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Muralists Give Sacramento A Paint Job During Wide Open Walls Art Festival

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Jenn Ponci's Wide Open Walls mural, on the corner on 16th and I streets, is a California-themed piece that features a bear with its cub in a field of poppies.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Kate Gonzales, Capital Public Radio

Street artist Jenn Ponci spray paints gold highlights on a grizzly bear’s eggplant-colored fur. She’s working on a mural in Midtown, a California-themed piece that features a bear with its cub in a field of poppies.

She’s created murals from Miami to Oakland, and here in Sacramento, since 2013. But this week, she’s painting a wall near 16th and I streets as part of a larger, once-a-year festival.

The second year of the Wide Open Walls mural fest is happening now throughout the city. Organizers have brought together dozens of artists from around the world to create artworks.

Ponci says the festival matters for local artists. “People have a tendency to view art as something optional,” she said. “Wide Open Walls is kind of putting artists on a platform, showing how important it is to have art in the community.”

Michelle Murtaugh takes us up 60 feet above Improv Alley to show us the mural she is working on. Despite her discomfort with the height, she sees it as a challenge to overcome.Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio


Wide Open Walls founder David Sobon has spent hours walking his dog and riding his bike through Midtown. A few years back, he realized the empty alleys and blank façades had potential.

“I just noticed there was an absence of art,” he said.

Sobon envisioned bringing color to Midtown’s streets and alleys. His team of staff and volunteers debuted the festival last year. This year, more than 350 people applied to participate.

A couple blocks from Ponci’s piece, street artist Shepard Fairey and his team are working on a larger-than-life mural of Johnny Cash. Painted on the east-facing wall of the Residence Inn on L Street, the orange-and-red image is based on a photograph that Jim Marshall took of the “Man in Black” when he performed at Folsom Prison 50 years ago.

“Johnny Cash is truly one of the most popular entertainers ever,” Sobon said. “The album that they recorded out there [Folsom Prison] is probably one of my top 10 favorite albums of all time.”

081618Wide Open Walls Shepard Fairey -pShepard Fairey's Johnny Cash mural is painted on the east-facing wall of the Residence Inn on L Street in Sacramento. Nick Brunner / Capital Public Radio


Having a mural by Fairey — famous in part for his 2008 “Hope” poster for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and Women’s March designs — could bring more attention to Sacramento as an art city, according to Sobon.

“Shepard Fairey has been such an incredible voice for decades,” he said.

The Cash piece is part of a exhibit called American Civics, a collaboration between the Jim Marshall Estate and Fairey that focuses on raising awareness social issues like mass incarceration.

“It’s just going to change what Sacramento looks like, and it is such an iconic image of Johnny Cash,” Sobon said. “We’re very lucky to have it.”

Ponci said she’s excited to see what a artists do with their spaces — Charmaine Olivia, Brent Patton and Lord Pawn come to her mind.

“It’s pretty cool how widespread the festival is,” she said, adding that she’ll be driving around town and come across murals. “I’m pretty much just going to have to make the rounds and check everything out.”

Wide Open Walls will host a street festival on Friday, August 17, featuring a deejay set by Fairey and performances by Cash Prophets and the Philharmonik. A Capital City Busking event in front of Ponci’s wall at I and 16th will close out the festival on Sunday, August 19.

Browse this map to see where artists are painting for this year's Wide Open Walls festival. 

(Map courtesy of Wide Open Walls)

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