplinary artist (“the word ‘multimedia’ means something else nowadays”). “I switch genres all the time…what’s consistent with me is that my interests change.” What unites her seemingly disparate work is vibrant color and her attention detail (or tedium).

Artist Insights

“Arts make a healthy society, adding vibrancy and civic healing to everyday life. Artists have the hard task of convincing people that they need art…and this education isn’t just for kids; adults need to learn about art, too.” At Sacramento City College she finds the “best potpourri of humans”, where mostly everyone is receptive to learning and are looking to improve.

“Once students are exposed to art, they are curious to learn about everything.”

Fast Facts About Gioia

  • German-American artist Josef Albers has been a big influence in Gioia’s career.
  • Gioia has a fear of driving, citing “you can kill someone with your car…you really can’t do that with a bike. You are more likely going to harm yourself.” So if you see a cyclist wearing a shiny turquoise colored helmet, that’s her.
  • Seeing refuse along her bike route inspired the artist to paint a trash pile series. “There are patterns in what we consume — we all buy and throw away the same stuff.”
  • Gioia is the founder of Pink Week which celebrates pink for what it is — a color — and illustrates the endless possibility of forms art can take.
  • Commingling her tongue-in-cheek humor and love for color theory, the artist sewed a flag titled “The Dress” that pays homage to the 2015 internet meme.
  • Gioia’s favorite eateries include Luigi’s Pizza Parlour and Boon Boon Café.


Her Feature Story: #GiveAFork About the Arts



Photo by Faith Marie Lopez.


February: Karisa Gold – Fashion Designer

Davis-born and eldest child of nine, fashion designer Karisa Gold is known for her Old Hollywood, sex bomb silhouettes, but the road to creating her jaw-dropping collections was anything but glamorous. Hard work, perseverance, and putting herself out there (literally and figuratively) have what have kept her dreams of producing wearable art alive.

Artist Insights

“I want my pieces to emulate the class of Audrey [Hepburn] with the sass of Marilyn [Monroe]. The silhouettes [I use] make you stand taller, feel magical, and more confident.” And that she has. Every piece she has created so far has been feminine, alluring, and ooze sophistication.

Fast Facts About Karisa

  • Remember the Sacramento Mountain Lions? The designer “ra-ra”-ed on the sidelines as a cheerleader.
  • Gold defines fashion as wearable self-expression. It says something about you…and goes with you everywhere.
  • Her perfect dress silhouette is a quasi-trumpet, stating “it’s shapely and accentuates the curves of a woman’s body.”
  • According to Gold, the three luxuries that every woman should have are (1) a staple piece of clothing that makes a woman feel her most radiant. (Anything really, as long as it oozes confidence), (2) a good pair of shoes, and (3) the perfect shade of lipstick.


Her Feature Story: Designing Her Own Story



Photo by Yarcenia Garcia.


March: Benjamin Ismail – Artistic Director, Big Idea Theatre

The key to Big Idea Theatre’s big success? The passion and razor-sharp focus of its Artistic Director, Benjamin Ismail, just might have something to do with it. We were lucky enough to chat with the company’s fearless leader to learn more about his passions and Big Idea Theatre’s bright future.

Artist Insights

Ismail finds the stress of theatre life to be well worth it. “Although it may not seem like it from appearances, I’m insecure and shy. Through theatre, I’ve found strength. I know what I’m capable of…I’ve learned to trust myself. I’ve challenged myself and I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities.”

Fast Facts About Benjamin

  • Ben’s advice for aspiring actors: “Stick with [acting], better yourself, and be patient.”
  • After theatre, Ben cannot live without his dog Toby, cold-pressed juice from the Midtown Farmers Market, or reading a great book or script.
  • While driving out to his recent directorial gig at American Stage in Florida, Ben discovered that a drive through the Lone Star State can get a little lonely. “West Texas is soooo boring!”
  • Though a Southern boy at heart, Ben really loves Sacramento. “I love everything here: the people, the vibe…I’ve lived all over the country, but my soul was searching for Sacramento.”
  • When he’s not working, you might catch him at Federalist Public House or anywhere in Midtown: “It’s a great neighborhood if you need a drink or an excuse to dance.”


