Golden roots: Royal Chicano Air Force returns ‘home’ to arena with ambitious mural

Sacramento’s historic and influential Latino artists collective will bring a new vision to Golden 1 Center

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the December 28, 2017, issue.

Come February, a vast, three-part mural will greet visitors to the Golden 1 Center with images of butterflies, the cosmos and “third-world astro pilots,” courtesy of the Royal Chicano Air Force, an artist and activist collective that’s been championing Latino traditions in Sacramento for nearly 50 years.

The art was purchased for the arena by City Hall, with support from the county Board of Supervisors.

Members of the RCAF say their mural will be brushed in glimmering red, solar flares and deep pearlescents. A bank of lights will accent the metallic paint, creating what the RCAF hopes will be one of the brightest spaces in Sacramento.

RCAF artist Stan Padillas said the mural’s symbolism reaches back to the Aztec sun calendar, which heralds a sixth sun coming after earthquakes, civil war, plagues and other disasters, thus ushering in a new era for humanity. Beyond its creative statement, Padillas thinks the mural’s roots in the local Latino arts community will send an important message to high school and college students attending graduation ceremonies held at the Golden 1 Center.

“That’s fine they play basketball and [have] concerts. What’s most important, more than all the rest, is achieving the possibility of higher learning,” Padilla said. “We feel like prodigal sons coming home to that new arena, which was an old Mexican barrio torn down underneath there before.”

RCAF artist Juan Carrillo said the push to support his group’s mission through a purchase at Golden 1 started with county Supervisor Phil Serna, who supported transferring $300,000 from a tobacco litigation settlement, tourism dollars and community funding to City Hall for that purpose. City leaders then triggered the purchase, while also creating a fund to maintain the piece in perpetuity.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the RCAF’s home base at the Washington Community Center, sees the mural as an ideal piece of public art for a downtown area where civil rights giants like Cesar Chavez protested for a better future.

Hansen also hopes the purchase will inspire others to support a diversity of artists in the community—many of whom lost funding when the economy collapsed during the recession.

“It’s a symbol of our rebirth in many ways,” Hansen said of the mural. “Art rises and falls in Sacramento, but the contributions of RCAF are legendary.”