Public art is about more than intricate town square sculptures or decorative murals that mask the walls of blight. At its best, public art doesn’t simply beautify a space, it engages a community by reflecting and helping to define the environment around it.
The Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission has helped to do just that for the Del Paso Design District with Words on Walls, a temporary art installation along Del Paso Boulevard.
“If you look at public art throughout history, it’s done everything from [defining] a neighborhood to [helping] people understand cultural and social issues,” says Shelly Willis, the commission’s interim executive director.
That seems to be just what Del Paso Boulevard needs. Andrea Lepore is a Sacramento branding and development consultant who works with the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership, and when she approached the task of defining the Del Paso Design District as a distinct destination neighborhood, she knew public art would be instrumental.
“We needed something that was current and graphic,” she says.
For its efforts, the Del Paso Design District has earned a Good Design Award for green urban planning from the European Centre for Architecture and the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. The area is also home to the Good Street Food + Design Market that blends local art, food and live music in an open-air market. With the intent to promote Del Paso’s art and design identity, Lepore and Willis joined forces, and the concept behind Words on Walls was born.
“We really wanted something that was bold and eye-catching,” says Lepore. “[Shelly Willis and I] talked about the various elements of the project, and Shelly had this great idea to involve poets and do something graphic.”
Words on Walls was completed in October and fuses the written word with graphic design. Five local poets crafted odes to the Del Paso neighborhood and partnered with designers who then translated the poems into visual art.
Designer Barbara Hennely brought writer Catherine French’s “After We’ve Gone, Del Paso Boulevard” to life. French’s line, “Here, we know how to resurrect what others throw away,” emblazoned in bold along the side of a building, speaks to residents and visitors in a way it simply could not have from the confines of a poetry chapbook.
Words on Walls is part of the broader Art in Public Places program, lead by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. Willis and her team will next help define Broadway through a current project called Broadway Augmented, which should be completed this year. Like Words on Walls, Broadway Augmented will merge artistic mediums by using concepts from visual artists rendered in 3D by CSUS graphic design students. The hypothetical works of public art will be viewable from smart devices and accompanied by surveys to engage viewers about their unique visions for public art in their communities.
“When artists come to a place, whether they live here or they don’t, they always approach things in a unique and visionary way,” says Willis. “Sometimes they help us understand who we are in a way that we never imagined.”
Though only 16, Audrey Shepherd is as poised and articulate as any 20-something. Her demeanor is that of a young professional; so is her skill as a principal bassoonist with the Sacramento Youth Symphony.