Interactive Art An Attention Grabber In Natomas

Several Natomas families have embraced the interactive aspect of Joe Scarpa’s sculpture.

Whether you love it, hate it or simply don’t get it, one thing is certain the “Authors of Our Own Destiny” sculpture in front of the North Natomas Library is likely to grab your attention. Joe Scarpa’s interactive public art piece has been the topic of debate since its unveiling earlier this year. Today we share one reader’s opinion on the topic.

Taggers of Our Own Destiny: Let’s Close the Book on Graffiti in Natomas

Commentary by Keith Sharward 
Sometimes what seems like a nice idea turns out not to be so nice.

In September 2008, The Sacramento Bee published an article about the rise in graffiti throughout the Sacramento area, and it included a map showing the increase in reported tagging-related vandalism incidents. North Natomas was, not surprisingly, one of our city’s hardest hit areas.*

As someone who regularly reports such graffiti sightings to our city’s graffiti abatement team and volunteers in clean-up efforts, I was more than surprised that a book sculpture had been commissioned for Del Paso Road in front of our beautiful, new full-service crown jewel library late last year that literally invites the public to paint whatever it wishes upon it.
According to a press release from Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, “The interactive artwork by Joe Scarpa, titled ‘Authors of our own Destiny’ [is] . . . visible from a distance, but is also meant to be seen and used by people on foot. . . Scarpa purposefully designed the book sculpture as a blank canvas to be painted or drawn on by the general public, patrons of the library, and students attending the adjacent high school and community college. The artist imagines that the book’s surface will be spontaneously painted with images, writings, and stories — providing the community with a temporary platform for their their ideas and artworks. The paintings and drawings will only be preserved until the next person paints the over the surface.”
Sure, we often see fun and interesting stuff painted on the sculpture — but we also see material that resembles vandalism found in the grittiest, most challenged, and frankly, most dangerous gang-infested neighborhoods in our city.
What’s worse is that the “artists” who “tag” the sculpture are not breaking the law, but are often reported to police in what appears to be a crime in progress by citizens who are probably unaware of the purpose of the sculpture.
Then there’s the religious debate over what constitutes “art” and whether such “tagging” falls into the category.
Many North Natomas residents believe it was a mistake to take such a risk in one of Sacramento’s newest neighborhoods that has struggled to maintain itself, and I am one of them.
What was supposed to be a canvas for spontaneous and dynamic community creativity has become somewhat of a public nuisance.
I believe it is time for our city to suspend the artist’s well-intentioned but ill-fated invitation to the public to decorate the book sculpture and instead move towards a more traditional concept for the piece that will sustain a consistent appearance of beauty and stability in the eyes of our community’s majority. I realize this will make the sculpture more sterile and perhaps even boring to some, and I will join in mourning the loss of the dream of a clever concept — but given the chaos and abuse that the sculpture has endured since its unveiling, I believe it is the sensible thing to do for our community. 
Keith Sharward, a Natomas resident since 1994, is a member of the Natomas Crime & Safety Leadership Team and is co-founder of Witter Ranch Community Alliance, a volunteer association of the Gateway West and Park View neighborhoods of North Natomas. 
*”Vandalism hits the city: Property owners see red on graffiti.” The Sacramento Bee, September 30, 2008, Page B1.


  1. I think the sculpture is genius. Not everyone likes what is painted each time. But who is to say what is art and what is not art. It is a place for artist of all types to express themselves. It is not giving taggers a license to break the law. It is giving them a place to express themselves. An appropriate place to do it! (I am a 40 year old mom-not a tagger or a tagger friend. I am someone who loves the idea of letting people express themselves)

  2. I couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Sharward. His argument boils down to contentions that this artwork “resembles vandalism” and leads to uninformed passers-by calling the police unnecessarily, hardly compelling reasons to remove something that is not, in fact, vandalism. Beyond that, he calls the piece a “risk” and a “public nuisance,” but doesn’t back up those assertions in any way.

    I for one love the fact that we have one more piece of public art in our community; I love the fact that members of the public contribute to it on a regular basis; and I love the fact that it changes all the time, rather than being statically designed and approved by individuals who believe only they are qualified to determine what art looks like.

  3. I believe to the average person, it appears that the sculpture has been overrun by graffiti taggers — especially its back side.

    I resent the artist telling me (on Fox40) that if I don’t like the tags, I can spend my own time cleaning it up. I spend too much time already cleaning up graffiti in my community — I believe the last thing we need is a structure that sanctions it.

    The piece might have been successful in my view if it had been placed in an environment where the contributions could be more closely supervised — not on on such a busy thoroughfare.

    For those who enjoy looking at the images on the back of that book — good for you, but I believe they are incompatible with the values of the greater community and tarnish the image of Natomas, and I believe our tax dollars should be spent more wisely than that.

    I will continue to call for the piece to be cleaned up and brought under some sense of control.

  4. It took me a while to figure out that the book was supposed to be painted on and that the paintings were supposed to change. Before I figured it out I was upset because I thought the artwork had been defaced but then I figured it out and I appreciate Scarpa’s idea of interactive art. I have grown eager to see what comes next. Who wants to see that same piece of artwork day in and day out? This is an absolutely brilliant way to bring the community together and an even more clever way to teach kids art appreciation. Where better to teach art appreciation to kids and young adults then in front of the high school and community college? I love it!

    I find it deplorable for people to waste taxpayer money calling the authorities for community members using the art piece for its intended purpose. Talk about a lack of control and complete contradiction to the statement about preservation of taxpayer monies. A little common sense, please!

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