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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

A Flourishing Art Scene With the Visalia Arts Consortium

Aug 25, 2015 10:48PM ● By Brandi Barnett

A Brush Stroke of Genius

September 2015
By Fache Desrochers

As far as cultural yardsticks go, few things are better at measuring the depth and potential of a city than its art scene. And for good reason: the arts function as both a great elevator and equalizer, consolidating the personal outlooks, unique aspects and diverse elements of an area and its citizens into works that not only represent the local soil from which they sprung, but also return new richness back into it.
But all too often, art scenes face quite a struggle to hold their own in a city long enough to take root. Unlike traditional enterprises, the bottom line of a true artistic endeavor is not measured by how it fills the coffers, but by how it feeds the soul. For this reason, any municipality’s burgeoning art scene requires a kind of white knight who will work to secure the city’s creative legacy, support local artists and provide the community with ways to access and enjoy local culture. So if you are an artist, an art lover or simply a citizen of Visalia, rejoice. The Visalia Arts Consortium has your back, and then some.
The Consortium may be relatively young (it will enter its sixth year of operation in October), but it is particularly mighty, thanks to Visalia’s long-extant creative natives. “The art community here is really amazing, because with just a little bit of funding and support, our community really pulls together and that’s all we needed to take off,” says Executive Director Caroline Koontz.
The overarching goal of the Consortium is to create a climate where Visalia’s art scene can flourish, expand and ultimately be mobilized as a catalyst to bring the community together and incite positive change. “Our mission is to make the arts accessible and a part of everyday life,” explains Director of Development Erin Olm-Shipman. “We are finding creative solutions to problems, using creative outlets to address larger issues in the community and working to embed the arts into local education.”
The Consortium approaches the realization of its goals through a number of events that span the year. Its most well-known effort is perhaps Visalia’s classic First Friday. Featuring an ever-rotating series of stops, this event is serviced by the town trolley, which provides a guided tour of the evening’s different exhibitions as well as a charming (and free!) ride.
But this popular mainstay is only one way the Consortium has devised to drum up public enthusiasm for the arts. Springtime heralds the South Valley Artists’ studio tour, a three-day event where the public is invited to tour dozens of artists’ working spaces. And then there are the Consortium’s ongoing special projects, including the Urbanists Collective, the Visalia Opera Company and the Visalia Visual Chronicle: a publicly owned, privately funded art collection that rotates through different corporate spaces in Visalia. The current collection will be on display at downtown consulting firm Provost & Pritchard through the end of September. “It’s a great way for local businesses to promote and value creativity in the workplace,” explains Olm-Shipman. “That’s the goal of all our programs. We want to build a community that appreciates art and will support and take pride in their local artists.”
If First Friday is the Consortium’s bread and butter, the annual Taste the Arts event would be its birthday cake. October 17 marks the Consortium’s sixth annual event celebrating art cultivated in the Central Valley. “We call it ‘taste’ because it’s a chance for the public to sample a variety of art,” says Koontz. “We have literary artists, glass artists, woodworkers, painters, photographers, jewelry makers… you name it.”
Taste the Arts features approximately 70 artists set up on the street between Main and School, where they will demonstrate their mediums, sell their work and answer questions about their process. Taste the Arts also features some compelling group efforts, including interactive live painting by the Urbanists Collective, creative family activities by Pro-Youth HEART (rumor has it that this year’s activities will include robots), and many other hands-on activities that use a bit of structure and a lot of freedom to encourage patrons to be as creative as they want to be.
Thanks to the innovation, optimism and relentless support of the members of the Visalia Arts Consortium, there’s never been a better time to be an artist, art lover or citizen of Visalia. And if you’re interested in getting involved, the Consortium maintains an open invitation to drop by any membership meeting where you can meet your local art enthusiasts, support community efforts and help brainstorm ways to elevate the community’s creative culture for years to come.

Visalia Arts Consortium • (559) 802-3266
400 N. Church St., Visalia •  Open Tues-Fri 10am-3pm • Find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter •

Taste of the Arts Street Fair, Oct. 17th, 2015, 11am-5pm