His Feature Story: In a New Direction



Photo by Faith Marie Lopez.


April: Gale Hart – Golden 1 Center Artist

Sacramento’s Godmother of Contemporary Art, Gale Hart at her spacious 19th Street studio on the heels of her 60th birthday bash. The vegan, skateboard-loving artist has more to celebrate than just another year in this life; in January, Hart was selected to construct her public art installation for the new Golden 1 Center (yes, alongside that Jeff Koons piece).

Artist Insights

  • What’s the toughest thing about being an artist?
    “Knowing when the piece is finished.”
  • What do you feel the role of an artist in this day and age?
    “To decorate the planet.”
  • Any advice for new artists in our region?
    “Just spend time making stuff. Find ways get your work to the public, and know that sometimes those opportunities are not here in Sacramento.”


Fast Facts About Gale

  • Hart would love to be a Guinness World Record holder — after all, it is one of her favorite books!
  • Not one to miss out on a chance to shred, the artist has attended the Mighty Mamma Skate-A-Rama for the last 11 years. The annual Los Angeles event brings together women from all walks of life for a weekend of camaraderie and ollies. Why is she such a skateboarding fanatic? “I’m in another place when I’m on that board. It’s mood altering. Maybe that’s why a skateboard is shaped like a pill!”
  • Hart often wonders what it would be like to not care about or make art. “I would feel freer if that was the case.”


Her Feature Story: Defying Normal



Photo by Faith Marie Lopez.


May: Mike Johnston – Musician and Music Educator

From a charming studio (or as he calls it “hobbit hole”), Johnston inspires thousands around the world through Mikeslessons.com, a website allowing aspiring drummers to learn and practice on their own time. As if that’s not impressive, on YouTube, his riffs and rudiments have been viewed over four million times and Modern Drummer readers awarded Johnston the “Clinician/Educator of the Year” award. And, oh yeah, Johnston was a world-touring rockstar at 21 and lived to tell about it.

Artist Insights

For those looking to get into the music industry:

  • Find multiple ways of making money: “Find local gigs, teach your skills to others, and work at a music store; you’ll have a wealth of knowledge and have access to great equipment that others won’t.” But recognize that fame is not something that you can control: “it’s about luck and cosmic timing.”
  • “If you are a musician, you need to think of yourself as a startup. Take business and marketing courses and read books on the subjects…and it doesn’t hurt to learn programming and software that’s relevant to your field. I use Lynda.com for everything. Learning business and tech skills are all part of being a modern artist.”


Fast Facts About Mike

  • Reach for the stars; one of Johnston’s passions is astrophysics. “I’d love to teach the subject and break down its complexities like how I do with the drums, but without challenging belief systems. Learning a subject as a teacher allows me to feel empathy for my students.”
  • Nostalgia bomb: Mike Johnston received a Gold Record for appearing on the Varsity Blues soundtrack.
  • Other guiding principles in his life: “embrace the suck” and “eliminate the suck.” Influenced by Michael Jordan, these phrases keep his ego in check. “When you recognize weaknesses, you’ll strive to get better.” These phrases are even printed on wristbands and are integral lessons during his band camps.
  • Of all places on earth, why is the world-class drummer residing in the Sacramento area? Easy, there’s “no scene where there are many scenes.” To Johnston, Sacramento is the home of “Bibbies”, an affectionate nod to former Sacramento King’s player, Mike Bibby. “Nobody can tell what exactly you are, but then again, nobody cares. This is a place of equality, where you can be yourself and be supported.”


His Feature Story: To The Beat of His Own Drum



Photo courtesy of Maren Conrad.


June: Maren Conrad – Painter

Best known for striking metal leaf and layered resin paintings, her work, inspired by her subconscious, connects to universal truths and experiences through text and delicate koi fish and feather designs. She’s also known for famously ruffling a few figurative feathers with her censored “Politically Vulnerable” collection. We encourage you to get to know Conrad’s dangerous mind and her plans to keep shaking up Sacramento’s art scene.

