Creative Work Fund

Creative Work Fund/Walter and Elise Haas Fund

Funding Received: 2011
Multiple, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
August 11, 2012

Unlike most ArtPlace projects, the Creative Work Fund is based in a 14-county region rather than a specific neighborhood, town, or watershed.

That region is the greater San Francisco Bay Area, whose topography, demographics, industries, and arts and culture support vary widely. University of Southern California’s Center for Philanthropy & Public Policy reported in 2004 (its most recent trend analysis), while arts and culture grants received per capita totaled $70.23 in San Francisco County, in other nearby counties, such funding was negligible. Stanislaus County, whose seat is Modesto (population 201,165), weighed in at .98 in arts and culture grants per capita.

While immortalized in the film American Graffiti, of late Modesto’s charm has been tarnished by high rates of foreclosure, unemployment (16.7%) , and crime. Last year it placed nineteenth in Forbes Magazine’s list of the nation’s most miserable cities.

ArtPlace’s grant to the Creative Work Fund allowed us to award grants to five new place-based projects in locations where need is high and grant opportunities are limited. One such Creative Work Fund grant supports a partnership among media artists Jessica Gomula-Kruzic and Steve Arounsack with the Modesto Art Museum. The partners are making a film about one of Modesto’s distinctive but forgotten assets—its remarkable stock of mid-century modernist buildings.

Like many United States cities, Modesto enjoyed a building boom after World War II. According to architect and writer Kiel Famellos-Schmidt, “All of the major civic buildings date to the post war boom. Glass, steel, aluminum, exposed aggregate concrete, and terra cotta sun screens structure these buildings.” While its public buildings are noteworthy, it’s Modesto’s modernist homes that drew national attention. The Heckendorf Residence, designed by John Funk in 1939, set the city’s modernist movement in motion.

Funk was a little known architect who had apprenticed under William Wuster, but the house was featured in several publications and selected by the Museum of Modern Art for an influential 1944 traveling exhibit, Built in USA. It was even featured on the exhibition catalog’s cover. Other Modesto families began competing to hire famous architects to design their homes.

The innovations met the environment. Many of the houses, with their deep eaves and shaded courtyards, address the area’s hot summers. Famellos-Schmidt notes, “The spaces are layered in a progression from public to private. The lifestyle of outdoor living is embraced with landscapes that blend seamlessly with the interiors.”

How does taking a fresh look at historic houses strengthen a city with a housing crisis? The city’s woes have led to a decline in its residents’ sense of community, and Modesto Art Museum director Bob Barzan believes that the best approach to community building is to build conversations around a positive story. According to Barzan, the film and related programming “will introduce residents to a whole different dimension of where they live.” He is planning more than screenings, with events ranging from architecture cafes and livability forums to walking tours—all to stimulate conversation and a deeper sense of place among Modesto’s residents.

--Frances Phillips

PHOTO: The Heckendorf Residence by Bob Barzan, Modesto Art Museum