July 13 2015 07:12 PM

Real estate company carves out significant space for local art

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Marc Sandoval in front of his murals inside the parking garage at Urbana
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

It's not totally earth shattering or even new or different, but incorporating original art in a building is a good idea and certainly one that not enough local real-estate companies are doing.

When H.G. Fenton opened Urbana, the new apartment complex at 450 Tenth Ave., they knew they wanted to bring the East Village vibe inside. Tapping into the local art scene was how they wanted to do that, so they enlisted the help of artist and curator Marc Sandoval and asked him to paint several large-scale murals in the subterranean parking garage, plus find local art to hang throughout the hallways on each of the complex's six floors.

"We all underestimated how much art we needed to fill this place at first," Sandoval says, with his friendly three-legged pit bull on a leash as he strolls through the first floor, showing off the art. "I think it started at about 72 and now we're up to almost 310 pieces of art in here."

Sandoval is a well-known pop-art painter who focuses on murals, graphic design and branding at local restaurants.  A bartender at Basic where he sometimes curates the pizza place's ongoing Tuesday night pop-up art exhibitions, he also ran Molotov Gallery, which was a public art space on 16th Street in East Village before his landlord increased his rent and forced him to close.

At first, Sandoval just texted a few artist friends, and asked them to hang art at Urbana. But when he saw how barren the walls looked, he reached out to a wider network and has since transformed the residential hallways into a pop-up gallery featuring an impressive mix of mostly urban art by San Diego artists such as Jimmy Ovadia, Optimus Volts, GMONIK, Espana Garcia, Emily Criscuolo and Nick McPherson. Urbana's front doors are always locked, so the makeshift gallery is open by appointment only (email marc@molotovgallery.com).

"We've sold 12 pieces in the last two months and that's without marketing it at all yet," Sandoval says.

Asked if he feels like the artists are being used to brand the space as "hip" while H.G. Fenton enjoys the increased financial perks, Sandoval says no way.

"There are so many companies that would rather just hire a design firm to spend 50 grand on generic wall graphics," he says. "I don't feel like this is contrived. I feel like it's a company investing in art rather than just trying to raise property values. This building would be sold out whether this art was here or not."

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