Artist Insights

  • “Beware of artists: they mix with all classes of society and therefore are the most dangerous.“
  • The Artists’ Artist: Being an artist in Sacramento region has also taught Conrad the importance of collaboration. “It’s easy to be a big fish in the small arts community like Sacramento, but the health of an art scene is dependent on how well we artists collaborate (not compete!) with each other. I’d love to see Sacramento artists be as strong and connected as Sacramento’s chefs and restaurateurs.”


Fast Facts About Maren

  • The three things the artist cannot live without a) champagne, b) personal training (she’s currently obsessed with Zuda Yoga and kickboxing), and c) art, specifically purchasing art. “Buying and collecting art is important for me as an artist. Not only am I supporting my friends, but being surrounded by breathtaking work humbles me and inspires me to try harder.”
  • Having dyslexia has actually given Conrad confidence. “I see things differently to the point where I can’t foresee obstacles. A project can be absolutely impossible from all accounts, but my mind will say ‘Nope, I can do that.’ I’ve ended up putting myself in tough situations!” She also notes that dyslexia has given her the gift of gab.
  • The Capitol is more colorful thanks to Conrad. As part of her designation as a California State Regional Artist in Residence, a glittery painting of a drag queen graces a wall in the California Senate Chambers.
  • One of her favorite things to do when starting a new project is shopping for materials. “I can tell you exactly where and when I bought things. I know the aisles of Home Depot well!”
  • Bird’s a feather flock together. Conrad is studio neighbors to Sacramento365’s September 2015 Featured Artist Thomas Ramey.
  • Conrad is also a bonafide goofball. “The seriousness and rigidity that I put into my artwork is nothing like my personality!”


Her Feature Story: Rebel, Rebel



Photo by Jennifer Yarmolyuk.


July: Steven Valencia – Artistic Director, Calidanza Dance Company

As the leader of the Calidanza Dance Company, Valencia seeks to advance, celebrate and preserve the culture of Latino, Chicano, and Native populations for generations. And he’s been pretty good at it. He’s worked and toured with some of the best instructors from across the border, choreographed traditional and modern professional productions in and around the Sacramento region, and was even awarded the 2011 Maestro Award from The Latino Arts Network of California for his efforts. What may be the most peculiar thing about Valencia’s success is that he juggles his time at Calidanza with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Artist Insights

  • Valencia’s advice for someone who’s looking to pursue a career in dance: “You have to do two things 1) train and 2) constantly educate yourself. Start young and learn all aspects of the craft — from choreography, costuming, to lighting. And you can’t sustain your career without money; learning how to manage a business is essential.”


Fast Facts About Steven

  • Valencia is a big fan of HGTV’s Property Brothers. Not only was this evident by taking a quick glance of his stylish Elk Grove home, the show was actually playing on a TV during our interview.
  • His life’s motto: “Work hard, learn, live, and enjoy the ride.”
  • What differentiates Calidanza from other folkloric companies is the element of CALIDAD (quality in Spanish).
    C – Creative choreographies
    A – Accessible arts programs
    L – Lively experience
    I – Interactive educational component
    D – Dynamic programming
    A – Artistic excellence
    D – Dedication to the art
  • His proudest achievement? “When I see a transformation, I light up. It is so powerful to see the moment when a person finally sees his/herself as a dancer.”


His Feature Story: Bringing Rhythm to Life



Photo courtesy of LeBasse Projects.


August: Sacramento Mural Festival (SMF)

Muralists and illustrators, hailing from near and afar took part in the largest art exhibition Sacramento has ever experienced — on the walls of our great city. From August 20-27, the Sacramento Mural Festival gave 12 artists free range to transform often forgotten segments of our alley network into stunning public art spaces. Friends of Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and LeBasse Projects are banking that these indelible marks on our city will give notice to the global arts community of Sacramento’s creative spirit.

