Art Meets Activism on Canvas of Sacramento Real Estate

Video installation blocks from California’s capitol building (Photo by Tre Borden)

An empty bank property in California’s troubled capital city is the unlikely backdrop of a new public art project.

“Beacon” is a video projection installation that tackles a number of thorny social issues, from what it means to be black in America after the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer, to migration and consent. The project launched May 22 and runs until July 29, and will feature around 50 local, national and international artists.

“The idea is to provide a context that drives empathy and that gives vulnerable people and organizations a platform they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Tre Borden, whose company produced the project, writes via email. (Borden is a Next City Vanguard.)

Last week’s featured artist was Marcellus Armstrong, whose work “‘Break’ing” focused on “survival, resilience and the black experience within the context of violent subjugation,” according to a press release.

“I broke hearing the news of the Philando Castile verdict. I break what seems like every week and sometimes every day,” he said. “All the breaking that we do, how do we survive it? How do we record moments of reprieve? Is there strength in the break? ‘Break’ing’ is a recording of these moments.”

It also featured images from a black beauty magazine, a photo essay and spoken word poetry.

(Photo by Tre Borden)

Borden and curator Jessa Ciel understand that their placemaking project is not happening in a vacuum.

As Ciel wrote recently for a Sacramento Bee op-ed:

It’s alluring for visionaries, artists and creatives to broadcast their masterpieces in public arenas, forcing passers-by to assign meaning to these intrusions on their daily life.

Why should they care? As the homeless on K Street understand, the place already holds an identity. This is their home, their arena. There is an existing community with its own rules and customs. The making of a place has to take into account what is already here.

As such, the producers hope to capture value for the people already inhabiting the places they’re “making,” by beautifying them and driving investment.

“Place-making is about getting people excited about where they live and who they are in the space,” Borden recently told the Bee. “But it’s also about how we get traditional companies and organizations and city agencies to own the transition of a space that is not working.”