Building Imagination in California’s Central Valley

California State University, Stanislaus College of the Arts

Funding Received: 2012
Turlock, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
March 6, 2013

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 contemporary 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.

Recently, creative placemakers from across the country gathered in Miami for a first-ever Creative Placemaking Summit. This event was hosted by ArtPlace, which is the first major public-private partnership to encourage creative placemaking across America.

ArtPlace spoke with Jessica Gomula-Kruzic, Director for the Building Imagination Center, about the recent Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami, FL.

ARTPLACE: What ideas did you gain, or lessons did you learn, that you plan to apply to your initiative?  

GOMULA-KRUZIC: The Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami was a very engaging event to attend. It was very exciting to hear firsthand all of the projects and initiatives people have been working on all over the country. The speakers themselves were also very engaging. Mostly, the small focus groups were extremely helpful in bringing together projects that had similar goals.

One of the most provocative ideas I came across at the Summit was the Gallup-Knight Foundation’s Soul Poll. This study of 43,000 people in 26 cities over three years found that three community qualities – social offerings, openness and beauty – have consistently emerged as the leading drivers for community attachment - even over such factors as perceptions of local economy, leadership and safety. According to Jon Clifton, deputy director of the Gallup World Poll, who conducted the survey, the results of this survey show a significant, positive link between cultural offerings, resident attachment and local GDP growth.

This last factor is particularly relevant to our goals at the Building Imagination Center and our contribution to the community. By creating new and original documentary films of and with the local community, we are, in essence, documenting the social offerings that Modesto has, and bringing awareness of these offerings to the larger community through film screenings. To know that these activities are directly linked to helping Modesto’s local economy by building Modesto’s residents’ sense of attachment to the community, reinvigorates our work and reaffirms our commitment to the community.

Likewise, our partner, the Modesto Art Museum, has also been building resident attachments to the community through the art events that it sponsors throughout Modesto. In particular, the Modesto International Architecture Festival, now in its sixth year, has exploded in size from its original movie presentations, to now include guided architectural tours, architectural cafes, short and feature length movie presentations, art exhibits, poetry readings, and featured speakers.

One of the key lessons I took away from the Summit was that creative placemaking takes time. This approach has emerged over the past twenty years as a promising way to increase the vitality of communities and to help them grow. In many of the towns identified in America’s Top 12 Artplaces, creative placemaking has been active for over a decade. They have succeeded by being engaged not only in short term projects, but by committing to long term changes in the community as well. They found ways to tie together the arts and local, state, and national agencies to rebuild their downtowns, pass new legislation, and revitalize their communities.

ARTPLACE: Where does this movement go next?   

GOMULA-KRUZIC: In many of the successful creative placemaking initiatives, a long term vision had been embraced by local artists, local art organizations, and local political branches. In the same manner, I think that the placemaking movement needs to embrace multi-year projects.

For example, in Hartford Connecticut, the National Arts Endowment joined forces with the Department of Transportation, and over a dozen other agencies and organizations, to connect their cultural institutions and make Hartford more walkable by better linking Union Station to Main Street, improving public transit routing through Downtown, and stitching Bushnell Park to the cityscape.

Another example, in Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation and the Pearson Foundation worked with the Chicago Public Library Foundation to create YOUmedia, an innovative, 21st century teen learning space housed at the Chicago Public Library's downtown center. YOUmedia was created to connect young adults, books, media, mentors, and institutions throughout the city of Chicago, in one dynamic space designed to inspire collaboration and creativity.

These are both excellent examples of the types of collaboration that can happen when art organizations and government agencies work together.

And this is exactly what the Building Imagination Center, working together with the City of Modesto Planning Committee, has been accomplishing through the transformation of 10th Street and downtown Modesto.

Last month we worked with the City to help create Parklets - tiny parks in unused parking areas. During our February Artwalk, we will have several outdoor video performances transforming the downtown plaza into a visual experience. You will also see this during our April LOVE Modesto event, in which we are inviting the community to make an art chalk-walk, again transforming the downtown with local creativity.

Creative placemaking is a community-based approach to the planning, design, management of spaces and implementation of practices that will make our community, Modesto, distinctive, economically viable, accessible, and visually pleasing.

And the Building Imagination Center will be there to help.