Sacramento365 reached out to the four local artists — Jake Castro, David Fiveash, Irubiel Moreno, and Alicia Palenyy — participating in the Sacramento Mural Festival to find out how they plan to paint the town.

Artist Insights

Jake Castro:
His thoughts on the Sacramento arts community: “The Sacramento community is continually expanding and I feel like I’m part of a supportive community. Co-op working spaces [e.g. The Urban Hive and Hacker Lab] really encourage collaboration and innovation among artists and makers…and this helps push us to work harder and think more creatively.”

David Fiveash:
How he reacted to the Sacramento Mural Festival news: “I was at a swimming pool and did a back-flip off the diving board. I was very happy!”

Irubiel Moreno:
A firm believer in the power of collaboration, Moreno is buzzing off the current creative energy emanating from our local arts community and is stoked that international artists get to experience our city’s renaissance: “[Having] international artists come to Sacramento is a great thing…it will help Sacramento get recognized as a destination city for art.”

Alicia Palenyy:
How she’d like the Sacramento Mural Festival to evolve: “Some type of inter-city or international artist exchange would be a dream come true. Two places having a festival simultaneously (more or less) and the festivals ‘trade’ artists for a week or two.”


Our SMF Feature Stories: Sacramento Mural Festival to Paint the Town and Get to Know the Local Creatives Behind SMF



Photo by Jennifer Yarmolyuk.


September: jesikah maria ross – Interdisciplinary Media Maker

Academic, media producer, artist. jesikah maria ross is all these things and more. The interdisciplinary media-maker is in the business of storytelling, artfully bringing people together to examine issues and develop solutions for where they live. Her craft – oft described as participatory media, socially engaged art, or community engaged journalism – doesn’t just produce stirring photos, videos, and interactive experiences; it leads to dialogue, healing, and hope.

Artist Insights

ross defines herself as a documentary artist that collaborates with communities to create spaces where people can speak to each other about issues important to them and feel heard. In any given project she’ll “conduct” as a researcher, convener, facilitator, project manager, and maker.

Straddling the fields of art, community development, and journalism, her practice results in film, audio, interactive websites and mapping, photo galleries, communication platforms, and well-produced public events. Alone, these forms are great, but when presented together, they convey not only her strengths in content curation but also paint a rich story of a community or issue. With each project, ross hopes to increase issue awareness, build capacity and relationships, and effect community change.

Fast Facts About jesikah

  • Her current position as Capital Public Radio’s Senior Community Engagement Strategist is her first full-time job.
  • Her advice on getting engaged with the arts: Find your joy and dive right in! “Get out of your comfort zone and sample different creative activities. You’ll naturally find out what you love. Then contact arts groups directly. You’ll discover that there are infinite ways to get involved.”
  • Holding public events is her favorite means of telling a story. “I design purposeful, choreographed experiences that springboard public conversations and create ‘collisions’ among people who may not have known each other previously.”
  • What makes for great storytelling?
    1) Forging strong and lasting relationships with communities
    2) Building upon solid research
    3) Utilizing innovative and interactive technology
    4) Editing and using the most compelling content a.k.a. “stuff that knocks you in the knees”


Her Featured Story: The Art of Change



Photo by Joan Cusick.


October: Bryan Valenzuela – Golden 1 Center Artist

Talented in both the visual and performing arts, Bryan Valenzuela is an unassuming tour de force. His mellow, laidback attitude is refreshing, especially for someone who’s garnered the amount of attention he’s earned lately.

Best-known for his detailed word-based drawings and as the lead vocalist for the psych-art rock band, Exquisite Corps, the thirty-something Midtown-based creative applied for the Golden 1 Center Art Program, devising a grand public art piece paying homage to Sacramento’s waterways through glass, a material he’s never worked with before. By surprise, his “Multitudes Converge” got the greenlight from The City of Sacramento and the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. Throwing caution to the wind allowed him to take on the largest and most challenging work of his career…and share space with the international pop artist, Jeff Koons.

