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Janelle Howard’s Vision for Arts Visalia Art Center

Apr 26, 2018 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Fostering Creativity

April 2018
By Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Arts Visalia Arts Center

IN 1994, a group of local artists began meeting to discuss how to make art more accessible in Visalia. By 1996, they officially founded nonprofit Arts Visalia, and in another five years settled in their current location on Oak Avenue, across the street from the Depot. 

Despite steadily growing, Arts Visalia’s goal to bring awareness to the arts was sometimes undermined by its own ability to bring awareness to its center. Even Visalia native and Arts Visalia director Janelle Howard didn’t know much about the organization before working there, but she is hoping that by bringing more focus to the center, attention to the arts will follow.

“The first time I was here at the center was the beginning of the month I was hired. It was the first time I ever walked through the doors,” she admits. “When I graduated from high school in 2003, the building was here, but I don’t remember people talking about it, and I had no idea there even was an Arts Center.” 

Howard took the helm of Arts Visalia in March 2017, and is navigating its course to focus on community and classes. 

“Now most of our focus is on a community that normally wouldn’t be exposed to the arts, like at-risk youth and low-income households,” she says. “But everybody is welcome.”

The position hasn’t just brought Howard back home, but also back to her roots in visual arts. Howard received her associate’s degree in fine arts, but she studied graphic design at the Art Institute in Orange County, followed by a career as a graphic designer, which gave her experience in marketing.

 “Actually, my strength is probably the marketing aspect of the gallery, which is where the center was dying,” says Howard.

In an effort to bring more attention to the Art Center, Arts Visalia has collaborated with Valley PBS and other local organizations – “and a lot of grant writing,” adds Howard.

“There are still so many people who walk through the front door and have never heard of Arts Visalia before. My main purpose is to get the name out there, and share what our organization is about and what we support,” says Howard.

Spreading that word includes partnering with Visalia’s Thursday Night Farmers Market, where Arts Visalia hosts Kids Corner, providing supplies, themed projects and the space for children to create art. Arts Visalia also sponsors Rawhide’s Free to Be Me Night, which raises awareness for children with special needs.

“A lot of kids in our classes have a special need or a form of social anxiety,” adds Howard. 

The center has recently focused on art classes for children and adults, raising money through grants to help provide scholarships for those who can’t afford to pay for them.

“We offer a wide variety of classes,” she continues, with three different age groups: ages 5-6, 7-10 and 11 and up.  

“Children like to dabble in all kinds of things, but adults like the fundamentals, so children get ceramics, papier mache, drawing, painting, metal work – any kind of art form,” says Howard. “Adults generally like to stick to drawing, painting, sculpting, but this spring we offer ceramics for adults, which we’ve never done before.”

  Arts Visalia also supports art in the community through a public gallery and studio spaces.

   The gallery changes exhibits on the first Friday of the month, and displays work by local and non-local artists alike.

   Its April exhibit was a basket and gourds show featuring artists from all over the country. The May show is a watercolor mixed-media women’s exhibition that includes work by local artists who gather at the center’s open studio on Wednesday evenings.

   Like most galleries, visitors can purchase the art on display at Arts Visalia, but unlike most galleries that charge 50 percent commission, Arts Visalia only takes 25 percent of the sales, which really falls in line with the organization’s purpose: to support local artists, and provide the space to make it possible.

   Under new director Howard, this should continue to be the trend, and she’s committing to discover ways to foster art in the community.

   “I just dove in,” she agrees. “And we’re figuring out how and where we go.” •  

Arts Visalia Art Center • 214 E. Oak Ave., Visalia

(559) 739-0905 •

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