Saving Second Saturday

Local officials salvage the city’s monthly art walk from its own success

Huge crowds flock to the Marrs complex on 20th Street, which has become the hub of Second Saturday.

Huge crowds flock to the Marrs complex on 20th Street, which has become the hub of Second Saturday.

Photo By Erik schorr

The Second Saturday art walk is Sacramento’s most popular event. Thousands visit Midtown’s grid streets each month, stimulating the gallery, boutique, restaurant, bar and club economy. But supporters worry that Second Saturday’s very success may doom it to failure, in much the same way that large, unmanageable crowds undid the Thursday Night Market at K Street Mall a decade ago.

This spring, complaints about Second Saturday have warmed along with the weather and center on the lack of parking, gridlocked traffic, alcohol violations and the noise caused by outdoor musicians, explained Teresa Jackson of the city parks and recreation department.

“The March Second Saturday drew quite a crowd in the downtown area, and a number of residents expressed concerns,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily that people were upset. They were just concerned about the lack of control, and whether things would get worse in the summer months.”

The April 12 art walk pushed the city to the brink. An unprecedented number of people—some estimate nearly 15,000—converged on Midtown for the monthly to-do. Bands, deejays and artists flooded the streets; vendors occupied every corner. Traffic was a bumper-to-bumper nightmare. One car even got stuck on the J Street railroad tracks, a freight train fast approaching. Clearly, the monthly event, like the Thursday Night Market before it, is in danger of spinning out of control.

Fights, vandalism, theft and crime plagued the weekly K Street event during its last legs, and city officials have no intention of repeating that debacle. However, when Midtown businesses first requested assistance with parking, transit, permits and police presence for Second Saturday, the cash-strapped city balked at writing the check, according to Midtown Business Association board member Shawn Eldredge.

“This is a great event that we’re all creating here, but the city had a lot of push-back at first,” he said. After the April Second Saturday fiasco, business owners, city officials, police and Alcoholic Beverage Control representatives convened. Business owners argued that certain streets needed to be closed. The city resisted with an unspoken fear: “Somebody’s got to pay for it,” one attendee surmised of the prevailing attitude. ABC was present because residents complained that the city was permitting open containers on the streets. “Permit the hell out of all of it” was the city’s knee-jerk reaction.

Then literally over a weekend, the city’s stance dramatically changed. “All of the sudden it was ‘Never mind. We’re going to eat it. We’ll take care of it. We’ll handle it,’” Eldredge said of officials’ about-face. “They scared the crap out of all of us,” he continued. “We thought we were doomed.” Eldredge seriously worried that the city might “eliminate everything” and compromise art-walk attendance. There was, of course, reason for his alarm: The Thursday Night Market unsuccessfully pioneered similar territory 10 years ago.

On May 8, a mere two days before that month’s Second Saturday, the city distributed a flier, titled “Second Saturday Art Walk: Things to Consider to Make it Safe and Successful,” which was intended to both stave off a possible K Street market scenario and remind businesses of the permit requirements. The flier specifically targeted newcomers to the Second Saturday festivities, explaining the various permit processes for alcohol, music and street-vending.

But for some business owners, the flier sent a mixed message. Joanie Hope-Ferry, who runs 20th Street Art Gallery, was uncertain. She’d always acquired permits to serve alcohol at events, but was worried that the flier might be a precursor to new, unexpected enforcement. “I’m a rabble-rouser,” she admitted, so she called up the offices of council members Fong, Cohn and Mayor Heather Fargo looking for answers.

Other businesses shared her sentiment. Many boutiques serve wine during the art walk, for which permits are required from both ABC and the police department. Years ago, ABC cracked down on local galleries serving wine on Second Saturday, and since then most businesses have acquired the proper permits. Sue Brown, of Councilman Cohn’s office, assured Hope-Ferry and others that the art walk would occur without hiccups. Instead of issuing code violations, officials will educate participants about the permitting process.

Sure enough, the May 10 Second Saturday went off without a hitch. “The city’s game; they’re into it,” Eldredge said. “I’m totally impressed, honestly.” No individuals or businesses were cited during the May event, according to Jackson.

This enforcement philosophy will continue for the June Second Saturday. Two blocks of 20th Street will be shut down near the MARRS complex. A free shuttle will run attendees from the Mercy parking lot on N Street down L Street up to 16th Street, then back up J Street toward 29th Street. The city will foot the bill for the shuttle and the street closures, along with funds from the MBA, and will bolster the police force in high-traffic areas.

In June, the city also will continue to enforce new rules regarding amplified sound. In the past, businesses needed to apply for an entertainment permit for indoor amplified sound, which costs hundreds of dollars. But now on Second Saturdays, indoor amplified sound is OK without a permit, so long as businesses don’t charge a cover or fee for entrance. Outdoor amplified sound on public and private property still would require a permit. “But the city is not charging for Second Saturday permits,” Jackson explained. There are discussions of a free, one-step, all-encompassing Second Saturday permit, but it’s yet to be implemented.

Furthermore, musicians claim that live music is instrumental to the art walk’s appeal, and that the city needs to restructure its broader music-permit rules. “There has been discussion about re-evaluating the entertainment code,” the city’s Jackson revealed. “There was a lot of work that went into it—and it does work—but as Midtown and downtown change, there may be a couple areas that may be modified.”

On July 27, a dedicated 18-and-over live-music venue will open in the heart of art-walk turf on 20th Street between J and K streets. Called Luigi’s Fun Garden, its success could determine the future of live-music permits in the city.

Some art galleries complain that too many street vendors, hair salons and non-gallery boutiques display art, taking away from what they uniquely have to offer. So far, the city has yet to crack down on competing art vendors. Other galleries remain wary of fully embracing the monthly art-walk spectacle. Shirley Dubnick, executive director of the Solomon Dubnick Gallery in Midtown, no longer serves food or drink on art-walk days and conducts her opening receptions on Thursdays instead.

“It’s not about art. It’s a scene,” said Dubnick, who has to hire two security guards each Second Saturday to help control the crowds at her popular gallery destination. “Nobody’s gotten unruly. They just get really annoyed if they can’t get something to eat.”