Building a Better Modesto

Modesto Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Modesto, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
July 12, 2013

Update and Reflection:

Production of the 6th annual Modesto International Architecture Festival with the American Institute of Architects Sierra Valley Chapter is well underway. As of June 15th, we have scheduled approximately 70 events, tours, talks, movies, and activities over the 9 days, September 14-22, 2013. We are making the final selection of videos for the movie night and a keynote speaker has been chosen. All festival events will be free. Our guided architecture tour was listed in the Modesto Bee as one of the five best things to do in Modesto and the museum launched Modesto Heritage, the city’s new historic preservation group.

We received a report from the California State University Stanislaus student interns working with the museum. They identified and mapped more than 100 design related businesses and organizations in the Modesto Design District. The number exceeds what we had expected. Several meetings have taken place between the museum, the city of Modesto, the Downtown Improvement District, and businesses in the district. A graphic artist is working on a design district logo.

To celebrate the centennial of the birth in Modesto of James Broughton, the poet, playwright, and movie maker, the museum is organizing an exhibit to go with the screening of Big Joy, the new movie about Broughton’s life. The movie will screen at the State Theatre on 9 November 2013. The old Broughton home is within the Modesto Design District.

Recent Wins:

A big win for getting the word out about Building a Better Modesto is an invitation from Modesto View Magazine for the Modesto Art Museum to have a monthly Architecture View column ( The first one came out in June and covered what people can expect to see happening around downtown as a result of funding from Artplace America. More than 50,000 copies were distributed.

The other two wins come from the city of Modesto. The city council is considering business incentives for the downtown/design district. Monetary incentives would be for shops and businesses that hire new workers, stay open longer, or that do repairs or restorations on their buildings. June 29th will see the reopening of the city’s McHenry Mansion Museum, a restored and furnished 1883 house in the design district. The mansion façade burned in December 2011.


What we find provocative is how to change the often false perceptions people have of the old city core, a place that many in the community think is unpleasant, unsafe, and not where anyone would want to spend time. We are approaching this from several directions including our language, the images we use, and the information we put out. We are taking as our inspiration what Fred Harvey and his hospitality company did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in southwestern United States. The general perception of the area when he started was it was dangerous, inhospitable, and there were no reasons to go there. Fred Harvey used language, images, and information to bring out the positive attributes of the area, its beauty, and desirability. He also believed that people needed to have positive experiences when they visited not only to change their own perceptions but to get them to talk about what they experienced with others. The Fred Harvey Company focused on hospitality. We think this is key, to give people a positive experience of the design district, especially focusing on hospitality. So, to help create that positive experience, all Building a Better Modesto events will be free, as are all museum events, and we have committed to including a reception at all events with free food and drink.