ArtStreet was just an art washing of the Broadway Corridor

Last February a temporary art installation in Sacramento attempted to obscure the gentrification of the Broadway Corridor through art washing.

Art washing is a process whereby developers and other moneyed interests exploit artists and musicians under the guise of a community-wide artistic experience. This then creates a relationship of trust between those attending and participating in the event and those who extract the labor of the creative class for their own benefit.

The art and music at Art Street was impressive and wildly popular. Almost 32,000 people visited. But how many of those visitors understood that the creative space in which they were frolicking would be turned into luxury housing in just a few months? More importantly, how many of them would even care?

ArtStreet was created by M5Arts, whose mission is to “enrich the downtown community and help define Sacramento’s place in the art world.” While these sound like good and noble goals, the result of this installation was an obfuscation of the capitalist’s end game: development and money.

The building that housed ArtStreet is a warehouse owned by a real estate group selling urban and connected living to Millennials. Visitors to ArtStreet spent hours watching music, waiting in line, eating food and taking in art surrounded by a brand-new housing development in an industrial area of town. This new, hip neighborhood is surrounded by public housing and industrial buildings, an area many of the attendees would never otherwise visit.

It is important to note that participating artists are not at fault for their role in this art wash, but they do encourage a community to trust developers and their vision, and therefore accept gentrification as a necessary evil of progress.

When creative people, like the artists and musicians who participated in ArtStreet, showcase their work in a place like this warehouse, the community implicitly understands that because these creatives are showing their work here, they are endorsing the project and its impacts. And if the creative class is endorsing it, then the community assumes it must be beneficial and in their best interest because artists are often perceived among the most noble and reasoned of our society.

  • The "Live On" mural outside the warehouse that housed Art Street on the Broadway Corridor has become an iconic representation of last February's installation.

This is simply not true. Most artists do not have the luxury of choosing when and where they can show their art. Many artists struggle, and will take almost any opportunity they are given to show their work.

The capitalist class knows this. They know that marketing and money alone cannot buy  a community’s respect, so they enlist these artists to create art that brings the people to their projects under the guise of cultural enrichment.  

ArtStreet is not the only case of art washing in Sac. It has become a pattern throughout the city perpetrated by many of the same people. The Portal was a particularly egregious example of trying to convince the community to get onboard with a series of mixed-use projects that will radically transform the area near R and 16th streets. This art installation was designed to be a “temporary installation that serve[d] as a flexible space for community members to visualize the future of the region.” In reality it was a box-shaped mirror with lights, around which developers and their ilk held a street party before breaking ground on their projects.

The Art Hotel was another attempt by M5Arts to take a building and activate it with work from local artists. The 100-plus-year-old hotel was slated for demolition in the name of downtown progress for our illustrious Golden 1 Center, associated chain restaurants and bougie retail stores. This installation was hugely popular, and was likely the impetus for ArtStreet.

This is most definitely not a problem unique to Sacramento. Neighborhoods in bigger cities have been dealing with art-washing swindlers for much longer than we have here. But maybe we can learn something from their experiences. We should limit our participation in the capitalist attempts at usurping the culture and trust of our community for their own personal gain. Artists should create in places where they want to show their work, not where they are forced.

Most importantly, we should call out the bullshit when we see it, whether it’s art washing, sleazy politicians or tone-deaf marketing campaigns. There is a lot to love about Sac’s growth, but let’s make sure we are mindful of how we go about it.


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Sac Snark
Formerly a pain-in-the-ass on Twitter, Mr. Snark brings his act to VOICES: to continue pissing people off in the city we all love.

16 Comments on "ArtStreet was just an art washing of the Broadway Corridor"

  1. shel | May 2, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Reply

    i liked it more when snarkramento kept it to 180 characters.

  2. I think someone has a little too much free time on their hands. Being involved in both projects, I can tell you it was a major struggle just getting people to participate and even be comfortable with the idea, none the less, anyone who buys housing because it involved art is not living in Sacramento. I think they would prefer the beer and the restaurants. You give the developer’s way to much credit, as I don’t think there are too many half-baked conspiracy’s floating around. and NEWSFLASH no one with enough money to get a house cares about art or they would have bought the walls at art street and fucking ripped it out with their bare hands or actually donated more money to put the production on.

  3. Maureen Fayhee | May 2, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Reply

    Interesting. Now I’m very interested in hearing from my local artists on if they relate this to our Nashville events.

  4. Tam | May 2, 2017 at 7:33 pm | Reply

    So this is *your* contribution to Sacramento? On the whole, I’ll take ArtStreet, thanks. Let us know when you actually do something worth seeing.

  5. Midtown Squinter | May 2, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Reply

    What I experienced @ Art Street was waaay too:
    janky & fumbling & zip-tied & last-minute quick-fix
    & angsty & indecisive & faux-hipster-lensed
    to have been “just” an artwashing.
    But I do agree, however, that artwashing was the creators’ primary focus & intent, aside from the profiteering, natch…

  6. Guy Paile | May 3, 2017 at 12:00 am | Reply

    Well there it is – the dumbest thing I’ll read all day. And I’ve been keeping up with the presidency.

    Please opine about factuals? Too much?

    • Dave Kempa | May 3, 2017 at 4:15 am | Reply

      I’ll attest to that — it’s not a virus, it’s a write-up worth reading

  7. Nerdgurl | May 3, 2017 at 1:14 am | Reply

    A totally inaccurate perspective or a useful dialogue around the role artists play in the games of the gentrifying class? I think this is a super worthy conversation and appreciate the perspective. Everyone has a responsibility to question the consequences of their actions.

  8. Pete Edwards | May 3, 2017 at 5:02 am | Reply

    What garbage coming from the “keep sac/midtown/broadway janky” crowd, who doesn’t actually create anything. And why not put your name on it? It is much easier to take pot shots anonymously. Try creating something. Douche.

  9. shel | May 4, 2017 at 12:26 am | Reply

    guys— let’s cut the chase & talk about how first fest is ruining west sac.

  10. Lisa | May 4, 2017 at 8:56 pm | Reply

    “artists are often perceived among the most noble and reasoned of our society”

    Ummm, no theyr’e not.

    Stop whining and go find what makes you happy.

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