You Call That Art?

Yes, and It’s in Unexpected Places All Over the Central Valley

Art is all around us in California—whether it’s whizzing by on the side of a city bus or brightening the facade of a once-dingy building.
Thanks to new technology and increased support for unconventional public art, more people have more access to music, visual art, and theater than ever before. In communities like Fresno and Merced, for example, art hop events draw huge crowds eager for both an aesthetic experience and community. In advance of the Zócalo/James Irvine Foundation event in Fresno, “Where Does Art Reach Us?”, we asked local art aficionados the following question: What’s your favorite non-traditional place in the Central Valley to experience art?

Susana Sosa

Downtown Fresno

I enjoy experiencing art in downtown Fresno, which is currently being transformed by both urban redevelopment and new art venues. Take a stroll through Fulton Mall and the pedestrian pathway will take you past bronze statues by both a local artist (Clement Renzi) and a world-famous one (Auguste Renoir). When I traverse the mall, I enjoy the juxtaposition of these older artworks alongside new art galleries, studios, and contemporary public art.

I especially look for mural art, which is thriving in several areas of our city due to the artistic vision and energy of young artists. I deliberately take routes that allow me to pass by the colorful murals adorning the walls of downtown buildings. These murals vary in style—from graffiti-inspired works to those in the tradition of Diego Rivera. I love checking the progress of murals as they are being created. I’ll occasionally stop and talk to the artists, some of whom have been my students at Fresno City College.

Fresno has been enlivened by  neighborhoods where artists and art thrive. Public art adds character and content to streets that are otherwise generic and bland. The creative intervention of artists to improve this city encourages and inspires me as I move through Fresno.

Susana Sosa is an art history instructor at Fresno City College.

Heather Anderson

In the wilderness (and above 10,000 feet)

Art, for me, happens above 10,000 feet. There, I find it in the purest sense:  mostly rock, a few alpine meadows, brilliant blue lakes, magnificent glacial carved peaks, and sparkling streams, all dotted with a few snow-bent pines. Add to that a slight Sierra breeze, the feel of granite rock, and millions of stars at night in an indigo sky. I remember several glorious days in the High Sierra. I took a celebratory dip in the icy lake; evenings, I watched as alpenglow colored the peaks from gray to orange to bright pink, and back again. (Later, I painted that memory.)

Heather Anderson is an artist, former educator, and environmentalist who paints about what she works to protect.

Lee Herrick

Fresno City College

I love museums and galleries, but natural or outdoor art (sculptures, parks, ruins, and murals) move me most. In Fresno, the non-traditional place where I enjoy art most has gorgeous, red brick buildings and a library with high ceilings, pillars, and large, old wood desks. It has fountains and plenty of green trees. The place is Fresno City College.

City, as it is known in Fresno, is the oldest two-year college in the entire state and the second-oldest in the country. The architecture is art in and of itself. You would be hard pressed to find such beautiful, massive red brick buildings anywhere in California’s Central Valley. Fresno City College houses the Art Space Gallery, first-rate dance, art, poetry, and theater arts faculty and students, murals and sculptures, stunning courtyards inside the two-story Historic Old Administration Building, and the Gary Soto Literary Museum. Full disclosure: I have taught at Fresno City College since 1997. It is where dreams become reality. It is where I have looked out my office window for years and gained inspiration for poems. It is a place where poetry, music, and art flourish year after year, transforming people’s lives one beautiful vision at a time.

Lee Herrick is the author of Gardening Secrets of the Dead and This Many Miles from Desire. His poems and essays have appeared in The Bloomsbury Review, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, second edition, and Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, among others. He lives in Fresno, California and teaches at Fresno City College and in the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.

Anna Hamre

Any chorus rehearsal

My favorite non-traditional place to experience art in the Central Valley is in the rehearsals of any one of our numerous school, church, and community choirs. Choruses are the ultimate democratic artistic experience. The choruses in the Central Valley welcome singers of a variety of ages, backgrounds, training, and wealth. After all, everyone sings. The experience is so powerful that the group literally breathes together!

Anna Hamre is the director of choral activities at Fresno State University and the artistic director of the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale. These groups frequently collaborate with other ensembles, including the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra.