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“Cultivating Civilization” in a Mall–The Manchester Experiment

IN THE October 27 ISSUE

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by Tom Sims

I had been tripping over reminders of The Manchester Experiment for a while when I decided I’d better take a look. I discovered a collective of artists, poets, sculptors, and musicians joined by community builders and organizers who believe that art brings people together and can create neighborhoods in unlikely places like shopping malls.

Ramiro Martinez is the visionary and mover behind the experiment. He is also an artist and poet who brings passion and beauty to the movement. He believes that, “by actively engaging with the community the collective intends to utilize this dialogue as a mechanism of evolution.”

Ramiro Martinez

Located on the second floor of the sometimes barren mall, is this life giving force, spilling over into ground floor murals and conversations around observations.

It is much more than an art gallery. It is that and it is more.

It is much more than a venue for events. It is that and more. It is a showcase and more.

The Manchester Experiment is just what it says it is. It is something experiential and experimental. What could happen in a place where people shop, learn, mingle, eat, work, and find jobs if that space were invaded by the force of artistic expression? Might community happen?

The mall is a centerpiece in a crowded, somewhat depressed part of Fresno that is not blighted enough to be recognized as depressed and not upscale enough to be featured on the cover of trendy publicity pieces.

But it has invented itself into something significant and sustainable. Workforce Connection is there. The City Council district office is located there. It has a Starbucks, a multiplex theater, a merry-ground, a community college campus, stores, a Cal-Trans office, and a bus terminal.

And it has people who pass through and by.

Now, it has a grand experiment. It has and it is The Manchester Experiment.

Martinez says that, “We…intend to provide public events to the community which will showcase the creative ability of anyone who wishes to join our collective.”

Ramiro Martinez is a familiar and major player in the Fresno art scene. Fresno is his home and his studio. In his most recent work, about to be unveiled to the world, he has painted the second largest mural in Fresno in the oldest indoor mall in Fresno and the subject is an aerial view of Fresno…as if one had taken flight and could view the city of his vision from the sky.

I will be writing more about Ramiro and interviewing him for a subsequent article in the near future.

The mural is called “Cultivating Civilization.” The unveiling reception is Saturday, November 10 at 4 p.m. at The Manchester Experiment, Manchester Mall, 1901 East Shields (at Blackstone), Suite G 203.1, Fresno, CA. 93726. A procession will begin on the mall’s ground level near the Sears entrance. At that time, Ramiro will discuss his work. At 5 p.m., the crowd will march upstairs for live music, drinks, food, and readings by poets Francisco Duarte, Sam Duarte, John Martinez, and Matt Sedillo. The event, along with conversation will continue into the evening.

In the process of the procession will be the emergence and evolution of community. Art does not happen without artists. The artist does not create in isolation, but it collaboration whether it is conscious or unconscious. When it is conscious, there can be synergy. Where there is synergy, there can be community. Where there is community, there can be renewal of neighborhoods and people.

The Manchester Experiment is open for Art Hop, the first Thursday of every month.

In their words, they “provide the community with an outlet for expression, learning, viewing, and participation in our culture. We offer many workshops and events free of cost to the general public promoting art education and connecting our community to a creative cultural outlet.”

Furthermore, with regard to revitalizing public space, they say, “The Manchester Experiment intends to reinvent the American shopping mall, balancing the consumerist mechanism by providing the public with a new experience. Located in the heart of Fresno, The Manchester Center is a common ground for our region’s diversity. By promoting our values and mission we can create a community where the arts can flourish.”

They invite people to join who share their vision and desire to work. They announce regular meetings on Facebook and seek out artists and activists to join without fee. They rent out workspace and they accept donations, but they are primarily about giving to the city. Check out their space. They are located upstairs in the North end of the Manchester Center (between the old Gottschalk’s and Sears).

The Artists

As one who is invested in the neighborhood and city that Manchester gathers around it, I plan on following this movement and writing more about the people and their creations. More than that, I might even get involved. That is the wonderful danger of checking into things that are alive. Life draws life to itself around art and before you know it, you have become a part of it all and what happens develops a life of its own.

That can even happen in a mall.

For more information on this event and future events, email themanchesterexperiment@gmail[dot]com or ramirosart@gmail[dot]com. Other contact information is on their Facebook page and blog.

Check back here for more articles in the future on the Manchester Experiment & watch for their events on our event pages.

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.

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