Sac State alum’s art in new Golden 1 Center inspired by local rivers

This article was originally published on on Oct. 19, 2016.

When it was announced in early 2015 that an $8 million sculpture called “Coloring Book” by renowned artist Jeff Koons would be the centerpiece of downtown Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, the community was shocked that it wasn’t a piece commissioned by one of the many talented artists in town.

In the midst of the controversy over local representation, the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission decided to host an open call to regional talents for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to have their works featured at the arena.

One of those 135 submissions was from Sac State alumnus and local award-winning artist Bryan Valenzuela, whose pitch was inspired by the convergence of the Sacramento and American rivers.

With a budget of $350,000, Valenzuela brought his idea to life by using 400 handblown turquoise glass balls vibrantly marbled with yellow-green and subtle hints of gold fabrication representing the Gold Rush. Valenzuela also used 109 stainless steel rods to construct the abstract sculpture spanning almost the entire length of the atrium at the arena’s 5th and L Streets entrance.

A portrait of Bryan Valenzuela (Photo by Jessica Wilson)

Valenzuela said that the idea to name the piece “Multitudes Converge” initially came to him after reading the last line of David Mitchell’s work Cloud Atlas: “Yet what is an ocean, but a multitude of drops.”

“It was kind of the idea that from many things come this one thing,” Valenzuela said.

The many things that Valenzuela alludes to have to do with how the Golden 1 Center was built with the intention of unifying the many aspects that make Sacramento great, such as architecture, sports, arts, entertainment, politics and the community.

“What I did is very regional and site-specific,” Valenzuela said. “I don’t think I would’ve done the same thing at a different space. The piece is so much a part of the history of this region even if it may not be as readily apparent to many.”

“Multitudes Converge,” Valenzuela’s first sculpture, took the artist over a year to finish, with the installation of the sculpture occurring just days before the arena’s official opening.

The construction process allowed Valenzuela to travel to Europe to work with artists who have been fabricating glasses for decades. There, he collaborated with artisans from the Czech Republic to assemble the glass globes and with artisan Franz Mayer of Munich to fabricate the layout of each globe.

Bryan Valenzuela 6
(Courtesy of Joan Cusick Photography)

“It’s an engineering feat,” said Valenzuela of what it took to sculpt “Multitudes Converge.”

“I knew that I wanted to make something beautiful and evocative of the region —something that when people go up the escalator, they can experience that moment of ‘ahh’ and take them out of whatever they’re doing,” Valenzuela said.  “Just like Gale Hart said to me, ‘We’re artists, we’re just supposed to decorate the world.’ ”

Gale Hart was another local artist chosen to have her work displayed at the arena.

For Valenzuela, however, art was never his ultimate career choice. His time at Sacramento State in the early 2000s can attest to the fact that he was more musically-inclined than artistic.

“I loved Sac State when I was there,” Valenzuela said. “I didn’t even start doing art until I went to Sac State. When I started there, I was actually pursuing the music department.”

Valenzuela, who is also the current lead vocalist of the local rock band Exquisite Corps, said that his change of mind in pursuing art had plenty to do with the way the professors were welcoming him to the program.

“I started taking some elective classes in art,” Valenzuela said. “I never even had any experience with art prior to that, and the teachers there were so inspiring. If I had gone to the bigger school, I might have never had the same kind of attention; I made real relationships with those teachers there.”

With a successful music career in Sacramento and a sculpture permanently residing in Golden 1 Center, it might be difficult to pinpoint what’s next for Valenzuela. His accomplishments are beginning to allow him to lend his name to other upcoming projects of similar scopes.

Valenzuela said he is also working on an upcoming auxiliary project called “It Takes a Village.” The exhibit, paying homage to the more than 40 individuals who helped him create “Multitudes Converge,” will be shown at Sacramento City Hall.

“Being someone who was given such a great opportunity to show (work) at the arena, I thought that it was one of those moments of ‘go big or go home,’ ” Valenzuela said. “This is a perfect time to just prove to yourself (that you can do it because) if you trust yourself and if you have a great resource behind you, you can do anything.”

Sac State alumnus’ swastika sculpture benched from ArtStreet extravaganza

This article was originally published on on Feb. 7, 2017.

When artist Heston Hurley arrived at the abandoned warehouse on First Avenue to attend to his swastika-shaped bench installed for the pop-up ArtStreet exhibit on Friday, he was asked to leave by an event coordinator.

Hurley said a woman working with ArtStreet, who he ended up in a heated exchange with, told him that the bench was no longer allowed in the exhibit because it was a totally different design than one he submitted in the proposal during the approval process.

“I was not the only (artist to show a different design),” Hurley said. “I think it was the content of my art piece that was so upsetting.”

The Sacramento State interior architecture alumnus’ bench takes the shape of a swastika with red, white and blue painted on all sides and a large white star in the center.

For Hurley, he said the bench was meant to be used as a space where dialogues can flow freely without judgment, given the political climate in the country at the moment.

