Levi’s Stadium is more than football, it’s an artistic showcase

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Wander the halls of Levi’s Stadium and you’ll encounter all the sights you’d expect: branded merchandise at the team store, cobblers at peaches and nacho poke at the concession stands, a fleeting glimpse of Sourdough Sam, perhaps be – and paints.

Joe Montana transitions to Jerry Rice in full glory on canvas – painted by Bart Forbes – in a hallway. Three fans cheer from the bed of a van in a triptych by artist Ben Alexy. And downstairs from the Deluxe Suites, you’ll find a breathtaking final flyover over Candlestick Park by Tom Mosser.

San Francisco 49ers intern Katrina Lamoureux looks at a painting of Joe Montana by Bart Forbes, one of the pieces in the ‘Sports and Arts’ collection that hangs in Levi’s Stadium. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

This intersection of football and fine art comes courtesy of Sports and the Arts founder Tracie Speca-Ventura, who first saw the possibilities as a teenager, first stepping into a gallery of Southern California art.

“It was a sports and arts gallery – one of a kind – and something inside me just clicked,” she says.

It was the winter of 1989 and the Cal State Northridge student-athlete had just landed her first arts-related job at the Sherman Oaks Gallery.

“I was having my first art opening with the LA Kings a few months later and I was having the best time of my life,” says Speca-Ventura, who played tennis at CSUN. “I was 19.”

Three years later, she started her own business, Sports and the Arts (SATA), on the Central Coast. The San Luis Obispo-based company designs, curates and implements large-scale art collections at sports venues across the country, from the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium to the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field. SATA has worked with the New York Yankees, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Vikings and recently, the Golden State Warriors, who wanted to host the Chase Center in San Francisco.

But with more than 200 original works by 23 artists, Levi’s Stadium’s art collection is something special. Naturally, we had questions.

Q How did you get interested in art?

A I grew up around sports with a very sports-focused family. I have always been visual. And when I entered the gallery, I immediately understood the visual impact of storytelling and art. A way to create strong moments celebrating the sport and the athlete. Capturing moments of ecstasy, agony and celebration through movement and energy.

Q How did you get that first gallery job?

A When I first walked into the gallery, I said to the owner, “I don’t know much about art, but I know a ton about sports and I can sell anything .” Confidence of a 19 year old. And I jumped in.

At the time, I liked the work so much that I would have done it for free. Meeting and working with artists and athletes was exciting and so interesting. They all came from different backgrounds and had great backgrounds and stories. The common thread was how passionate and dedicated the artists and athletes were in pursuing their art.

Q Can you tell me what Sports and Arts does in a few words?

A SATA works with our clients to create a personalized collection of works – art, photography, graphics, sculpture, etc. – that give life to their walls. We include the region and people from all walks of life, as well as the sportspeople/athletes themselves, in installations that captivate with their storytelling and powerful content.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JULY 20:
“One last flyover at Candlestick.” a painting by artist Tom Mosser from the “Sports & Arts” collection, hangs in the hallway of the luxury suites at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group )

Q How complete is one of these projects?

A Our research and development can take a few years for each specific project to uncover stories, unique visuals and allow time to create robust environments in all buildings. We select thousands of images and styles before making final selections and finding the voice of the region.

Q How do you decide on the themes and work to pursue? Does it change from team to team?

A Team involvement is key and we partner with every client to set the tone, style and concepts from day one. Many of our creative presentations open up new ideas and avenues to explore. The artwork part of every construction project becomes a celebratory experience (which) represents the team, the region and the artists in a positive and powerful way.

Q How is the particular city or region considered in the design?

A The engagement of local elements is paramount in our storytelling. Celebrating history with music, regional environmental aspects, stories from the past and, of course, sports is a way to bring the community together.

Q Paintings and arenas form an unexpected combination. Why does a sports site need art?

A With huge walls and space available in these places – blank canvases – it is a privilege to pose the model for the public. We use the word ‘storytelling’ a lot, as it describes moments, installations and the ability to walk the halls and dynamically engage the viewer.

Sure, you could hang a bunch of jerseys, but that would be stale, getting old. Our interest is to create a museum-level experience throughout the venue and to ensure that fans always see or catch something new as they walk through the building – by layering elements and ideas, so that the fan please come back for more.

Q What kind of feedback do teams get from the public — sports fans — once a project is complete?

A How do you engage the superfan? Give them pictures, stories, and ideas they forgot or didn’t know existed. The public embraces the inclusion of community works, local people and ideas and have been so appreciative of our facilities.

People have found older photos of family members, areas and moments that touch the heart and make the place much more personal – all by coincidence and discovery.

Q How did the relationship with the Niners go?

A We were thrilled to team up with the Niners and Levi’s Stadium. With the move instead of Santa Clara (in 2014), the Niners wanted to embrace the Northern California environment and really celebrate the region. Hiring local artists and photographers to celebrate the team and history was an exciting project. We’ve brought elements from the 1800s to the present day.

Q We’re all obsessed with the Niners of the 1980s – Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott. Did you have to work hard to limit the amount of 80s memorabilia?

A Celebrating the rich history of the team with not only specific players, but also moments in time has a visual impact. (We were) focusing on certain players and their success, of course, but also old program artwork from the early days, celebrating times gone by. It’s a tapestry of decades and moments.

Q We talked about football, of course, but you also worked at the Chase Center. Can you tell us about that?

A Chase Center was a great project to work on with the building’s contemporary vibe and inclusion of music, culture and crew. We included many local artists – and the Warriors championship teams were a pleasure to feature.

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