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The Beehive Interview: Julia Woli Scott

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Julia Woli Scott has been having a big week. Not only did she and her partner, Christina Rea, help design and open the beautiful new M Street Arts Complex in downtown Fresno, but she co-curated with Rea a new exhibition titled “Spectacle: A Closer Look at Fresno.” To mark the complex’s first ArtHop tonight, I talked with Scott about the M Street complex and the exhibition in today’s Life section. Here’s an extended version of the interview.

Question: We’ve already covered the opening of the M Street Arts Complex in detail, but for those who missed it, could you give a brief recap?

Answer: The M Street Arts Complex is a collaborative project funded and developed by Granville with creative direction from myself and my partner Christina Rea. Our part of the 22,000 square foot warehouse has undergone a 1 million dollar renovation to build rentable space designed for professional artists that offers air conditioning, private parking, wi-fi and security.

During the Grand Opening on Saturday, Fresno State President Joseph Castro and Dr. Vida Samiian, Dean of the college of Arts and Humanities announced that the school intends to have a presence in the not-yet-renovated other half of the building, an expansion of their graduate program.

How did the opening weekend festivities go?

We had a tremendous turn out, I actually had to step outside shortly after people were allowed in the building because I was overwhelmed by the crowd, an estimated 600 through the 3-8 pm event. There was a tangible sense of excitement especially during the evening’s artist reception, with conversation even managing to drown out the rumble of Christopher Lopez’s thunderous sound piece, State of Detachment, 2009.

You’ve inaugurated the gallery with the exhibition “Spectacle: A Closer Look at Fresno.” What do you hope to achieve with it?

Christina and I envisioned the exhibition as a way to share what we know to be true, that Fresno has a vibrant art community with its own distinct aesthetic that has yet to be fully appreciated. We selected artists from various factions of the community, many of whom did not know each other and were not yet recognized for the skill and dedication that marked their work. All 13 of the artists are very different, and work in disparate media; what is common is their passion, a sense that they are driven by the work itself.

 What statement were you making by selecting the artists you did?

The voice of the exhibition is bold, uncompromising, delicate and haunting – and it is not what you might expect. The subtitle of the exhibition is “a closer look at Fresno” and rather than making a single statement, we want to open up a whole new dialog.

Tell us a little about the variety of the exhibition.

The “Spectacle” exhibition includes a dynamic mixture of drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, video and sound installation, collage, aerosol and works made of cut paper.

Aimee Dent draws an environment in charcoal and populates it with spiritually significant structural markers in The Guardians, 2013. Dawn Hart’s Interdependence, 2013, balances natural forms dipped in porcelain, against a grid work of black ceramic structure. Allyson McCandless explores environmental frailty through bee’s wax and steel in Isostatic Balance II, a fragrant glowing apparition suspended from a forklift. And, Rosa Elena Alvarez’s silver gelatin photographs demonstrate impeccable technical skill but move beyond that to reveal something so intimately powerful that they gave our preparator Ed Lund chills when the first one went up on the wall.

One artist I’m particularly struck by is Peter Janzen and his intriguing translation of obituary photographs he found in The Bee. Can you speak a little about his work?

Peter Janzen’s Memento Mori: Fresno 1961 is an homage to and a study of the lives of Fresno men at their peak in the mid-century. The series was painted and first exhibited in 2012 at Corridor 2122 and is revisited here with several pieces that were never shown. Janzen researched vintage obituary imagery from 1961 editions of the Fresno Bee and the resulting paintings in oil on panel take an unusual approach to portraiture with an openness derived from both the graininess of the images and brevity of the information presented that the artist describes as a “belated elegy.”

Your hope is that Fresno — and downtown in particular — becomes an artistic destination in the central part of the state. You also hope promising artists won’t feel they have to leave the area to pursue a successful career. How far along do you think we as a city are in terms of this goal?

I see many artists in this area as successful in that they are making relevant work and exhibiting it here and beyond. What I feel is just beginning to blossom is the kind of greater community of support necessary for those artists to build satisfying careers. The involvement of Fresno State has the potential to make our academic program more competitive, drawing talent to the valley and infusing new energy into the community.

This special exhibition is a one-time acknowledgement of the opening of the complex. What can people expect from future ArtHops?

Beginning in December, the complex will transition to individually owned and operated galleries and studios and the content of the spaces will depend on the artists who rent them. This is more in line with what people have come to expect from ArtHop, rotating shows and open studios, but I anticipate tremendous energy and dialogue between the artists and a heightened sense of professionalism.

You and your partner, Christina, chose a particular gallery and studio space in the complex. What drew you this space?

We designed the gallery and private studio combination specifically because it was the kind of space we wanted to work in, something different from what was available. There are 5 of these combination spaces in the complex and we wound up in the largest one, Gallery 2, choosing to push beyond the comfort of a smaller space to open a commercial gallery that will represent our work along with the work of other artists. So, size was important and we wanted to function as an anchor for the complex, setting the tone through example. My favorite studio is actually attached to Gallery 3, it has incredible light and gorgeous brick.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I would like to express my gratitude to Darius Assemi and his team at Granville for investing in this community, and taking the leap of faith required to do the impossible, with such grace and heart and, to thank the art community itself, those who’ve found a way to prosper and grow from great adversity and given us a flavor unique to this valley. And, to Christina, who dreamed of M Street and chose Fresno as her home.

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