Art may be cure for fading downtown
By Reggie Ellis
lindsay – The building at 248 N. Sweetbriar Ave. symbolizes the struggle of local businesses in downtown Lindsay. Despite being located between the city’s two largest attractions – the McDermont Field House and Friday Night Market – and across from some of its most upscale rental properties, nothing seems to stick at the location. It has been an antique stop, thrift store and print shop but most recently it has been vacant storefront.
A Lindsay native and art professor is hoping to change the culture of the building and the downtown overall by adding more color, creativity and, well, culture. Lindsay High School alumnus and COS art instructor Victor Cervantes has reinvigorated the location from dealing in dollars and cents to a sense of individual, and community pride. Cervantes unveiled his new studio to the community during a ribbon cutting on April 17 and opened to the public during the Friday Night Market on April 21. The studio is primarily filled with Cervantes’ art, which uses bold colors and cultural imagery to bring social issues to light. But Cervantes said the real goal is to have young, local artists display their art in the studio and possibly make money selling their artwork.
“Not everyone is going to play sports or get straight A’s,” he said. “Some people have a great creative talent but don’t have a place to showcase it and don’t have a place to share it with a community of other creative people.”
Cervantes said one of Lindsay’s biggest hurdles to having a thriving downtown is a lack of identity. Every successful downtown has a culture that can easily be seen, such as Woodlake’s Western hospitality or Exeter’s small town charm. Cervantes uses the phrase “La Cultura Cura” or cultural cure, to describe the essence of what a community aspires to be and can pour its positive energy into. He said many low-income communities like Lindsay often look outside of their communities to find answers because they don’t feel like they have the power to resolve their own community issues. Cervantes said Lindsay’s innovative school system and collective creativity could elevate the city’s culture and create an atmosphere where Lindsay becomes a destination for art and education.
“I want to help create that space with this studio,” Cervantes said.
In order to do that, Cervantes said property owners should keep monthly rent low to cater to artists, boutique stores and unique restaurants which will in turn keep buildings from becoming vacant or run down.
On Friday, Cervantes studio featured Slam Poetry under the direction of his artistic colleague Henry Reneau, who goes by the moniker “henry7.reneaujr.,” and a demo an a grammar app developed by Jacinto Gardea, a professor emeritus at Porterville College who has partnered with writingames.com to teach proper English grammar in a video game like setting.
Cervantes said after a few months of establishing the studio, he will put out a call to artists to hang their work at the studio. He said his goal is to rotate the artwork every two months to keep the style fresh and the imagery diverse. For now the gallery will be open from 6-10 p.m. on Friday nights to coincide with the market but the goal is to open in the evenings three nights per week and use that time for special events focusing on talented young artists.
“Without role models or self confidence, young people don’t experience any personal growth,” Cervantes said. “If the community doesn’t provide them with that, they turn to gangs to find that sense of belonging and pride.”
Cervantes knows as much as anyone about the power of art to transform someone’s life and take them places they never thought they would go. Even before he could drive a car, Cervantes’ art work received numerous awards via the California State Fair, California State Summer School for the Arts, the California Congressional Art Competition, the Ruth Jansen Foundation and locally through Lindsay Art Association while he was attending middle and high school in Lindsay.
After high school, Victor attended the University of California at Santa Cruz where he was named an Irwin Scholar, UCSC’s highest Art Department award. He went on to attend Columbia University, where he received one of only two department Teaching Fellowships, enabling him to teach alongside Columbia faculty while earning his masters of fine arts. As a graduate student at Harvard University, he continued to research and write about issues important to him and to promote cultural diversity through his art. There, he was commissioned to create a mural at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Since that time, Cervantes has returned to Lindsay to use art to transform his hometown. In 2006, he co-founded El Quinto Sol De America, a non-profit organization that works to bring to light and solve some of the most pressing social and environmental dilemmas of our rural area. As Quinto Sol’s art director, he works with youth on projects that empower neighborhoods through artistic expression.
Over the years, Victor has partnered with dedicated community leaders who believe that the arts have an important role to play in society, to paint murals at health facilities, youth centers, schools and college environments.
As an art instructor at College of the Sequoias, he instills in his students a deep appreciation for the arts, and inspires them to take on a profession that will enrich their lives and improve the quality of life for those around them.
“I tell my students all the time, I don’t want to tell you what to say, just how to say it better,” he said.