Artist Insights

  • How can the public support our local artists and arts scene? “Show up to events, even if you can’t afford to buy a piece. Your presence itself is rewarding and motivates [us] artists to keep creating.”
  • Why does Valenzuela continue to live and work in the River City? “Sacramento is like the ‘Goldilocks’ of cities, especially Midtown. It’s walkable, bikeable, close to everything, affordable, has a lot to offer, and we have seasons! I don’t get it when people say there’s nothing to do here.”


Fast Facts About Bryan


His Feature Story: Taking a Leap of Faith



Photo by Jennifer Yarmolyuk.


November: Jacob Golden – Musician

Humble, soft-spoken, and reflective, Jacob Golden has lived many lifetimes. From jet-setting North America and Europe as the front man of local band Birthday to pulling heartstrings as a solo artist, Golden was shining. However, after bouncing between record labels, he left the music industry, tired of being a cog in the machine. Thankfully, Golden hasn’t lost his luster, returning to the mic, this time on his own terms.

Artist Insights

Golden’s advice for those aspiring to make it in the music industry: “Find something that you are interested in — writing, songwriting, performing — and recognize that you will need time to develop. And it’s important to put yourself out there…you do not need to be a perfectionist. The thought of only sharing your best work is tempting but leads to debilitation. You end up sabotaging yourself.”

Fast Facts About Jacob

  • Ethereal Icelandic band sigur rós recorded their 2001 album, Agaetis Byrjun in the same cottage where Golden’s former band Birthday was based during their stint in England.
  • Jacob Golden’s considers the highlight of his professional career to be his performance on Later…with Jools Holland.
  • Chris Isaak listened in on Birthday’s audition in San Francisco.
  • Inside Golden’s cozy outdoor shed-turned-studio, you’ll find a collection of oddball instruments — including a glockenspiel and key harmonica — that embellish his dark folk music with unique tones and effects.
  • On Sacramento: “I’m proud of my Sacramento roots and how this city has developed a number of talented artists. When I was touring Europe, people knew about Sacramento as an artistic place, which is interesting as sometimes we here do not see ourselves on the global stage. The Sacramento music scene is very grassroots. It’s a creative challenge, but we are growing up and maturing.”


His Feature Story: Stay Golden



Photo by Jennifer Yarmolyuk.


December: Andres Alvarez – Photographer

Emerging photographer Andres Alvarez may not be a household name (yet), but his work should be loved by anyone who calls Sacramento home. Since moving to the River City, the artist has had a love affair exploring and revealing the beauty of the grid. From coffee shop patrons to Golden 1 Center’s progress to the characters of K Street, his candid film and digital photos are meticulously composed, showcasing the heartbeat of Sacramento.

Artist Insights

Andres has taken to the streets, exploring what lies within his adopted city and inside his head: “photography became a way for me to reflect my thoughts, expose my habits, and discover what inspires me. My photographs are mirrors to my soul.”

In order to do so, he is putting techniques into practice with a number of self-imposed photo projects. Whether it’s cataloging Sacramento’s coffee culture, the Regional Transit system, or the construction around the Golden 1 Center, his photos show a fascination with the subtle quotidian interactions between people, places, and things.”People are obsessed with anything exotic to the point where they overlook their backyard. I’m interested in capturing the daily rhythm of Sacramento.”

Fast Facts About Andres

  • Our featured artist is a twin, which might explain his curiosity with reflections: “we are each other’s lifelong mirror.” Funny story: At the opening reception of “Cara A Cara”, a number of attendees accidentally mistook his brother Alberto as the artist.
  • Alvarez cites Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Fred Herzog, Heinrich Kühn, and Alfred Stieglitz as major influencers of his work.
  • Until recently Alvarez ran a wedding and portrait photography company Vivir, meaning “to live” in Spanish. “I built up my portfolio and met a ton of great people, but I knew it was time to move on.”
  • Alvarez credits photography for helping him manage his anxiety, “giving me a new way of appreciating life and it has increased my anxiety wanting to respond to potential photography moments.”


His Feature Story: Capturing Everyday Sacramento