Maya Wallace, art commissioner for Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission


What makes a city a real city? There are a lot of answers to that, but most people include a vibrant art scene in that equation. Art gets funded many ways, but any conversation about public art funding needs to include the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission in the discussion. Maya Wallace is one of 11 art commissioners—all are volunteers—involved with improving Sacramento through art. But that also involves making sure that everyone has an equal shot at this money and being heard through their art. Wallace discusses the commission and its vision for building a better, more inclusive, diverse art landscape in Sacramento.

What do you think is most lacking from the arts scene in the city?

Six months ago, I would have said cross-pollination between multiple groups, but I think that’s improving even now. We need capacity-building and audience development for our arts organizations, a robust communications infrastructure for everyone and a way for working artists to more effectively promote their work—be it music, poetry, painting, sculpture, etc.

Are there specific communities you feel are most in need of outreach?

I wouldn’t say we have it drilled down to that level. I think that the cultural equity grant is going to give us data. The thing is we don’t know who we’re missing. And they don’t know about us. When we held our first meeting for the Cultural Equity Task Force in January, we had 50 people come and tell us what cultural equity meant to them. I think it’s really incumbent on us, as a public entity that’s talking about creative economy and building all this “Destination Sacramento,” but to make sure we’re being as inclusive as possible. We will implement the statement which recognizes historical disadvantage and power and access challenges, and says the commission is going to take steps to mitigate those and remove those barriers and build up those communities. We need to engage with communities that we never see.

So there’s a lot of talk of improving public space with art. What does that look like?

I hope it’s interactive. I do think there will be tons of murals everywhere. I think pop-ups and parklettes are going to be a part of it. I don’t know why we haven’t gotten more parklettes. Part of it has been getting everyone in the planning department on board and updating their openness to stuff. Everyone was really suburban for a really long time. Then they were like, “What are you talking about, you want to build a shipping container restaurant? We don’t even have a process to do that.” It’s about getting everyone on the same page. From an environmental perspective we want people to move back to the cities because it’s the most efficient way to run our economy and minimize our impact on the environment, and keep everybody clothed and fed and sheltered. It’s a quality of life. Art and trees. If you’re going to do two things, you would do art and trees.

How do you work with artists without them feeling like you’re using them to sanitize the city?

To take it back to the Cultural Equity Task Force, that’s kind of the point. This is a city that is diverse. We have to reflect that in all of our neighborhoods. If you do that intentionally, and you’re including everyone in the process, it shouldn’t be a gap to bridge. I would like to see us support our artists, and pay them and make sure they can make money much more than I think we are currently able to do. That would help them sustain in their neighborhoods. The people that don’t make a lot of money are what make neighborhoods cool, like the creative folks, kooky characters. They’re the people that have been building the livability up in the city for a long time. It would be a shame to lose them, and have the sanitized version. We used to talk about mixed-income communities. I always thought of Sacramento as really successful, it was sort of inadvertent that we’re a mixed-income community. But I want to see more of that. Instead of everyone having to live in Midtown, and driving up the price, why can’t we have investment in Meadowview, and Valley High, and Del Paso, so that all the neighborhoods are great.

Why has busking become such a hot topic here?

I pretty much give credit to [Zero Forbidden Goals]. They’re really effective. The groups that do poetry and spoken word and open-mic folks have gotten really connected to each other. And they want to take their work out into the community. And they were being told that they couldn’t. So they decided to build a movement around it. It’s also a way to activate all these dead, scary public spaces, which is still really important to attracting residents that we want and retaining residents that we want. The arts commission took up busking as well, in the same time frame as the cultural equity stuff. Before Second Saturday exploded, there was always people that would come out and play. They didn’t necessarily have a permit and nobody cared because there was less stuff happening down here. I don’t know why people started telling people they couldn’t walk around and play on the street. But I think the critical mass is people. Getting people out of their houses, and getting people walking, biking, it all goes together. As much as people talk about it as piecemeal, it’s all part of a urban revitalization strategy, focused on place, focused on public art, focused on active transportation, and it builds commerce. It’s just really good.