A successful public art festival offers dialogue that weighs positive and negative aspects of contemporary muralism. With this in mind, a street art festival aims to activate community connections to a city, as it opens new entry points to access already established art programs within. Hosting and creating a street art festival, with esteemed artists from around the world engaging with the community and organizers striving to partner with local institutions, is a challenge. These works bolster a locale for 365 days a year, long after the festival ends.

Wide Open Walls, which recently celebrated their fourth year in Sacramento, is clearly up to that challenge, productive and healthy, creating an ongoing conversation about the city's art narrative and its potential. Sacramento has a long history of supporting museums, from the Crocker Art Museum, a real gem, to the California State Railroad Museum, which is brilliant. There's a long legacy of important artists who have either studied or taught at nearby UC Davis. Additionally, the graffiti culture is famed, as the train yards around the city give testament. But a mural festival in this day and age, given Instagram moments and the notoriety that many muralists enjoy these days, is a different type of legacy to consider. Wide Open Walls, then, is opening wider, as it begins to engage with some major stars of that genre, such as Shepard Fairey, How and Nosm, Axel Void, and Hera, all shaping how the city broadens as a growing cultural hub.

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Mural by Raphael Delgado

This is why Juxtapoz wanted to host a panel in Sacramento during Wide Open Walls, engaging the community with stories from Wide Open Walls' organizer, David Sobon, as well as reps from Murals In the Market in Detroit, POW! WOW! in Hawaii and Wynwood Walls in Miami. The discussions opened a portal to learning about fundraising, organizing a festival, as well as the inevitable conflicts and bonds that result in such a partnership. This looks like a flexible blueprint for Wide Open Walls in the coming years, as it nurtures civic discourse about public art in Sacramento and beyond. With the constant fear that murals are the trigger for gentrification or unwanted, sterile growth, these panels are needed more and more. The community should be allowed to comment and add their opinions about shifting public space.

Of course, there are inherent advantages and disadvantages as a festival opens itself to public scrutiny, but during this panel, and the week that followed, I perceived a process that will foster a broader, even more vibrant Wide Open Walls moving forward. With fully half the roster made up of local artists, healthy, robust debate emerges just as it has in the long-established Nuart Festival, a preeminent voice in street art for almost two decades. They’re the benchmark, and they have lasted this long because they open the doors to progressive dialogue, dedicated to how public art can better serve a community.

Mural by Alexis Diaz

“We learn a lot every time we engage with the community, and we have to do it consistently,” Wide Open Walls’ Sobon told us. “There has been and there always will be controversy when producing a street art festival. Whether it’s subject matter, or someone feeling left out, it’s important to remember how different and diverse our neighborhoods are, how important it is to respect the writers, the OGs, the people that came before me, and helped produce the hundreds of murals our community has enjoyed before we showed up. We have to keep them involved in the discussion. Moving forward involves changes in how we program events; music, lighting, logistics, pop-up shows or educational components.”

This year's Wide Open Walls had one of its strongest rosters, from Hoxxoh, Alexis Diaz, Jessie and Katey, Jillian Evelyn, Mars-1, Jose Di Gregorio, Kirileigh Jones, Lauren YS, Kristin Farr and more. We engaged in numerous conversations during the week about how Juxtapoz's own coverage of public art (our open letter to Stockton, California in 2012, being cited a few times) has helped shape personal relationships within mural and street art festivals. Wide Open Walls spans the campus of Sacramento State, across town to City Hall, down alleyways, and fanning out to the many neighborhood theaters. Choreographing a more sustainable, enduring festival forms a living template, and by embracing discourse, Sacramento can boast a model for how public art lives in a city, 365 days a year.

Mural by Jessie and Katey

“It’s important to listen to our community and also bring them new ideas and artists from around the world,” Sobon said of how Sacramento can continue to support such a festival. “We will strive to figure out the balance of entertainment and art, but it might be as simple as just recruiting the best artists in the world to come paint in the capital of California, and giving the locals every opportunity to shine, treating everyone with respect, providing the best hospitality we can offer, and letting the world know about the gifts the artists have left our community.” Evan Pricco

Wide Open Walls will take place in Sacramento, California from September 10th–24th, 2020.