It was also a statement intended to take back the symbol from its negative connotation, made infamous after World War II, and instead, celebrate its history of being a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism from at least 11,000 years ago.

Hurley said he wanted to use the bench, decked out in the tricolor of American patriotism, to get people to think and move forward together.

The wooden swastika-shaped bench painted with red, white and blue stripes was displayed at the abandoned warehouse on First Avenue — the location of ArtStreet — before being removed by the event coordinators. (Photo courtesy of Heston Hurley)

However, these messages were lost, Hurley said, when his sculpture was shown for a brief 24 hours at ArtStreet, which is a 23-day pop-up art experience from Feb. 3 to 25 — put on by M5Arts, the masterminds behind last year’s popular Art Hotel exhibit — showcasing the work of more than 100 artists, sculptors and photographers from around the world in downtown Sacramento.“I’m not a Nazi and I’m not a racist,” Hurley said. “I knew that it was going evoke some types of emotional responses, whether that be positive or negative. I can do puppy dogs and kitty cats. Everyone likes that (but) that doesn’t say anything.”

Hurley said he brought configurations of the bench sculpture to the warehouse early Thursday. When he was away for a quick nap, a few people working at the event, who knew of the design concept, assembled the pieces into the swastika shape without his knowledge and displayed it to the public.

As Hurley returned to the warehouse later that evening, he saw that the bench was already dismantled, drinks were spilled on various spots and people were kicking it in anger.

Hurley said that he believes the decision to remove his piece from the installation has to do with a consensus from the artists and public patrons who were at the site for the first night’s VIP reception.

Pieces of the bench are placed in a studio before being installed at the warehouse on First Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Heston Hurley)

Scott Eggert, a spokesman for ArtStreet and member of M5Arts, insists that the decision to pull the piece has no political motives, but rather the fact that the swastika design did not go through M5Arts’ curatorial process.

Eggert also said that Hurley’s submission file indicates that the artist proposed to exhibit a metal sculpture, but instead, a set of wooden benches with latex paint were displayed on the day of.

Per the mistreatments toward the bench, Eggert said that M5Arts co-founder Shaun Burner has extended an apology to Hurley and is willing to personally fix any damage caused at the scene of the installation.

“While I sympathize with (Hurley) on the fact that he worked over five days on (the bench), there are over 100 other artists who have been working over two months on their artworks,” Eggert said. “(These artists) developed their works along our curatorial framework to fit in with the collection of arts at ArtStreet.”

As a prominent player in the art community at Sac State, graduate student Mustafa Shaheen, who has worked with Hurley in the same studio in the past, said that the sculptor’s anger was “absolutely justifiable,” even if that was directed more toward the fact the piece was shown to the public without Hurley’s consent.

“Whether (the decision of ArtStreet’s coordinators) was politics-based or not, I can’t say,” Shaheen said. “But why should Heston (Hurley) censor anything? This is ArtStreet, not your local cafe.”

Eggert said that even if the interaction between Hurley and the woman involved with the event on Friday was loud and discourteous, he still respects the Sac State alum and hopes that Hurley wouldn’t be hesitated to join M5Arts in future projects.

In a Facebook status posted on Saturday, Hurley wrote that the incident won’t make him boycott the event as he still fully supports the unique festivities.

“Somebody said to me that (the swastika) is a symbol of hate, and I said “You know the cross can be viewed that way too?’” Hurley said. “We may seem divided at this point (so) let’s sit down, have a dialogue and let’s show how we’re all the same and not how we’re all different.”

Student-athletes, expert discuss LGBT issues faced in athletics

This article was originally published on on April 13, 2017.

When Abby Wambach leapt over the crowd to kiss her wife after winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup against Japan in 2015, the world was treated to a moment rarely seen in athletics.

For some fans, the now-retired U.S. soccer star’s high-profile victory kiss was an appropriate celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage just one week before the World Cup final.

But for Sacramento State softball infielder Tiffany Moore, a sophomore history major, the smooch was more than that — it made her proud to be both an athlete and a lesbian.

Sacramento State softball sophomore infielder Tiffany Moore and women’s basketball senior guard Emily Easom said that they have dealt with stereotypes about being “less feminine” during their time in athletics. (Photo courtesy of Sacramento State Athletics)

“That’s my No. 1 team,” Moore said. “I just love how many gay players there (were on) that team.”

In the world of sports, a stigma surrounding LGBT athletes has existed for decades and coming out can be an intimidating challenge given the risks — from teams, fans and society — involved.

The so-called “locker room culture” is also a factor that may sway some closeted athletes away from coming out, as some believe they must portray a masculine persona at all times, according to Katherine Jamieson, the chair of Sac State’s department of kinesiology and health science.

Jamieson said that athletes who decide to come out only do so after confirming their status as being publicly “masculine” in their athleticism, so much so that they’re willing to take the “gender risk.”

