Brief Project Description

Col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Modesto Art Museum, artists Jes­sica Gomula-Kruzic and Chris­t­ian Hali are cre­at­ing  //Building Imag­i­na­tion, an artis­tic response to Modesto’s rank­ing as the most unliv­able city in the coun­try. Through this project, we will explore some of the rea­sons for Modesto’s low rank­ing and re-imagine ways for the city to become a more liv­able, or even Utopian, soci­ety. Our goal is to con­front the area’s poverty of imag­i­na­tion by using art -  videos, archi­tec­ture,  design, and game­play — to inspire cre­ativ­ity to help solve the area’s many urban problems.

After exam­in­ing 70 cri­te­ria, the 2006 Most Liv­able Cities rank­ing placed Modesto last of 373 cities. In late 2008, Forbes Mag­a­zine rated it one of the 10 most mis­er­able cities in the coun­try, and in April 2009, rated it the least liv­able metro area of more than 500,000 peo­ple. Modesto’s prob­lems are over­whelm­ing and deep rooted. It has high rates of poverty, crime, pol­lu­tion, unem­ploy­ment, cost of liv­ing, and home fore­clo­sures; it has low rates of doc­tors per capita, access to health care, parks, recre­ational oppor­tu­ni­ties, and cul­tural ameni­ties. Addi­tion­ally, Modesto is in the San Joaquin Val­ley, the area that a con­gres­sional study in Decem­ber 2005 called the most impov­er­ished in the nation. Modesto’s rank­ing is in stark con­trast to its rep­u­ta­tion in the mid­dle years of the 20th cen­tury as a pro­gres­sive and desir­able com­mu­nity known for its cut­ting edge archi­tec­ture and urban design, and one of the fastest grow­ing cities in the country.

The Alter­nate Real­ity Game

//BUILDING IMAGINATION: the ARG is an alter­nate real­ity event, a seri­ous game in chang­ing the world for the pub­lic good.

It is free to play and open to any­one, any­where. It is for all ages; rec­om­mended age 13 and up. It invites every­one to help re-imagine a future for Modesto, or any­where else in the world. Peo­ple par­tic­i­pate by con­tribut­ing orig­i­nal online sto­ries, cre­at­ing new visions with every word.

The goal of the social net­work game is to help empower peo­ple all over the world, and espe­cially  peo­ple in Modesto, to come up with cre­ative solu­tions to our most urgent social problems.

The game begins on Sep­tem­ber 14, 2010. Play­ers can join the game at any time.

On Decem­ber 1, 2010 the first sea­son of the game will end.The game’s mas­ters reward the par­tic­i­pants (“heros”) with tokens accord­ing to their con­tri­bu­tions to our real­is­tic por­trayal of the re-building of imag­i­na­tion. The game places value on player-created com­mu­ni­ties, col­lab­o­ra­tive sto­ries, and col­lec­tive efforts.

Each con­tri­bu­tion helps the game arrive at a larger truth. No team of experts knows bet­ter than a given indi­vid­ual what effect an influx of imag­i­na­tion could have upon that individual’s life, or what action he or she will take to spur it for­ward. Per­sonal reac­tions to our sim­u­lated influx of imag­i­na­tion, placed in con­text with many other points of view, will help us all real­ize what’s at stake in our community.

Cred­its for the ARG Con­cepts and Struc­ture of Game­play include: World With­out Oil & Urgent EVOKE

The Videos

The four videos, each about 5 min­utes in length, will be struc­tured around the city’s offi­cial slo­gan “Water, Wealth, Con­tent­ment, Health” and will explore the city’s liv­abil­ity issues pri­mar­ily through its archi­tec­ture and urban design. While the videos will doc­u­ment the city’s archi­tec­ture and design, they will be pri­mar­ily expres­sive and exper­i­men­tal in their poetic inter­pre­ta­tions of each topic, and live video will be incor­po­rated into the instal­la­tions. Accord­ing to the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Archi­tects, archi­tec­ture and urban design offer a pow­er­ful per­spec­tive for explor­ing and find­ing reme­dies for a city’s liv­abil­ity issues. We have cho­sen this per­spec­tive to high­light the arts and their unique con­tri­bu­tion to explor­ing the area’s deep seated urban prob­lems. The per­spec­tive also focuses on art and artists as agents of change, and builders of the community.

