by Lorie Lewis Ham
Recently KRL spoke with local artist Teresa Flores about an exciting new art project at the new Fresno City College campus in West Fresno and two community engagement events related to the project. One took place on August 26, but the second event will be taking place on October 4 at FCC’s Art Space Gallery.
Teresa: The West Fresno Center Water Feature Project is an art element of the construction of the new Fresno City College campus in West Fresno. The water feature area will include a walk-under waterfall and a long rectangular fountain area with painted ceramic tile vignettes of local West Fresno historic figures and sites, as well as cultural elements specific to West Fresno’s Black, Asian and Latino communities, and visual representations of a hopeful future for the area. The imagery for the artwork will come directly from West Fresno community voices through a monthslong series of community engagement workshops.
KRL: What is the West Fresno Center Project?
KRL: What is your involvement with this project and why do you feel it is important?
Teresa: This project is very important to the West Fresno community, Fresno, and the Central Valley in general. We don’t have many sites of public art that tell the histories and hopes of our local communities, particularly Black, Indigenous and communities of color, in the ways that we want to be represented. As the artist leading the project, I’m viewing the site as a monument to West Fresno, not just a work of public art. West Fresno’s Black community has been historically overlooked and marginalized, its neighborhoods redlined and access to health care and higher education unavailable. At the same time, the innovation and creativity of this community has made it one of the most culturally rich places in the Fresno area. This site is an important opportunity to celebrate that richness and recognize the generations of work of West Fresno Black community advocates who have fought for justice and quality of life.
KRL: Please tell us a little about the work you do with communities to build visibility through art, imagine a better world and encourage creative action for joy and survival.
Teresa: It takes a lot of creativity to survive in a world that has been structured to keep black and brown people from thriving to their fullest potential. It also takes an active imagination to find joy and push toward a better life. Art happens in art studios and hangs in museums, but it is also an art to live, thrive and survive through our daily actions. My work finds ways to make spaces that celebrate those actions/social practices, often through the lens of my Chicana culture. For example, I do this by working with communities to make quesadillas through my project Experimental Quesadilla Lab or by painting hot sauce bottles with gold filigree through my series, The Adornamented Collection.
Storytelling and representation are also important themes in my work. We don’t need to be media moguls to elevate our own images and tell our stories in our own words, but we do need the space and the tools. Through my work as a social practice artist, I aim to make spaces for communities to share their stories with each other, sometimes while making quesadillas, and to open opportunities for folks to build their art skills and find new mediums to express themselves, such as with the Mobile Mural Project.
Teresa: The original call for art was written by West Fresno community historians and generations-deep stakeholders who specified that the art had to be about West Fresno. The first stage of development of the artwork includes a three-month period of deep listening to current and past members of the West Fresno community. It’s important to hear how folks want to be represented and I’m working with Fresno City College and local community partners to hold storytelling and listening workshops to hear as many voices as we can in order to identify key themes and imagery.
KRL: Why did you want to reach out to the community about this?
KRL: Will you be doing the actual artwork on the fountain?
Teresa: Yes, my original vision for the artwork was to include a series of painted tile vignettes with portraits and streetscapes of iconic West Fresno community members and places. That vision could shift as the community engagement period begins to reveal key themes and imagery but I am excited to combine my skill sets of drawing, painting, and social practice.
KRL: Tell us about the first event that just took place?
Teresa: We kicked off our community engagement recently at BBQ Bob, an outdoor restaurant in West Fresno. The owner, Bobby Jones, is a graduate of Fresno City College (like myself), and started his professional sports career there before returning to West Fresno to pursue his passion of opening a restaurant and serving his community. We partnered with Fresno Housing Authority’s Dignity Team and Community Media Access Channel (CMAC) to document the memories of local community members on video and had a steady stream of folks record their stories that day. The site was a nice place for folks to reconnect over a BBQ meal and reminisce. It felt more like a family reunion than a public gathering and that is because many of the folks present really were family, and have been neighbors for generations. There’s a deep amount of care that was shared that day, in ways that you won’t see in other parts of Fresno.
KRL: Can you tell us about the event coming up on October 4 and how people can get involved?
Teresa: We’re working on lining up more events in West Fresno, but we also recognize that folks sometimes move to other parts of the city after growing up in the area. Our event on October 4 is an opportunity to gather students, faculty, and staff at the main campus of FCC who might also be from West Fresno and want to contribute their memory or hopes for their community. The event is open to anyone who is from West Fresno and wishes to stop by and record a story, regardless of if they are from FCC. There’s even free parking that day!
KRL: When will the project center and fountain be completed?
Teresa: The community engagement process will run through the end of November, followed by a design and production period. Right now, we’re hoping to install the work on the water feature in May 2023. I’m not sure exactly when the new center will be completed, but there’s a live view of the construction site here: app.oxblue.com/open/harris/SCCCDWestFresno.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Teresa: There is certain to be more community-centered projects by and for West Fresno in the future, so the interviews we record will be archived at the FCC library for folks to access for generations to come.
Most of the community engagement work is centered on in-person activities, but there’s a form available for folks who might not be able to join. It allows you to upload documents like text or photos and also encourages folks to really take time to think through what stories they might want to record and do it on their own time at home. Here’s the link: forms.gle/5xkxgpeE7fdeQTuR9
October 4 from 11 a.m.– 2 p.m. at FCC Art Space Gallery – Drop-in workshop at Art Space Gallery where FCC students, faculty, and staff with a connection to West Fresno can gather to write, draw, and speak their stories and visions to inform the water feature’s artwork. Light refreshments will be provided.
Location: Fresno City College, Art Space Gallery (AH101), The Art Space Gallery is located in the Art and Home Economics building, next to the main fountain.