Art’s heart beats strong in Modesto, surrounding areas

People fill J Street during the Mod Shop Indie Crafters Market in Modesto on Nov. 28.
People fill J Street during the Mod Shop Indie Crafters Market in Modesto on Nov. 28.

Artist. Performer. Crafter. Artisan. Member of the maker movement or the DIY culture.

No matter what people choose to call – or not call – themselves, Modesto, Stanislaus County and the neighboring foothills are home to a wealth of talent. And to people who appreciate and support that talent.

Among the latter is Kate Trompetter, development and communications director for the Center for Human Services and one of the organizers of the Mod Shop Indie Crafters Market, which held its third annual event in November.

“I am not somebody who makes things. I don’t even cook. But I believe very strongly there has to be space for culture to thrive, or it goes somewhere else,” Trompetter said. “People like me wouldn’t stay here.”

She thought back on Greg Edwards’ Off the Air concert series, which ran from 2005 to 2013, and the Hand Born Modern Craft Bazaar begun by Edwards’ wife, Julie, and Tawny Holt, which began in 2004 and lasted through 2011.

“How grateful I am for the people who take charge in providing a space for our creative, innovative community to be seen,” Trompetter said. “I think we have a naturally creative community that is consistently nurtured. ... When Greg Edwards left the area, people picked up not his exact thing, but other music events.” Similarly, Mod Shop is an offshoot of Hand Born.

The growth of Mod Shop, the opening of the Mod Spot space on J Street by Peer Recovery Art Project and the increasing outdoor murals in downtown Modesto and beyond are among the signs of a flourishing creative community seen by local businesswoman Brie Parmer.

She’s making her own contribution through her Downtown Tinkertank, which opened in early January on 12th Street. The business is a “makerspace – a community resource where people come together to create, invent, build, learn and make,” according to its website.

“We already had a large creative community, but it’s surfacing and being given a platform more than ever before, even in places like the farmers market,” Parmer said.

When Parmer was growing up, her mother told her she’d need to move to a larger community to thrive and be challenged creatively. “Which I obviously disagreed with by opening my business here,” she said. Not that there wasn’t at least a grain of truth to her mother’s concern, said Parmer, 26. “There was no GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance), no Pride Center, so for a gay person who loves art,” Modesto perhaps wasn’t the obvious choice.

“I used to work in food. I love creating things, and it’s true our median income is not as high as other places, so if you work as a chef, you’re not going to make as much,” she said. “But we’re growing. Our median income is growing and our tastes as a community are growing. More people now are willing to spend $25 to $30 a plate than $4.”

Parmer agrees with Trompetter that supporting the makers in the community is crucial to bringing them here and keeping them here. “We need to show them we’re fantastic on our own by letting them know we appreciate them, giving them a nurturing environment, places to sell their work. That makes our community better, because the arts are helpful not only for artists but to raise the standard of living, to open minds to creative ideas.”

Deep pool of talent

Especially in the fine and performing arts, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties have a long and rich history of arts organizations and venues: the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, MoBand, the Central California Art Association and its Mistlin Gallery, the Carnegie Arts Center, the Gallo Center for the Arts, Sierra Repertory Theatre, Stage 3 Theater, Prospect Theater Project, YES (Youth Entertainment Stage) Company and the State Theatre, among others.

Is it something in the water?

“A lot of it, we have to admit, is that we’ve had some wealthy people in the community who have an appreciation for the arts, who believe in the importance of arts and music,” Parmer said.

And wealthy or not, the generations that have come before have taught, supported and inspired younger sets, said Deborah Barr, Modesto Junior College art professor. Today, places such as “Peer Recovery, Mod Shop, (the) Barkin’ Dog and Picasso’s (restaurants) are allowing artists to show their work and music, which enables people to get culture,” she said. “And when people see good art, they often want to do it themselves.

“I think the performing arts are really strong because young people have had predecessors like Jeremy Renner and George Lucas, and they inspire those in the arts, theater, design. Having the performing arts center and dance program at MJC has inspired, and the murals that are going up downtown are inspiring people to think about culture and history of Modesto.”

Parmer said she believes Modesto’s “strange mix” of urban and rural cultures has gotten people’s creative juices flowing, too. Young people turn to the arts “out of a sense of necessity” to express themselves. “We may not have as many things at our disposal as big cities. People who want to be actors move to Hollywood, but we’re not striving to be Angelina Jolie. We don’t do it in the ways others do. We’re rockabilly and rat rods.”

Trompetter and Barr also said they see young people yearning to make their mark. “I think a lot of my perspective comes from the fact that a lot of students we get come from low-income backgrounds and want to express themselves,” Barr said. “They’re naturally talented in the arts and want to bring positivity to the area and want to be successful.” The same is true from students who are shy or have disabilities, she said.

To facilitate that success, Barr said, she likes to have working artists talk with students about how to market their artwork, how to set up showings.

“I think we have a lot of really talented and really passionate young people – artists, actors, musicians – people who care about making culture,” Trompetter said. “I think those of us who are engaged have to be more creative about reaching those young people so they stay here and recognize the importance of their contributions.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

Meet Your Makers

Next week, The Modesto Bee will begin an ongoing series of occasional video reports and stories on “makers” in the community. We intend to cover a broad range of creative types, from visual artists to performing artists to artisans to culinary composers whose palettes are our palates. If you’d like to be profiled, please tell us a bit about what you do, including a link to a website, if you have one. Feel free to attach images. Please email both Andy Alfaro at and Deke Farrow at