After what we politely will call a five-year vacation on the coast, the California State University Summer Arts program is coming home.
“Summer Arts is thrilled to be returning to CSU Fresno in July 2017,” said Rachel Lee Nardo, director of the program.
Fresno State hosted the annual month-long program – which brings in dozens of world-class artists in a variety of genres to teach hundreds of students from across the CSU system – from 1999 to 2011. When it left it had been in Fresno for 13 years, half of the program’s existence, and become a fixture on the central San Joaquin Valley’s cultural scene.
When the program returns in 2017 for a new five-year run, it will mean dozens of public performances offered each season.
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Over the years, the list of famed – and not so famous but ferociously talented – artists performing in intimate venues in Fresno was long and illustrious. From Broadway actor/performance artist Bill Irwin to the Alexander String Quartet and the Joe Goode Performance Group to members of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the festival consistently offered sophisticated and top-notch fare, all for prices a fraction of what you would pay to see them in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles.
The program typically changes campuses every five years through a competitive-bid process but parked in Fresno for 13 years because of overwhelming community support. It left in 2012 for CSU Monterey Bay, where it will be finishing up its last year this summer.
A strong pitch to the Summer Arts site visit committee earlier this spring by a group made up of Fresno State administrators, faculty and community members was instrumental in bringing the program back to Fresno.
Jose Díaz, former dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, wrote the proposal. Lilia Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council, was one of those community members.
“When it comes back, it will be wonderful,” Chavez said. “It was a unique opportunity for Fresno to have access to some of the finest artists in the country.”
Nardo said Fresno State was chosen again for its excellent arts facilities and ability to host Summer Arts in a retreat-like environment.
“We also observed that the personal and collective warmth of the community and the campus’ deep commitment to the arts continues to make the campus a perfect fit for transformative and immersive learning through the arts, both for the students and the community,” she said.
The Summer Arts program is funded by $1.2 million annually in state lottery funds. The budget for 2016 hasn’t been finalized because it depends on registration numbers, but the 2015 budget total was $2.2 million. When the program was in Fresno, the budget was about $1.6 million.
Music professor Benjamin Boone also made a plea to the site visit committee. He explained that he wrote and performed jazz music. But instead of jazz on this occasion, he told the committee he was “hearing” a country song.
“We were partners for 13 good years, and then for some reason you found the relationship to be too hot and fiery, and so you went to the coast to cool down these past five years,” he recalled saying.
“When you love something, you set it free, and now we are hoping you come back. We have a new president excited about community engagement. We have studio space downtown. Arthop is thriving. People are living downtown. We’ve had two U.S. poet laureates.
“So come back into our loving arms, and this time let’s maybe get married.”