Meet the Sacramento Art Galleries That Have Hooked Up and Going On • Sacramento News & Review
By Casey Rafter
Embarrassed by age, the dark planks visible in the cement of the Brickhouse Gallery have outlived their original purpose: once sheet metal by Soracco, the space has now hosted artists and patrons passing through its entrance for a quarter of a year. century. Brickhouse’s backyard is home to an eclectic jungle of oddities, including a wooden horse riding on springs caught mid-jump, and – at its center – a large domed oven made of ceramic shards whose emblem fractured sun teases curious passers-by in the street.
It’s an image that can conjure up Sacramento’s larger art scene: a collection of talented creators, all looking for a place to nurture their talent, build community, and connect them with an audience.
SN&R recently polled the landscape of Sacramento gallery owners and supporters, who all pointed out that the city’s artists continue to create provocative work.
And his galleries continue to be delighted to share this work.
Tree City’s niche galleries also provide minority artists with safe spaces in which to create. For more than 15 years, Michael Mischa Kennedy, owner and director of the Kennedy Gallery, has been a strong supporter of Sacramento artists within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Kennedy lamented the loss of the Tim Collom Gallery and Beatnik Studios, as well as the fact that galleries like Jay Jay are reducing their activities due to the pandemic. The Kennedy Gallery’s own path out of the 2020 closures has been treacherous, though it has used the closure as an opportunity to fully catalog its artists while creating an online marketplace.
“The first few months leveled us out,” Kennedy admitted. “Most of us are not taking advantage of the peripheral funds and resources that are available to the rest of the economy.”
Kennedy added that the number of visitors did not rebound quickly: “I mean, from 3,000 to 5,000 guests every second Saturday, we [then] went down to a few hundred. We tell people we need a lifeboat here. We are suffering; we don’t want to go bankrupt; we believe this is an important platform for the community.
One bright spot was a grant from the Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce that allowed Kennedy to waive bid fees throughout 2021 — an offer he plans to extend through 2022. Kennedy, also an artist, agreed that additional government and local support is vital.
“Being invisible people – gay artists, and our culture is stuck in the dregs,” he said. “They just don’t have the same marketing and media potential as regular galleries. We always manage — by sticking together — to maintain this platform. I really want to make sure that minority artists, in particular, have the chance to see themselves in these exhibitions.
Sparrow Gallery, tucked away in a space in the WP Fuller building on R Street, showcases the art of mostly female artists, though its owner Cynthia Lou says this local emphasis isn’t exclusive.
“The last two years have probably been the most exciting two years to see artists come through,” Lou told SN&R. “We have a big pool of young artists right now and they need a platform. I noticed that local artists were starting to be at a disadvantage, almost competing with artists from Los Angeles, or artists from the Midwest, who were trying to enter the California market.
Faced with the extended closure of his gallery in 2020, Lou added a virtual gallery to Sparrow’s website. Until February 2022, the space will host photo prints by Dianne Poinsky, whose studio at ARTHOUSE is upstairs at the Sparrow. Lou explained that while the online gallery isn’t a physical copy of the Sparrow space, it’s something she’s wanted to do for some time.
“For artists who aren’t comfortable in a physical space yet, we can move them into a virtual space, and they’re sure to have a solo show,” Lou noted, pointing out that the virtual space allows it to handle more exposures simultaneously. “I have a client in San Francisco who is still watching this virtual show, so he’s bringing in people from out of the area who may not come to Sacramento all the time.”
With three decades of history in Sacramento, Axis Gallery has had more staying power than most. According to its president, Tavarus Blackmon, when that longevity was threatened by the pandemic, Axis received generous support from the Verge Center for the Arts, which shares its space with the Axis member collective. Like Kennedy, Blackmon hopes for increased support and visibility from local officials.
“In 2020, we were significantly over budget,” Blackmon explained. “Verge allowing us to maintain this space was vital to our survival. Grants for Creative Community [helped us] be aware of our rent, move into . I would like to see more.
According to Blackmon, loyal customers make up the bulk of Axis visitors. This led him to doubt that the space would increase its audience. Blackmon believes that by adding a few artists to its membership, Axis can expand its reach.
“As new members come in, new communities begin to enter the space,” he said. “Our networks continue to grow. The gallery is made up of working professionals, self-taught artists, trained artists, educators.
In an effort to provide potential artists with a better opportunity to join the collective, Blackmon and Axis Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Manuel Rios, is endeavoring to provide a scholarship for membership.
“I seek to attract people who are enthusiastic about membership and willing to contribute, regardless of their ability to pay dues,” Blackmon said. “We were fortunate to receive grants from the City of Sacramento Office of Arts and Culture. I think a good use of this money would be to support an artist who needs financial help to be a member.
The city’s gallery spaces come in many forms, but all serve as a place for the artists they commune with, nurturing that person’s talent and potential. Another example is The Garage on the Grove, or TGTG, which is tucked away in a residential neighborhood in North Sacramento. It is a place where you feel like home. For neighbors Jen Merrill and Jefferson Eisenberg, it is.
“It’s my garage,” Eisenberg said. “Jen lives next door to me, and her yard is sometimes used for projects. We want local artists to have a place to come out and experiment, and try new things in a place where they [don’t] to feel commercial pressures and to feel like they had permission and support… It’s something that should exist in any art scene.
Perhaps one of TGTG’s most extreme commitments to its artist collaborations is “Fractured River” by local artist Jodi Connelly in April 2021. By cutting into the gallery’s structural walls, Connelly created an enigmatic depiction of the impact of hydraulic gold mining on Yuba County’s waterways.
“She went to town – we had people who didn’t believe it was our real wall,” Merill recalls. “We absolutely did not put up a false wall. We just fixed this one when we finished the show. We’re trying to bring it home: give us your craziest idea. Of course, no one thinks they can destroy the gallery. Maybe you can’t destroy the roof, but if you need it, tell us and we’ll find a solution.
When the partners brought TGTG to fruition, they agreed not to limit its artists to just local talent. According to Eisenberg, since the gallery opened in 2018, they have nurtured an ever-expanding network of artists willing to test their limits.
“Here, people can come together. It’s our little labor of love,” Eisenberg observed with a smile, remembering the cost of a recent installation. “Some men buy jet skis. We do this.
“It’s our dream for people to come out and be energized by that,” Merill continued. “We are not against artists coming from other regions, but we see the need for non-commercial experimentation here. We do it for our souls and for our art and for the artists. It makes our lives so much better and we hope it makes the lives of artists better.