A hearty welcome back to ArtHop, which officially returns for the first time since the pandemic began
First Thursdays of the month haven’t been the same.
Along with live performance, Fresno’s ArtHop was an obvious casualty of the pandemic. The monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods had become a prominent night for folks to gather, with some ArtHop nights drawing crowds of hundreds and even thousands. (How many of those clogging downtown streets were actually going to galleries is a matter of lively debate, but there’s no denying that ArtHop was a catalyst.) Without a vaccine, it was always going to be problematic as long as the virus was spreading.
Now, after those many, many months, Fresno’s premier artistic event is back.
“It’s the first official ArtHop since COVID,” says Lilia Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council, which coordinates the event.
The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.
To mark the occasion, we at The Munro Review are offering special ArtHop coverage. Along with this overview story, you can take an in-depth look at two venues:
• Artist Isa D’Arleans, a recent Fresno transplant (by way of Los Angeles, Seattle and, originally, Lyons, France) is debuting her immersive art exhibition “No Time to Waste” at The Pi Shop (1755 Broadway). It’s a must-see show in a 40-foot shipping container. [Read the story]
• An ArtHop reception at Clay Hand Studios honors Mark Tunison, a local powerhouse in ceramics. I interviewed the former Hanford High School teacher about his remarkable career. [Read the story]
ArtHop takes place 5-8 p.m. Thursday, July 1 (though some venues extend hours). As before, the best way to track participating venues and find out what is playing is at the arts council’s website or by signing up for the browser-based e-blast. Here is the latest update.
More to know about the Big ArtHop Comeback:
The arts council is asking people to abide by current state regulations.
“If people are vaccinated, they don’t need to wear a mask,” Chavez says.
However, each venue has the ability to ask customers to wear masks if that is the owner’s desire, so be sure to bring one along.
While Chavez is excited about the opportunity for visual-arts fans to meet and mingle, she’s tempering that enthusiasm with caution.
“I think the community is certainly ready to be out, and the arts venues are ready to have visitors again,” she says. But because we still don’t have the vaccination levels where they need to be, I’m a little cautious. I’m hoping that people consider wearing masks and continue to have some degree of social distancing.”
At Chris Sorensen Studio and Galleries, Lesli Pepper says she thinks people are ready to get back to “living life” — but, again, with a sense of caution.
“We are letting each individual decide for themselves what they are comfortable with, whether to wear protection or not.”
Marilyn Prescott, at Fig Tree Gallery, says that most people she talks to say they feel free once again to engage in all things social. “We specified in our eblast that masks are encouraged, but we’ll not be enforcing any sort of sentry at the door,” she says.
Still, Prescott says that ArtHop will likely never quite return to things the way they were. “For instance, we’ll probably never again offer dips, chips and snacks to pick up. We’ll be offering wrapped treats and bottled drinks.”
While the return of ArtHop is great news, it’s also clear that the pandemic was crushing for some businesses.
Thirty venues have signed up again to be official ArtHop venues, says Elisa Flores at the arts council. About 25 of those 30 will be active participants in the July event; the rest will get back into the routine in the coming months.
Still, that’s less than half of the approximately 65 venues that participated before the pandemic, she says.
Chavez notes that most galleries suffered a significant loss in sales.
“They didn’t have many opportunities to share their work,” she says. “That is something that we’re very aware of. Some are not coming back because they just aren’t ready and some are not coming back.”
Vernissage, a venue that owner Ma Ly, an artist and teacher, poured a tremendous amount of effort into leading up into the pandemic, will not mark ArtHop in July and August.
“We plan to celebrate the gallery’s third year anniversary with a small student show,” he says. “There are no other exhibitions like in the past planned through the end of this year. Vernissage has become more of a working studio where I will show a new body of work in 2022.”
Other galleries are still getting up to speed.
One is the venerable Gallery 25, which during the pandemic moved out of its physical location at the M Street Arts Complex. The gallery switched to a virtual space for the past 15 months and will continue with that for the immediate future.
“It is in our plans for Gallery 25 to find the right time and location to once again have a brick-and-mortar gallery,” says Rebecca Barnes. “In the meantime, we have produced some successful virtual exhibits and plan on continuing with them. Please check out our website at gallery25.org.”
Gallery 25’s current virtual exhibition is titled “Renovar” — a nod toward rebirth and regeneration. (It features works by Cynthia Carter Cameron, Michele Sani, Valerie Runningwolf, Lylia Forero Carr, Jerrie Peters, Rebecca M. Barnes and Carol Tikijian.)
Chavez, head of the arts council, says she was happy that galleries, studios and artists were able to share in CARES Act dollars. But the amount of the awards wasn’t able to sustain any organization. (Many received $2,500.)
“It’s important for the community to come back and support these studios and artists,” she says.
Along with the featured articles mentioned above, here are a few quick picks:
• At the Fresno Arts Council headquarters (1245 Van Ness Ave.), Fresno’s new poet laureate, Megan Anderson Bohigian, will be reading from her work. Also featured are recent works by Eliana Saucedo.
• At Fig Tree Gallery, work by Bill Bruce is featured in the main gallery. Part of the show features graffiti works. Marilyn Prescott writes:
In every civilization there has been an urge to draw on walls. There is no question but that this urge will continue and Fresno has some of its most skillful practitioners, as Bruce has shown. Bruce has honored these by inviting their efforts to decorate the outside walls of his studio, and he displays several photos of their work in this latest show. He thus creates a bridge between his own “graffiti” works and those of the community.
But this show then pivots to five large, abstract paintings: a combination of spray paint and acrylic. These display a strong, vertical black mark against an ephemeral, dreamy, seamless background. The progression of the five clearly display the maturation of this aesthetic, culminating in a sublimely elegant statement and the strongest piece in the show.
Though one might never imagine a combination of graffiti and such strangely spiritual abstraction, the duo clearly has worked here. And it’s brave.
Also at Fig Tree, works by Mac Mechem and Robert Ogata are featured in the back gallery.
• At Chris Sorensen Studio and Gallery, works by member artists are featured. ArtHop is also a chance to celebrate Sorensen’s 96th birthday. He has been welding and creating almost daily throughout the shutdown. “He is an inspiration to us all to just keep working on our art whatever form it takes — to never give up,” Pepper says.
• One of the new ArtHop venues is Scarab Creative Arts, 729 E. Divisadero. The gallery features Julia Woli Scott’s “Riparian Overlook.” Other new ArtHop venues are Shep’s Club, Root Access Hacker Space and the Fresno EOC.