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The Building Imagination Center is a new visual arts and media hub in downtown Modesto. Working with the Modesto Art Museum, the Center provides the community with a visual arts gallery for world class photography, sculpture, paintings, and various other art mediums, such as video animations and interactive content.

Through its Resident Filmmaker Program, the Center brings regional documentary video artists to Modesto to actively engage the community with hands-on video creation, and to provide real world experience for California State University Stanislaus film students. It is the Center’s mission to create an environment where artists can work, thrive, and feel supported by the community, and then to catalyze this growth and leverage it to benefit the local community by creating a vibrant activation of the downtown art scene.

ArtPlace spoke with Jessica Gomula-Kruzic, Director for the Building Imagination Center, about the goals of the Center and the downtown art scene in Modesto, California.

ARTPLACE: Have you gained any political traction with your efforts?  If so, with whom and how did you do it?

GOMULA-KRUZIC: The Building Imagination Center has been very well received in Modesto by local residents, other art and civic organizations, and officials in public office. One significant indication of this acceptance is our recent invitation to be a part of the Modesto Downtown Hospitality and Promotions group. Recently, the City initiated an effort in conjunction with the Downtown Improvement District, Chamber of Commerce, and Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to improve the sociability of our downtown. This program consists of three branches: Operations, Promotions, and Economic Development. Due to the Center’s interest in creative placemaking in our downtown, we were invited to be part of the Promotions Group.

The Promotions Group focuses on promotions, marketing, special events, and public relations for the downtown area, focusing on making it look more inviting and appealing to the local citizens. While we have been contributing to the research about exactly what type of person or group is currently using the downtown area, and for what purposes, we have also played a key part in the first transformation project, which was featured in the local newspaper. Right outside of our windows, we can see the City taking its first steps towards re-imagining downtown Modesto by converting non-usable street corners into pedestrian friendly ‘parklets’. These are small urban parks created to provide a public place for citizens to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of the city around them.  Through the redistribution of city owned tree and flower planters, the addition of some decoupage painting techniques, and cafe tables and chairs, the city has in one weekend transformed the urban experience of 10th and J street. And the Building Imagination Center was right there to help.

ARTPLACE: Do you have plans to continue this type of concrete re-imagining in the future?

GOMULA-KRUSIC: Absolutely!

Our very first exhibition at the Center focused on concrete ways we could re-imagine our city through architecture, and our partner, the Modesto Art Museum, led efforts to have an Art Deco style gas station completely renovated and painted according to the community’s proposals.

Now this month, we have helped to physically transform the corner of 10th and J street by creating the pedestrian friendly parklets. Currently, we are mapping a path for others to use our downtown in new and imaginative ways by clarifying and distributing instructions on how other groups can use the downtown area for small scale events, such as the PARK(ing) Day event that the Center recently hosted, and through larger festivals, in which street closures would be applicable.

We will be walking through this process ourselves as we plan for an outdoor video festival this coming February. Our video festival is planned for an under-utilized alleyway, again just outside our windows. The video festival will involve the projected visions of half a dozen video artists, projected directly onto the walls of the alleyway. This is an intermediate step toward redeveloping the alleyway for regular pedestrian use. The Promotions Group is working to have the alleyway transformed into a visual feast through a stylistic assortment of murals.

And the Building Imagination Center will be there to help.