Is Sacramento’s monthly art event on its way out—or better than ever?
By Lovelle Harris
Like anything that’s romanticized, there seems to be an innate need to recapture what once was—or at least the perception of what was. Nostalgia and longing can turn a memory into something of Homeric proportions.
Second Saturday, perhaps because of its longevity or the arrival of its rivals in Elk Grove, Roseville and El Dorado Hills, seems to have fallen prey to the ultimate in romantic folklore: That it’s dead or dying tragically on the vine.
But for many, rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated.
Second Saturday isn’t over, they say, it just isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it just might be better.
“I think [attendance] has crept up a little bit from last year,” says Rob Kerth, executive director of the Midtown Business Association. “What I think has happened is the event is a bit more spread out now. So, to just the casual observer, it seems less intense.”
Still, the September 2010 shooting that left 24-year-old Second Saturday patron Victor Zavala dead, cast an undeniable pall on the monthly event.
Pam Danskin had just finished her shift at the Old Spaghetti Factory and was enjoying a nightcap at Original Pete’s when the shooting occurred just after midnight on J Street between 18th and 19th streets.
The murder, she says, changed her perception of Second Saturday.
“I felt that they should have canceled Second Saturday. Somebody died [and] it put a damper on the atmosphere,” Danskin says.
It also seemed to put a damper on attendance, she says.
“This summer … I feel like it’s been slower. There are a lot of people who attend it still, but I don’t feel like it’s as crazy busy as it has been over the past couple of years,” she says.
Kerth, however, insists that the incident didn’t have a major impact on the monthly art walk.
It’s still a lively and well-attended event, he says.
“Artists need venues. They don’t create their art to go into a box, they want people to see it, they want it to be meaningful to people,” Kerth says. “So, for not very much money and for not a lot of an investment, they’re pretty sure a lot of folks are going to see their art.
Although the sparsely filled streets on the 20th Street corridor at last month’s event may have seemingly given credence to the rumors of Second Saturday’s imminent demise, there were still many busy galleries.
Less party, more art
Indeed, Second Saturday isn’t only about the colorful canvases that hang on those prim and proper white gallery walls anymore—the event has morphed into an artistic melting pot that unites the formally trained visual artist with local artisans, musicians and performers.
“It’s been a consistent crowd, and everybody seems to be in a really happy spirit, so we love that. And they’re purchasing, so that’s even better,” says Michael Misha Kennedy, artist and owner of Midtown’s Kennedy Gallery.
On this particular Saturday night, it’s hard to miss the security presence. Along with forces from the Sacramento City Police department, there’s a pack of Guardian Angels cruising the scene for signs of trouble.
This is the Guardian Angels’ third year patrolling the scene, says member Patrick Kent, and so far, it’s been business as usual.
“My understanding is that there has been no increase in violence. It’s been pretty quiet and peaceful,” Kent says.
As such, some gallery owners say they’re concentrating on Second Saturday’s original focus: The art.
“We’re going to stay positive about why we [participate in] the art walk and keep promoting the arts that we have here in Sacramento,” Kennedy says.
Certainly, his gallery’s September offerings—performances by the Sacramento Ballet and a live jazz band—seemed to underscore this point.
As the shriek of a jittery trumpet blared out in the warm evening air, Kennedy welcomed yet another animated cluster of potential art buyers; there wasn’t a steady steam of attendees crowding the streets all at once, but rather concentrated groups of people who flowed in and out of the galleries in bunches.
For people such as Jenny Briggs, one of the artists-in-residence at the Kennedy Gallery who comes down from Folsom to show her work, the exposure to potential buyers is essential.
“They’re here because they like to look at art, and they’re all not going to buy, you know, but that’s OK,” Briggs says. “When they say, ‘I love your work,’ that makes me smile, and then I’m happy.”
That vibe is pervasive as crew of fishnet stocking-wearing representatives of the Sac City Rollers roller derby team cruise up and down the grid looking for new recruits and a gentle breeze scoops up the fragrant essence from a nearby restaurant and perfumes the air with its scent.
“We’re really happy with the event this year,” Kerth says. “It continues to be: 1. fun, and 2. economically very important to the businesses here.”
Grow bigger, grow up
For Liz Donner, Second Saturday is still a crucial part of the city’s art scene—but one in need of fine-tuning.
Donner should know. An artist and a musician, she used to own the Fools Foundation gallery in Midtown—a place once revered for its attention to starkly do-it-yourself music and art.
Second Saturday’s popularity is the very thing that may hurt it in the end, she says.
“Sometimes I wonder what Fools Foundation would be like now on Second Saturday. I think it’s odd that an event to showcase local galleries and artists would be the center of such attention,” she says. “Most likely [the increased attendance] is a result of the stifled art community having all the action be on one night. I think we are getting better, but the city needs to stand up, start helping and talk [about] funding and solutions.
“This city needs major help in entertainment and the arts,” she adds. “One night? I’m talking multiple arts, film and music events every night of the week. Spread it out.”
While some galleries and shops do offer events on other weekends—“Third Saturday” openings have grown in popularity in recent years—it’s that second weekend in the month that still draws the most patrons more than 20 years after local galleries began participating. Certainly, most members of the Midtown business community still consider the event a financial boon.
And with an average monthly attendance of 20,000 in 2010, generating approximately $240,000 a month in revenue, Kerth estimates that this year’s Second Saturday attendance is on track to either match or best that total.
Even Donner believes that the event’s enduring presence—despite its flaws—is ultimately good for the community.
“Any opportunity artists have to openly display and sell to a wide audience is positive. Second Saturday has always been an incredible event and the growth and popularity in the last few years, although challenging, is wonderful and to be celebrated.”