Water will serve the entire project as a uni­fy­ing metaphor and visual image. It will be a sym­bol for the area’s abun­dance and eco­nomic pros­per­ity. The Water video will explore the spe­cific impor­tance of water in the econ­omy and envi­ron­ment of the Modesto area. The video will include the city’s bridges, canals, and water­ways, par­tic­u­larly the Tuolumne River run­ning through down­town Modesto, as well as a com­po­nent of live video. Water will also be our way to re-imagine how Modesto can pro­tect envi­ron­men­tal resources and con­serve land­scapes, par­tic­u­larly along the Tuolumne River. We will explore how con­serv­ing land­scapes can lead to per­son­ally and com­mu­nally reward­ing recre­ational and cul­tural opportunities.

The Wealth video will exam­ine the eco­nomic well-being of the city through its res­i­den­tial archi­tec­ture and neigh­bor­hood design. We will explore issues of liv­abil­ity, par­tic­u­larly the city’s high rates of home fore­clo­sure. We will explore ways to re-imagine Modesto neigh­bor­hoods, par­tic­u­larly through mixed-use devel­op­ment, includ­ing pre­serv­ing urban cen­ters, cre­at­ing neigh­bor­hood iden­ti­ties, and the cre­ation of the huge Tuolumne River Cor­ri­dor with parks, walk­ing trails, and bike paths that encour­age exer­cise and dis­cour­age the use of cars, and we will incor­po­rate a com­po­nent of live video. Vari­ety cre­ates vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, and diverse com­mu­ni­ties and accom­mo­dates res­i­dents in dif­fer­ent stages of their lives.

Through com­mu­nity inter­views, the Con­tent­ment video will explore how res­i­dents think and feel about their city, and will reveal their hopes and visions for its future. Involv­ing city res­i­dents is part of the Modesto Art Museum’s mis­sion to “break down the usual bar­ri­ers between artist, exhibitor, and viewer, invit­ing every­one to invest in cre­ative inter­ac­tion and dia­logue.” The video will encour­age reflec­tion on the AIA’s Prin­ci­ples for Liv­able Com­mu­ni­ties and their place in help­ing to cre­ate con­tent­ment and a thriv­ing com­mu­nity. In par­tic­u­lar we will look at design­ing on a human scale, vary­ing trans­porta­tion options, and build­ing vibrant pub­lic spaces.
The Health video will focus on the liv­abil­ity issues of health, health care, trans­porta­tion, and qual­ity of life. The city is ranked one of the worst in the coun­try for both men and women’s health. The city’s poor pub­lic health and high obe­sity rates (7th high­est in the coun­try) are related to the lack of health care pro­fes­sion­als and facil­i­ties, the lack of parks, hik­ing and bik­ing trails, and the high level of air pol­lu­tion (ranked 16th). Ways to re-imagine Modesto will also be explored, includ­ing pre­serv­ing urban cen­ters, cre­at­ing neigh­bor­hood iden­ti­ties, and the cre­ation of the huge Tuolumne River Cor­ri­dor with parks, walk­ing trails, and bike paths that encour­age exer­cise and dis­cour­age the use of cars. Addi­tion­ally, we will exam­ine two large scale archi­tec­ture projects planned for the city, the high speed rail ter­mi­nal, and the regional courthouse.

