Paint The Town

Artists local and afar make city murals unique

By Cecily Hastings
May 2024

David Sobon has overseen the creation of more than 200 local murals with Wide Open Walls, a nonprofit art organization he founded in 2017. His new passion is creating murals for local schools in underserved neighborhoods.

Murals bring social, cultural and economic benefits. They build a sense of community and offer accessibility to art and creative expression without the cost barriers of museums and galleries.

“Outdoor murals have a proven track record to be a fairly inexpensive way to enhance the image of cities,” Sobon says.

Our city’s murals have been featured in widespread media. The cover of Parade magazine recognized one as best in the state.

“We’ve had the privilege of working with more than 200 artists,” Sobon says. “We value and support artists, providing opportunities for both experienced and emerging talents to showcase their work.

“Notably, we have provided more than 30 artists—some without prior mural experience—with the chance to paint their first mural in public, all while ensuring fair compensation. Many of these artists have continued to build on this opportunity, supplementing or making a living through mural painting.

“This commitment to empowering artists underscores our dedication to fostering creativity and growth within the community.”

I’ve admired Sobon’s vision and energy since we met while serving on the city arts commission.

Sobon raises funds for Wide Open Walls from individuals, institutions and grants. His organization provides project management, insurance, storage, festival logistics and business expenses. It helps cover artist fees, supplies and equipment.

Sobon partners with property owners to select locations where landlords may fund mural art. Sponsors fund the festivals or murals if a property owner can’t fund themselves.

Typically, a call goes out for artists to apply for specific projects. “We have a waiting list of more than 200 artists that want to participate,” Sobon says.

Wide Open Walls selects the best proposals and curates the imagery. Neighborhood location, diversity and type of business are considered.

Muralists are local and from out of town. Local artists predominate, but Sobon notes, “We are also proud to include world-renowned muralists, whose technical prowess and popularity only enhance our city’s cultural landscape. Their willingness to collaborate with local artists has been a boon, offering invaluable learning opportunities and raising the bar for artistic excellence in our community.”

Enthusiasm among local artists for international talent is palpable. “Most view it not as competition, but as a unique chance to learn, grow and be inspired,” Sobon says.

Some local artists prefer only home-grown talent. They say compensation is inadequate given the time involved, especially for artists without extensive mural experience.

Growing pains are not surprising. Sacramento is becoming one of the world’s premier cities for outdoor art, thanks to the blend of local and international talent under Wide Open Walls.

“We have dedicated seven years to actively engaging with Sacramento’s muralist community, using gallery shows, social media, word of mouth and an open application process to ensure our outreach is comprehensive,” Sobon says.

While some festivals don’t compensate mural artists beyond expenses and supplies, Wide Open Walls always pays stipends and benefits.

“We lead the way with some of the most generous stipends available, making a clear distinction in our commitment to valuing artistic contributions,” Sobon says.

The artist fee or stipend may not cover all of an artist’s time. But rewards go beyond an hourly wage. Exposure can be huge. All murals are identified by their artist. As artists add murals to portfolios, they hone skills.

“Our festival platform is about giving their artwork visibility and a chance to be critiqued and enjoyed for years to come,” Sobon says. “It’s an entry-level steppingstone, providing exposure beyond what’s typically achievable through galleries or local fairs.

“While we recognize that it’s impossible to please everyone, we pledge to continually strive to improve and address any concerns raised.”

Wide Open Walls’ mission includes painting murals in schools. The Uplifting Schools program collaborates with Sacramento City Unified.

“We are investing in our local schools and have painted more than 200 murals in the district in the last year,” Sobon says. “A very diverse group of artists both locally and nationally are painting them using imagery from historical and popular figures, landscapes and geometric designs. We are also featuring a great collection of street art, including messaging for the students.

“We hope to expand this program in all the school districts in Sacramento County, one school at a time.”

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Cecily Hastings can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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