Wait, is downtown Modesto becoming ... cool? Sky-high murals splashed across buildings. Maker’s markets drawing thousands to its streets. And now an open-air music garden that could become the soundtrack to it all.
The Modesto Rotary Club is planning an interactive, open-air music garden in the grassy courtyard in front of the Gallo Center for the Arts. The project is part of the community service group’s centennial celebration, and is meant to be a gift to the city and its residents. And, they hope, it will become another part of the rejuvenation of the downtown area.
The music garden will feature a semi-circular design and be filled with eight permanently installed metal instruments which can be played by the public. There will also be plenty of areas to sit and listen, and other music-themed elements meant to encourage gathering.
“People from all over, who maybe normally don’t interact with each other, can come here. Families, downtown workers, people taking a break,” said Modesto Rotary President Phil Trompetter.
Modesto Rotary has long been planning and saving a project to coincide with its chapter’s 100th anniversary next spring. Then last year Modesto Rotary member and past president Lynn Dickerson attended a convention where the makers of outdoor interactive instruments were showcased.
Dickerson said it was then the idea to bring a music garden to downtown’s Gallo Center, where she has served as CEO since 2009. The 6,000 square-foot grassy area at the corner of I and 11th streets has been largely empty, used for the occasional lunchtime picnic but not much more.
The club agreed and the project became a collaboration between the Modesto Rotary, Gallo Center and Porges Family Foundation. And Modesto landscape architect Chad Kennedy of O’Dell Engineering donated his services.
What they came up with is a semi-circular garden at the back of the courtyard surrounded by a wall people can sit on. Inside the semi-circle is an area with three seating blocks and three Cajon Drums, a box drum that you sit on and play with your hands.
Then at the center of the semi-circle will be a raised area with four additional instruments, most played with the hands: Babel Drum (standing metal drum that looks like an inverted steel drum), Handpipe (an aerophone of descending pipes played like a drum), Emperor Chimes (8-foot tall vertical chimes) and Tutti (array of three standing vertical xylophones 4-feet high played with attached mallets).
A pagoda structure will cover the center area, and two cement walkways — both engraved with music-themed designs — will radiate out from the center to the main sidewalks. Another walkway will run behind the music garden, which no doubt will thrill everyone going to Gallo Center shows who park along 11th Street.
The full amount for the planned design, $161,000, has already been raised. But the club has additional naming opportunities available to raise funds for continued maintenance and possible additions to the garden, which is being called the MoRo Music Garden.
Dickerson said the garden falls into the urban “placemaking” trend, a concept in city planning which encourages making places for people to come together and interact.
“This creates a place for people to gather for positive purposes,” Dickerson said. “This is also the antidote to some of the vagrancy and loitering issues we have. Having an inviting place for people you want to come here discourages the people you don’t want to be here from staying. We don’t have enough of those downtown.”
Still, given the number of homeless downtown around-the-clock, one might immediately start to worry about the safety and security of permanently installed instruments in the music garden. Dickerson said that has been taken into consideration. The Gallo Center already has on-site security, and they hope to install cameras specifically overlooking the garden.
As is, you practically never see homeless using the grassy area, and Dickerson gave her assurances it would not become a sleeping or loitering area for transients.
She also addressed what could be another worry — that it will all just be a noisy racket. The instruments are all carefully tuned, she said, and when played together instead of being a cacophony of sound they all blend together harmoniously.
Construction on the project should begin in late December or early January with a planned unveiling at the end of April 2020, just before the club celebrates its 100th birthday on May 1.
Some 200,000 came to shows at the Gallo Center last year, as well as some 30,000 area schoolkids taking part in educational programming. The foot traffic around the city’s premiere performance arts venue will only increase with this free music garden, and probably draw in people who have never stepped inside.
All in all, it sounds pretty cool. And while I kid about downtown Modesto’s so-called coolness, it’s extremely encouraging to see so many groups and businesses working on this project as well as others to make the area a vibrant and healthy heartbeat for the city.