The Pub­lic

To get broad based com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion, we have included sev­eral avenues for  pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. First, they have been invited to sub­mit images and loca­tions for inclu­sion in the project through the Modesto Art Museum’s Flickr photo site. They can sub­mit both video and photo images. Sec­ond, mem­bers of the pub­lic will be inter­viewed, and these inter­views will be included in the Con­tent­ment video. Third, this project web­site is an acces­si­ble hub for com­mu­nity involve­ment. Mem­bers of the com­mu­nity are wel­come to post their sug­ges­tions, cri­tiques, ques­tions, thoughts and feel­ings on this site, and are encour­aged to dia­logue with other com­mu­nity mem­bers about liv­abil­ity issues in Modesto and to re-imagine the city’s future. And fourth, we have com­mit­ments from the fol­low­ing three non­profit / gov­ern­ment com­mu­nity part­ners who are work­ing specif­i­cally to improve the qual­ity of life in Modesto.

Com­mu­nity Partners

The Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Archi­tects, Sierra Val­ley Chapter:

The AIA has an ini­tia­tive to pro­mote liv­able cities through its Cen­ter for Com­mu­ni­ties by Design— “The Cen­ter for Com­mu­ni­ties by Design is a cat­a­lyst, con­vener, and source of infor­ma­tion that helps AIA mem­bers work with cit­i­zens and other stake­hold­ers to envi­sion and cre­ate more liv­able com­mu­ni­ties. Because archi­tects can lis­ten to a community’s needs and trans­late them into vis­i­ble and viable options, archi­tects are a valu­able resource to com­mu­ni­ties seek­ing to improve their qual­ity of life. Work­ing together, com­mu­nity mem­bers can cre­ate a vision of what they want their com­mu­nity to be and then imple­ment it.” (From AIA web site) Our con­tact with the AIA is Bar­rett Lipomi, vice pres­i­dent of the Sierra Val­ley chap­ter. The AIA will pro­vide advice, infor­ma­tion about the Cen­ter for Com­mu­ni­ties by Design, and con­sider the fin­ished video for screen­ing in the Modesto Archi­tec­ture Film Festival.

The Tuolumne River Trust

The TRT’s pro­gram, Con­serv­ing the Tuolumne River Cor­rider, pro­motes the cre­ation of the Lower Tuolumne River Park­way. “Once com­pleted, res­i­dents of Modesto and Stanis­laus County will have improved oppor­tu­ni­ties for canoe­ing, hik­ing, bird­watch­ing, bik­ing, and other activ­i­ties cen­tered around the Tuolumne River with the ulti­mate goal of con­tribut­ing to a vibrant and liv­able com­mu­nity.” (from TRT pam­phlet). Our con­tact at TRT is their exec­u­tive direc­tor. They will pro­vide infor­ma­tion about the Tuolumne River and the park­way includ­ing pho­tos and sug­ges­tions for video shoots.

The City of Modesto Pub­lic Art Committee

The vision of the Modesto Pub­lic Art Pro­gram is a city that is an aes­thet­i­cally stim­u­lat­ing and enjoy­able place to live. Peo­ple are delighted to visit, play, or work in pub­lic spaces when they are well designed and attrac­tive. Art and artis­tic design per­me­ate every aspect of the city’s infra­struc­ture either as free-standing art works or as part of the design of pub­lic build­ings and parks. Cit­i­zens and cor­po­ra­tions are inspired to include art in the pub­lic spaces of their own prop­er­ties and build­ing projects. Modesto has a rep­u­ta­tion as a place com­mit­ted to cre­ativ­ity and the arts, attract­ing tourists and busi­nesses to the city. (From the Modesto Pub­lic Art Mas­ter Plan). Hen­ri­etta Spark­man, chair of the Modesto Pub­lic Art Com­mit­tee is our con­tact. This is a citizen’s advi­sory com­mit­tee of the Modesto Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment. They will assist in the process for out­door screen­ings of the video, advise on the project, and receive pub­lic com­ment on the videos.

