Fresno’s Art Scene Flourishes Despite Lack of Support

Words. Jarrett Ramones.
Photos. Adrian Diaz.

The sky darkened over the San Francisco Bay as a young woman collapsed into a heap on a green plastic seat.

She was winded from running to catch the bus after work. She settled in for the long commute from Emeryville across the bay to her rowhouse rental in San Francisco.

“I told myself I’m going to do it tonight,” she said. “I told myself I’m going to draw before I go to bed, but I don’t know.”

She leaned her head against the glass window absently staring at the concrete buildings and city lights that zipped by out of focus.

For Fresno-born painter Andreyna Cazares, life in San Francisco is more about survival than expression.

“I would make time to create in Fresno — here my main concern is how I make my living,” she said.

Cazares moved to San Francisco over a year ago in hopes of finding artistic growth but because of the high cost of living she has been struggling to find the spark.

“I thought that this would be a great source of inspiration for me — I feel like I was way more inspired in Fresno,” Cazares said. “Here people are nice, but they are very focused on the everyday grind.”

It’s no wonder people are focused on making ends meet. The median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3430 per month, which makes it the most expensive rental market in the state.

Cazares’s current work as a hair stylist in Emeryville leaves her with little time or energy to create.

“I was surrounded by a lot of creative people in Fresno — I hung out with a lot of passionate people, they dedicated so much time and effort in craft,” Cazares said.

Back in Cazares’s hometown of Fresno, artist and professor of Art, Teresa Flores settles into a quiet room in the Conley Art Gallery at Fresno State.

“In San Francisco and in LA artists are being priced out of affordable housing,” explained Flores. Flores knows that not many artists can afford raising rents in neighborhoods long known for their creativity in bigger cities.

This makes Fresno an attractive place for artists, since the median price for a 1-bedroom is only $660 per month.

The Conley Art Building at CSU Fresno. Photo by Kody Stoebig.

“Fresno always has had an art scene,” Flores said. “It’s not oversaturated with artists like L.A. or San Francisco, which is why something like the feminist art movement really flourished here and then moved on to California Institute of the Arts.”

Alvaro Romero, a multimedia artist and business owner based in Fresno, said that while the art scene is alive in Fresno, “patrons are few and galleries are severely lacking.”

“[Fresno] has talented artists but its audience is undereducated, appreciation of art is next to non-existent,” Romero said.

“[In San Francisco] the incomes are higher and the education is much higher,” Romero said. “Education is crucial to [art] appreciation.”

Flores explains Fresno is not known for its art community because of a lack of education and understanding.

“We don’t get a lot of art education in schools,” Flores said. “The city of Fresno contributes zero dollars to the Fresno Arts Council, yet they’re marketing the murals like ‘come see our murals, come see the fantastic talent that we have here!’”

The travel website Thrillist named Fresno one of best cities in America for murals and street art recently because of the high concentration of murals in what some call the Mural District just north of downtown.

“It’s frustrating as an artist because the city is benefitting off the work of the artist but they’re not really giving back to artists,” Flores said.

Still, Flores and her artist friends believe “Fresno is special and that it’s our home and it’s what drives our work.”

While the rent might be cheap, the lack of investment from City Hall and a severe lack of arts education in schools means that the Fresno arts scene remains in the shadow of larger cities– at least in public perception.

“It’s a good testing ground. Fresno is a good place to experiment, but we do have room for growth.”

As for Cazares, she remains uncertain how much longer she will continue to live in San Francisco.

“Like it’s cool and stuff but, I’m not in love with it,” Cazares said. “I’ve always told myself I would go back to Fresno after I’m a little more established in my career.”