Building a Better Modesto

Modesto Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Modesto, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
August 17, 2013

Update and Reflection:

Together with the Sierra Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the local chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Modesto Film Society, and many other community partners and dozens of volunteers we are in full preparation for the sixth annual Modesto International Architecture Festival. At this point the festival will offer more than 80 tours, exhibits, movies, talks, workshops, and special events over nine days, September 14-22.  All events but one are admission free, and all events but one are in the design district. This year’s keynote speaker is the architecture photographer Russell Abraham. One of the highpoints of the festival will be the screening of Modesto Modernism, the new movie about Modesto’s mid 20th century architecture. The movie is a Modesto Art Museum production.

The first of two design district historic architecture tours is nearing completion. The English text is done, the Spanish text is still happening.  The tour should be on Historypin by early September. Working with staff from the Community and Economic Development Department, the first draft of the city’s public art guidelines is well underway. This will be Modesto’s first official public art policy.

Recent Wins:

The most important win in the efforts to re-vitalize the design district is the vote of the Modesto Economic Development Committee to accept the report of staff and send to the full city council the economic incentive plan. Among other incentives, the plan will award design district landlords who make façade improvements to their buildings and business owners who move into vacant properties. The downtown promotions and hospitality committee approved the revised plan for the 10th Street improvements. The new streetscape will include trees, planters, parklets, and locations for public art. Implementation of the plan is dependent on the passage of a city bond in November.


At this point, I think our biggest challenge is the poverty of the area, not just the significant economic poverty, but poverty of amenities, organizations, mechanisms to make things happen, and perhaps most of all the poverty of imagination. The poverty is pervasive. Basic structures that are well established in other cities are missing or can’t even be imagined in Modesto.  For example, in preparing the public art guidelines, we have had to address the lack of a functioning culture commission. In the end, the process will be beneficial in ways we had not anticipated. What is helping make up for the lack here are the creative-minded individuals who are bringing their talents to the table and working with us, other community centered groups, and the city. There is a sense that this is a time to make things happen.