Pub­lic Exhi­bi­tions and Screen­ing of the Videos

After the videos are com­pleted, and over the course of six months, we will host free pub­lic screen­ings of the videos on the insides and out­sides of build­ings, directly recon­fig­ur­ing the land­scape of the city and chal­leng­ing pre­con­cep­tions. Live video will be incor­po­rated into the screen­ings. The screen­ings are not site spe­cific. By pro­ject­ing the videos in com­mu­nity spaces both pub­lic and pri­vate, the project also draws upon the Modesto Art Museum’s mis­sion to spon­sor art events in every pos­si­ble set­ting includ­ing “gal­leries, pub­lic and pri­vate insti­tu­tions, parks, streets, schools, churches, homes, on-line, and in trav­el­ing exhibits.”

Besides being avail­able on the Modesto Art Museum web site, this site, Youtube, and var­i­ous indoor screen­ings, we will host three out­door screenings:
  • Best of Oak­land, Jack Lon­don Square, Oak­land, CA; August 2010.
  • Ander­son Gallery, 1323 J Street, Modesto, dur­ing a Third Thurs­day Art Walk
  • Char­treuse Muse Gallery, 10th Street, Modesto, dur­ing a Third Thurs­day Art Walk
  • Carnegie Art Cen­ter, Tur­lock, solo exhi­bi­tion scheduled.


In response to the videos, com­mu­nity mem­bers will be invited to add com­ments to the blog for the project and upload their own photo and video responses to the Modesto Art Museum’s Flickr site.

About The Modesto Art Museum

The Modesto Art Museum was founded in 2005. Its mis­sion is to inspire the cre­ativ­ity of peo­ple every­where through the arts, for their own enjoy­ment, and for the improve­ment of their per­sonal lives and the life of the whole com­mu­nity. To accom­plish this mis­sion, the museum spon­sors exhi­bi­tions, work­shops, classes, lec­tures, pub­li­ca­tions, per­for­mances, read­ings, tours, films, and sym­posia. The museum is not pri­mar­ily an archive for art, but a facil­i­ta­tor of and cat­a­lyst for cre­ativ­ity in the com­mu­nity. It does not have its own build­ing but rather brings art into the com­mu­nity through an ongo­ing series of tem­po­rary pub­lic exhibits and events. We have hosted paint­ing, col­lage, assem­blage, multi-media, tech­nol­ogy, movie, photo, and sculp­ture events in a park, a the­atre, muse­ums, sev­eral art gal­leries, at street fairs, and other com­mu­nity formats.

In the area of media and dig­i­tal arts, the museum is co-founder and pro­ducer of the Modesto Archi­tec­ture Film Fes­ti­val, the only archi­tec­ture film fes­ti­val in the coun­try, and the Modesto Reel Food Film Fes­ti­val, the only annual food film fes­ti­val in Cal­i­for­nia. In the field of archi­tec­ture, the museum pub­lished Mod­ernism in Modesto, 1937–1972, a guide to the mod­ern archi­tec­ture of Modesto, hosts the Flickr online Modesto Archi­tec­ture group, and leads guided walk­ing tours of down­town Modesto archi­tec­ture. The pop­u­lar walk­ing tours are part of the museum’s suc­cess­ful record of com­mu­nity engagement.

This project is appro­pri­ate now because Modesto’s qual­ity of life issues are receiv­ing local and national atten­tion. This is an oppor­tu­nity for the museum to address major social issues and pro­vide a for­mat for cre­ative problem-solving for the com­mu­nity. We will directly address the area’s poverty of imag­i­na­tion, par­tic­u­larly in regards to cre­ativ­ity in solv­ing deep-seated, sys­temic problems.

Inspir­ing Cre­ativ­ity By

  • Offer­ing peo­ple an expe­ri­ence of the power of art to inspire cre­ativ­ity and to help solve sig­nif­i­cant com­mu­nity problems.
  • Rais­ing con­scious­ness, encour­ag­ing thought, and facil­i­tat­ing dia­logue about qual­ity of life issues in Modesto.
  • Edu­cat­ing the pop­u­la­tion about basic prin­ci­pals for liv­able com­mu­ni­ties, in par­tic­u­lar the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Architect’s 10 Prin­ci­ples of Liv­able Com­mu­ni­ties and the city of Modesto’s mas­ter plan for future development.


