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Leadership ModestoBy Brenda Thames, Modesto Junior College

October greeted the Leadership Modesto 2013/14 Cohort with a bountiful harvest of art and culture as the program began its 32nd year with Art, Culture and Community Day. Day-Chairs Victoria Sutton Krippner and Aaron Raby formulated an agenda that resulted in an amazing day in downtown Modesto filled with a cornucopia of experiences that allowed us to engage our senses of sight, touch, hearing and taste with the heart and soul of the city’s artistic community.

The Leadership Modesto 13/14 Cohort began the day at the Gallo Center for the Arts where Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Dickerson, provided a backstage tour. Not only did the Cohort have the opportunity to get up close and personal with all that is the Gallo Center, but Lynn also discussed the facts, figures, hardcore business realities and the sense of community commitment that is behind the quality performances that have been enjoyed by close to 180,000 visitors over the past seven seasons.

Our time at the Gallo was replete with presentations, Q&A sessions and live performances by David Lockington, Music Director of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra; Jack Souza and Jenni Abbott of Prospect Theater Project; several performers from SCOE YES Company and Alida Mckeon, a featured performer from this year’s Valley’s Got Talent competition.

We then transitioned from observant patrons of the arts to engaged participants when local artist and resident instructor of The Chartreuse Muse, Fumiko Amano-Caine, led the Cohort through the fundamentals of drawing by creating an impressionistic piece using oil pastels. This interactive activity was followed by a fabulous lunch at the Barkin’ Dog Grill where the Josh Rosenblum Band, who recently signed their first recording contract, provided first rate entertainment.

The Cohort then spent the afternoon basking in the ambiance of another jewel of the community—the eighty-year-old State Theater. General Manager Sue Richardson provided information regarding the history and programming of the Theater, which included the Youth Education Program. Mike Zagaris facilitated a discussion on effective leadership and the important role that advisory boards and boards of directors play in sustaining the growth and vitality of community civic, cultural and artistic organizations. Local professor and poet Sam Pierstorff reminded us of the power of the spoken word by reading some of his own work and discussing local poetry events like The ILL List, as well as local literary enterprises like the Quercus Review Press, which recently published More Than Soil, More Than Sky: The Modesto Poets, a 252-page anthology that includes 51 Modesto poets.

While at the State, the Cohort was able to sample additional local musical talent, including Francesca Bavaro, former Valley’s Got Talent Winner and current MAMA nominee. Bavaro not only provided excellent entertainment, but also shared some her recommendations for the best locations around town where local artists are able to “hug their own talent.” The Cohort departed the State embarking on an Architecture Walking Tour with Bob Barzan, Director of the Modesto Art Museum. The tour took us far beyond the usual context of the McHenry Mansion. We were exposed to both the art and science of architecture as we expanded our awareness of the architectural history of modern design evident in several structures throughout the city.

The day ended with the same energy and splendor with which it begun. We concluded the day at the McHenry Museum where we perused exhibits and joined Chris “Mr. Modesto” Murphy in exploring Modesto’s pivotal role in the evolution of the “Rockabilly” genre. In addition, we were treated to an elegant and graceful “flash mob” performance by Central West Ballet, who performed an excerpt from the immortal ballet Swan Lake. Finally, Jennifer Mullen, Executive Director at the Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau, helped us understand the capacity and potential the City has to generate revenue from tourism.

We began the day with the question “What have the Arts done for you?” The breadth and depth to which we were able to engage our senses in the hues, hints and overtones that reflect the artistic aspects of our city indicate that as John Updike so adequately stated, the arts have offered us “space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” We concluded the day by pondering, “What are we going to do for the arts?” Leadership Modesto Art, Culture and Community Day 2013 taught us that “Art is not a thing; it is a way” (Elbert Hubbard). It is a way of being, a way of hoping, a way of dreaming and a way of building as a community both together and individually. So we need to support, nourish, celebrate and actively participate in the art and culture of our city.

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