Brilliant art, beautifully discovered

ChristinaI found it by accident.

An afternoon walk in downtown Sacramento led me to a line of people alongside the Golden 1 Center arena construction site at 7th and L Streets.

Curious, I asked where the line was leading. A man told me, “Art Hotel 916.”

Spontaneously, I situated myself amongst the rapidly forming group and was lucky enough to score one of the hottest tickets in town.

Throughout January, weeks before its demolition, the abandoned Jade Apartments building became a blank canvas for more than 60 local and international artists. Their unique vision converted the desolate building into an elaborate five-floor multi-discipline exhibit.

By Franceska Gomez. Instagram @ewfrank

By Franceska Gomez. Instagram @ewfrank

The project was organized and curated by Seumas Coutts and Shaun Burner, funded in part by the newly formed arts initiative M5ARTS, which raised enough for the artists to receive stipends for their work. Donations were accepted at this free event.

The installation transformed 14 rooms, hallways, kitchens and restrooms into an expansive, but temporary walk-through experience. The show opened in early February and – much to the dismay of many – closed a week later..

Due to fire code, only 45 people were allowed for each allotted time slot. Art enthusiasts were given 30 minutes to take in as much of the hotel as they could, which didn’t seem nearly enough time. This was a visual tease. People wanted more.

Rainbow Room by Jose Di Gregorio.

Rainbow Room by Jose Di Gregorio.

What stuck me as I waited for my admission sticker was the diversity of the crowd – a diversity that reflected the region.

Elderly couples, parents with young children, backpack-toting teenagers, and flannel-wearing 20-somethings staked out spots to nab a time slot and return for a self-guided tour in a dilapidated building.

Like the others, I was completely unsure of all-consuming experience that we were about to enter. We were united in curiosity.

Finally, the wait was over. We were inside.

I was taken aback by the smells that wafted through the hallways. A mix of fresh paint, aged wood and musty drywall permeated the air. Smell quickly transformed to visual. Our eyes were captivated by numerous stimulants in the form of sculptures, graffiti, woodwork and murals.

It’s difficult to put the entirety of this place into words. Each space I wandered into revealed a unique feeling and message. There were rooms that were unnerving to behold, sounds that were unsettling.

Some areas were soothing in tone and color, others so complex that I felt compelled to linger a little to make sense of what I was witnessing.

It was a funhouse for the senses.

Wood pieces that create a human form. By Franceska Gomez & Shaun Burner

Wood pieces create a human form by Franceska Gomez and Shaun Burner

People rushed from room to room, fighting the urge to dwell on any one image, frustratingly aware that our time was limited. When time was up, and we shuffled out of the building into the bright daylight, there was a sense of achievement, but also regret for the viewer. Not enough time to soak in the beautiful art.

The Art Hotel was a transformative exhibit, ephemeral in nature. Its impact on our community will remain indefinitely.

It revealed a thirst in our city for art that is accessible and impromptu. The fact that it was not widely publicized but highly sought due to word-of-mouth proves there’s an interest and commitment for installment art pieces. The interest has been untapped in our city.

One amazing thing about this short-lived project was the nature of the crowd.

Diverse, eager, completely invested in honoring the evolving soul of our city as we grow into our new identity.

I returned to the Art Hotel on its last day, my three children in tow. I wanted one last glimpse of the fleeting exhibit. On a Saturday morning normally reserved for sleeping in, my little ones dragged me out of the house after breakfast drawn by the brilliant images they’d seen on my phone. They were curious and keenly aware that this was something special.

We arrived early for an 11 a.m. ticket distribution. The line snaked past L Street and onto Capitol Mall. Some had been waiting hours, as if trying to secure valuable concert tickets. Nearby, arena construction workers looked on with knowing smiles. With hardhats and grins, they looked down from scaffolds, accustomed to the daily crowds. A taco truck pulled up and parked strategically nearby to capitalize on the hungry folks in the growing crowd.

Hundreds were turned away that final day. Those who were granted admission referred to their coveted stickers as “Golden Tickets.”

What conveys the soul of a city? What is it about a community that makes it unique? It isn’t necessarily new construction and development, though these certainly have their place. The true indicator of a city’s heartbeat and pulse can be measured in its music, art and the underlying culture that inspires them.

As a long-time Sacramento resident, I felt proud to see my city supporting the distinctive vision of the Art Hotel. As my children and I walked away from the Jade Apartments that night, their enthusiasm for what they’d seen was palpable and contagious. As an educator, I feel compelled to help nurture this part of our city, so our young people may grow in a place that supports and inspires their creativity.

The Art Hotel has closed. It will soon be replaced by a boutique Hyatt. One can only hope that, in light of our city’s rapid development, we listen to the creative forces in our community. Many of them helped mastermind the Jade’s brief transformation.

And they continue to breathe life into the vibrant side of Sacramento, the side that will illuminate the capital city of this Golden State.

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