About the Exec­u­tive Artis­tic Producers

Artist Jes­sica Gomula’s inter­me­dia instal­la­tion work employs the use of ani­ma­tion and video sequences pro­jected into large scale instal­la­tion envi­ron­ments which elicit viewer inter­ac­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion. Her work has been exhib­ited exten­sively both nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally, in tra­di­tional and non-traditional set­tings. She is pro­fes­sor of Time Based Media at Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­sity, Stanis­laus. This project con­tin­ues her artis­tic goal to cre­ate col­lab­o­ra­tive inter­me­dia art­work in alter­na­tive pub­lic spaces and will expand her social-consciousness-raising sub­ject mat­ter through the metaphor­i­cal use of archi­tec­tural structures.

Artist Chris­t­ian Hali uses archi­tec­ture and land­scape as a visual metaphor for the human con­di­tion. Hali’s award-winning col­lab­o­ra­tive work includes art direc­tion for Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues and Play­house Dis­ney. His fine art work has been exhib­ited in New York, New Jer­sey, and Cal­i­for­nia, and he has taught new media courses at CSU Stanis­laus. This project builds upon his artis­tic inter­est in the inter­sec­tion of peo­ple, infra­struc­ture, and com­mu­nity and will allow his work to be used as a pub­lic vehi­cle for aware­ness and change.

The scope of this project and the amount of com­mu­nity involve­ment expands the visions of both the artists and the museum. The artists have not pre­vi­ously relied so heav­ily on com­mu­nity involve­ment for the sub­stance of their work, or have they had the oppor­tu­nity to cre­ate such a large scale visual impact over a sus­tained period of time and through­out a city. These are chal­lenges that both the Modesto Art Museum and the artists embrace.

A Col­lab­o­ra­tive Conversation

The artists, the museum direc­tor, and a museum adviser had twelve 1 to 2-hour meet­ings to cre­ate this project. Every­one par­tic­i­pated in the con­ver­sa­tion, which was infor­mal and per­sonal. Addi­tion­ally, the pro­posal was writ­ten using Google Doc­u­ments so every­one had equal access and could add or change the text as nec­es­sary. We used a con­sen­sus model of decision-making. We will use a sim­i­lar col­lab­o­ra­tion plan for the cre­ation of the videos and for their screen­ing in the com­mu­nity. We will have monthly and as needed meet­ings for the dura­tion of the project and con­tinue com­mu­ni­ca­tions via email and phone. The col­lab­o­ra­tion takes advan­tage of the artists’ expe­ri­ence in media arts and the museum’s exper­tise in local archi­tec­ture and com­mu­nity out­reach. The col­lab­o­rat­ing artis­tic pro­duc­ers will be encour­aged to con­tribute their own ideas and visions directly into the final project.

Divi­sion of Major Logis­ti­cal Duties

The project will be over­seen by Bob Barzan, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Modesto Art Museum. Barzan will be the pri­mary con­tact between the artists and the museum and will meet with the artists reg­u­larly. He will be respon­si­ble for secur­ing insur­ance, per­mits, or per­mis­sions and for work­ing with the artists to com­plete the project. He will also work with the artists in the orga­niz­ing of pub­lic screen­ings of the fin­ished videos.

The artists will be respon­si­ble for devel­op­ing sto­ry­boards, shoot­ing and edit­ing the videos, prepar­ing for and car­ry­ing out the inter­views, secur­ing releases for those who appear in the video, for the entire cre­ative artic­u­la­tion of the videos, and fin­ish­ing the prod­uct so that it is avail­able for use by the museum and the pub­lic. Addi­tion­ally they will par­tic­i­pate in the screen­ings of the video in the six months after its creation.Though the museum will own the work and be respon­si­ble for its dis­tri­b­u­tion, we will make the videos avail­able to oth­ers for their cre­ative use through a Cre­ative Com­mons Attri­bu­tion Non-Commercial License. This license allows oth­ers to remix, tweak, and build upon our work, and although their new works must also acknowl­edge us and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their deriv­a­tive works on the same terms.