Trisha Jeanne Rhomberg, Hack Lab’s Maker in Residence
In addition to keeping a watchful eye on public arts funding, Trisha Jeanne Rhomberg curates new artists’ work at the Warehouse Artist Lofts’ (WAL) Public Market Gallery; co-owns Old Gold, which sells vintage and designer clothing in the WAL; hosts live music on the WAL rooftop; and connects artists to materials suppliers as Maker in Residence at Hacker Lab. The Midtown co-working space won a $125,000 grant in March to employ Rhomberg and Jake Elia, an Entrepreneur in Residence, to help artists, makers and creatives start their own businesses in the untamed gig economy.
Where did your arts activism start?
Bows & Arrows. That was my first shop, where I met 90 percent of the people I see today. We had a built-in live-music space and 1,000 square feet of retail, a gallery, cafe, bar and back patio where people ate brunch. This was pre-coworking spaces. I realized that art is the nucleus, the glue of the community. The way we come together is through that expression—to have conversations about who we are.
What is Sacramento lacking?
Not having a place to share. Places around here are booked up. Red Museum [a performance and studio space] isn’t enough. We should have emerging artists’ spaces in every part of the city. There’s so many subcultures. We don’t have enough welcome space for emerging artists to test out ideas and get feedback. There’s a few venues, like Fox & Goose, but only for folk bands; not for far out, crunchy punk. Ace of Spades isn’t for emerging artists. For how large our community is, we have so few places to share.
We’re seeing some resurgence of city artists’ support. Has that been neglected?
Under “Farm to Fork,” it makes it seem like our culture is only around food. Of course it’s important. For many artists, it pays the rent. That doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we need to feed our soul. Farm to Fork is about money. Restaurants are the only businesses that can pay $3 or $4 a square foot. I’ve been looking at property for the past few years and only one developer told me they will put artists over profit. That’s Ali Youseffi at WAL. We need a lot more. It all boils back to our community’s appetite. People don’t treat art or music as tools for survival. I don’t know what I’d do without it; it feeds me.
Is there a local art appetite now?
If you don’t spend half your money on advertising, people won’t go. We don’t have a unified dining guide for art. We’ve seen a drop in arts coverage, too. The mayor knows having funds for creatives has an impact on jobs. It’s clear from the $500,000 in creative economy grants they awarded this year. But $500,000 is a drop in the bucket for the $70 million we get in hotel tourism dollars. Those micro-grants are what pay for people to come. We just learned who was awarded that funding, but it was late. Without the power or the funding to make any real change, it grays like hair and starts to wither.
What is the city doing well and not-so-well?
The grants were great. They made it simple to apply for and tons of people applied. But most of those people, if they don’t see results, they can’t afford to wait and see. There’s a gap between the boots on the street—artists—and people who give out money. [Local historian] Bill Burg talks about having a “daytime” and a “nighttime” mayor. If you don’t have an artist on the payroll, you’re not helping emerging artists, because you’re not there. You need to pay someone to be the intermediary who meets all the artists doing cool shit. The city has assistants going to meetings all the time. They should for artists, too.
How can we keep artists in the city as gentrification increases?
It’s affordable living. Create more housing, or another WAL, where 60 to 70 people can live and make art. Or, take one of the city’s vacant lots and turn it into an emerging artists space. Hold open-mics during the month, shows, stand-up and people will come. At Hacker Lab, my schedule is booked. People need help because they can’t connect or be helped by traditional economic development programs. People can’t pay for one-on-one consultant time.
To Bay Area transplants and other newcomers, what do you say?
Meet people who care. Be open-minded. We have so much diversity in this town that going to one or two events won’t show everything that we have. Talk to someone who’s been around. Or a sound guy. Then, when you’re starting something, ask yourself, “How often do I go out and support others?” You need to open your mouth and start talking to people. There’s a shitload of nice-ass people who want to come and introduce you to people they love. And invite people. Always.