Building a Better Modesto

Modesto Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Modesto, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 29, 2013

Parklets in the design district during Park(ing) Day, part of the Modesto International Architecture Festival in September

The sixth annual Modesto International Architecture Festival is over: nine days and 100 tours, exhibits, movies, talks, workshops, and special events, and all but one in the design district. We had record crowds, including 300 attendees at the architecture movie night at the State Theatre and 45 young architects at the kids’ workshop. We are still counting the numbers, but we feel confident that we will break the record set last year. During September, more than 7,600 architecture tour guides were downloaded from the museum website; 885 visitors consulted the architecture database, and the museum and festival Facebook pages were visited by more than 15,000.

Part of the festival included participating in Park(ing) Day, when parking places in the city’s design district were taken over and turned into temporary parklets. The event was covered in the local newspaper with an article and photo on the front page of the second section.

More than 290 people participated in our Instagram Architecture Photo Contest. Hundreds of photos of architecture and landscape in the Modesto area were entered and prizes were given for the best ones.

Never has there been so much interest in architecture, landscape, and urban design in Modesto. In the week immediately after the festival, I was invited to talk to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce Leadership Modesto class. I gave the group of more than 20 young future community leaders an introduction to the role of art, architecture, landscape, and urban design in building a better Modesto. Invitations to speak have also come from a group of women educators and leaders of the docent training program at the local history museum.

Ground work is being done on the James Broughton Centennial celebration coming in November, on a final working draft of the public art guidelines, and on an exhibit and design week celebration to promote the Modesto Design District.

Recent Wins
The city recently announced that funds have been secured to extend the Tidewater Trail another half mile. The trail is a Rails to Trails project following the old rail bed of the Tidewater and Southern Railroad. The trail extends from the city core north through about 2.5 miles of densely populated neighborhoods. The extension will give many more people access to the trail for walking and biking to and from the design district and the city core. Construction of the extension will begin this fall.

The city’s downtown hospitality and promotions group will has begun surveying people online and through interviews about their impressions of and use of the downtown/design district.

We are seeing signs that the thinking about Modesto, particularly about Modesto as a place of design is changing. During the architecture festival, many people expressed their surprise and delight when they learned that Modesto has a rich design history especially in architecture and landscape. Via Magazine, the AAA publication for northern California and Nevada, ran a short article about the architecture festival in the September issue and referred to Modesto as a “design hotbed.”  I’ve given several talks over the last many months about Modesto’s design heritage and always with the same reaction. People are surprised, delighted, and energized. I have not yet learned how to sustain that enthusiasm or how to channel it into useful action. At the very least, I am confident that an impression has been made. The fact that more than 7,600 architecture tour guides have been downloaded is indicative of a growing interest, so is the fact that 27 people showed up to the festival workshop on how to research your home’s architectural history.