“This can happen to women too, but this is more common with men,” she said. “They feel like there are rewards already coming because of that elite athleticism.”

At Sac State, Moore is in a group of very few athletes who decided to play their respective sports while being upfront about their sexual orientation. Two other student-athletes are women’s basketball senior guard Emily Easom and men’s soccer junior midfielder Elias Rieland — who is the only openly gay male athlete The State Hornet was able to find on campus.

Rieland made the decision to come out during his first season with the team. He said that coming out to his teammates and coach individually helped take the edge off of having to worry about putting up a facade on a daily basis.

“When I came to Sac State, I realized that being closeted affected my sports more than anything because I was more worried about that than actually performing,” Rieland said. “The minute I let that go, I started doing much better.”

Sacramento State men’s soccer junior midfielder Elias Rieland said that coming out to his teammates at Sac State was a nerve-wracking experience because of his experiences at an Arizona boarding school. (Photo by John Ferrannini)

Rieland also said coming out was a nerve-wracking experience because of what he once went through at a boarding school in Arizona before coming to Sacramento.

“Around that time, the words ‘f—–’ and ‘gay’ got tossed around a lot,” Rieland said. “But I think I was also just nervous because of the locker room situation.”

Rieland disregards what others have to think about his sexual orientation because he said that being gay doesn’t dictate whether he’s good at soccer or not. Instead, he’d rather show how being gay doesn’t interfere with how he performs on the field.

However, Jamieson said that coming out doesn’t solve problems from a personal or societal point of view. She questioned what coaches could do to create an ideal setting for all athletes to compete at their best and not be distracted by the “unnecessary vulnerabilities.”

As the first openly gay athlete to be drafted in the National Football League by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2014, Michael Sam’s experience was an example of how difficult it is to find success within the league, unlike former NBA player Jason Collins and Major League Soccer midfielder Robbie Rogers of the LA Galaxy — who both came out as gay in 2013.

In Sam’s case, the Rams cut him before the regular season even began. During his stint with the Dallas Cowboys, Sam was put on the practice squad and never managed to play in a single game.

In May 2015, Sam signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, making him the first openly gay player in that league as well. By August 2015, however, he abruptly left the league citing mental health concerns.

Jamieson said there is still a concern about whether there are enough guidelines in sports ensuring that all diversity — sexual and otherwise — is safe enough that everybody can comfortably participate in the team.

“I don’t think that we have answered that question yet,” Jamieson said.

Easom, who came out during her last year at Portland State before transferring to Sac State in 2014, said there is still a major stereotype in basketball that all female players are lesbian.

“There are people out there that may say, ‘Oh, she’s practically a dude,’ ” Easom said. “I think that female athletes, in general, are looked at as less feminine (and) gay.”

Easom said closeted athletes everywhere should feel comfortable enough to be who they are because teammates are their family members.

Like Easom, Moore said that terms like “butch” and their negative connotations have always irked her. She said she doesn’t see herself or anyone else, especially female athletes, as masculine or feminine when they’re just being themselves.

“I don’t have an image in my head of what a stereotypical female athlete looks like because they come in all shapes and sizes,” she said. “I think that for men, (the image depends on) how hard they play. And for women, (it’s) how masculine they are to play.”

Sacramento State women’s basketball senior guard Emily Easom said that she has dealt with stereotypes about being “less feminine” during her time playing basketball. (Photo by Vu Chau)

Moore also said that when other men ask who’s the “man” in her relationship with her girlfriend, it makes her mad because the question is an example of how men who categorize same-sex relationships as males have more control than females.

As someone who has worked and studied closely with the physiology of sports, Jamieson said masculinity and femininity have become binaries that athletes always uphold. She said the problem of framing others into gender categories not based on athletic ability still exists and society continues to see athletes getting “sports-typed.”

Jamieson explained that when men are seen excelling in graceful sports, they’ll always be watched, surveilled and judged because of the familiar notion of normative masculinity that society is used to.

“These are young people who are still figuring out who they want to be,” Jamieson said. “I think that sexuality is one more layer of a social condition that our student-athletes inherit.”

She said she believes coaches aren’t being prepared well enough to work with such a diverse set of student-athletes. In her own academic community, Jamieson said that this preparation is one of the most important things because she and other leaders can never surely know who’s going to sit in their classrooms.

“And I think it’s true in our athletic teams as well, because we never really know who the student-athletes truly are and what their stories are,” Jamieson said.

Within the next 10 years, Jamieson said she wonders if the world will get more comfortable with gender fluidity and see women competing against men.

She said that as a society, people have to wrestle with much more than just the facts that sexuality isn’t gender and transgender is not synonymous with gay.

“We have to be willing to complicate these categories and be willing to actually acknowledge other nuisances of diversity that exist for all of us,” Jamieson said. “Sports can be that place where we can witness that happen because of its cultural centrality. However, I think it will still be a lot of back and forth.”

Additional reporting by Carlo Marzan