The Arts Consortium of Visalia

by Evelyne Vivies

Art is all about self-expression.
Communication of that artistic expression has, throughout human history, allowed people of different times and different cultures to communicate with each other through images, sounds, and stories.

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No people better understand the importance of this cultural bridge for our society than the gatekeepers of artistic expression of the Central Valley, the Arts Consortium in Visalia. They are needed especially now that Americans of different races, religions, countries of origin, sexualities, and education levels seem to so often misunderstand each other.

Rebecca Haigh art teacher My voice media center arts consortium
Under the Art Consortium’s umbrella, and its fitting logo, art in its many forms is facilitated and woven into the community.
Ampelio Mejia Perez, General Manager of the Art Consortium, is the epitome of both art and community. He is an artist in his own right, and works diligently to nurture the connection between local artists and the valley’s community. “He is active in all aspects of the organization and he is friendly and helpful to everybody,” says Rebecca Haigh, a painting instructor who was setting up to teach a morning pastel class when I arrived.

Pastel is one of several free art classes offered at the Art Consortium’s 300 E. Oak Avenue building as part of the My Voice Media Center art initiative under Ampelio’s direction. Other classes include painting, drawing, writing, guitar, photography, photo editing, video editing, and sound recording. The teachers are all well-respected artists. Retired Time Magazine writer James Willwerth teaches writing. Andrew Kenefick, owner of Grace Note Music Studio, teaches sound recording. Local photographer Michael Alvarez, formerly from Mike’s Camera, teaches photography. “We have really amazing people who come in and share their knowledge with all our participants,” says Ampelio.
Ampelio Mejia Perez, General Manager of the Arts Consortium

Blending artists’ creations into community life is a specialty of the Arts Consortium. Thanks to the plethora and variety of the marketing tools that the AC utilizes to bring art into our lives, you can’t live in Visalia and not be touched one way or another by art.

Visalia is bursting at the seams with talented artists, and the AC wants everyone in the community to see their work. The AC has artfully sewn art into the tapestry of Downtown Visalia by offering food, fun, live music, and art every first Friday of every month, with their First Friday art hop. It has grown by domino effect. New or shy artists who admire established artists’ work on display, have been emboldened in their art forms to showcase their talent. The exhibit keeps growing. “Its focus,” continues Ampelio, “is bringing the attention to businesses [in] downtown Visalia, and bringing out art lovers and supporters.”

With their spring art exhibit, the AC takes us art gallery window-shopping. However, unlike San Francisco where you can literally go to a dozen art galleries on foot, here in the valley, you need a car and a map. So on a cool spring day in the valley, they will sell you an artist directory and map in the form of a beautiful magazine called Passport. The magazine comes complete with in-depth articles on artists of every genre on the tour, from award-winning Art Vessel artist Toni Best, to Expressionist Fusion artist Betty Berk, who developed the Dinuba Festival of the Arts.

The South Valley Tour includes cities south of Hwy 198 (Visalia, Tulare, Lindsay, Porterville and Exeter), and happens every other Spring. The North Valley Tour includes cities north of 198. “The art tour has grown so much since we started,” marvels Ampelio, “that we had to split it into two tours, so that people didn’t have to drive so much.”

But of all the ways the AC has enticed valley art lovers to embrace their community’s art, none has done so quite as boldly as the widely successful Taste The Arts outdoor exhibit. Dubbed the largest outdoor art exhibit in the Central Valley, every year it draws more than 6,000 people from all over California. This massive art event happens the third Saturday of October each year, and this year will be its 10-year anniversary. Art lovers and supporters of local artists, save the date, October 19, 2019! “We fill up the entire street with over 100 artist booths, food vendors, stage performances, quick draw, food vendor contest, booth contests,” states Ampelio.

This year will also be its last at this location. The City of Visalia plans to put the entire block, including the AC building and lumberyard, up for auction. “We are very grateful to the City of Visalia for letting us use this space, but we are saving money and will move to an even better place when the time comes.”

The AC endeavors, above all else, to increase support for the arts. “That’s really the main issue,” says Ampelio. “People underestimate the idea that art is beneficial to their community. I think a lot of people forget that. They’ve probably been told that artists don’t make money, that art is not a career.” What budding artist has not heard that from their well-meaning parents? “The problem with that, is that then schools don’t prioritize the arts.”

As a substitute teacher for the local school districts, I can confirm that art is surprisingly absent from lesson plans more often than not. “So you don’t have creative thinkers anymore,” continues Ampelio. “You don’t have people who use their creative skills to break through some challenges, and that leads to societal problems. I think that creativity, the creative process, the support for the arts, makes the community stronger. It really does and it also helps create an identity for the community.”

We look forlornly out the window of his office to the lumberyard walls behind. “Folks around here know the lumberyard because of the aerosol art. If it weren’t for the art, it would just be blank walls in a dead lot. The art brings it to life.”

The Urbanist Collective group, which came to be a non-profit organization thanks to the help of the AC, uses the lumberyard to do community outreach for kids, and to help people who already do aerosol art—graffiti art—to elevate the art form.
The Urbanist Collective group picture

Reggie Gamboa is the local representative of the Urbanist Collective group. “Our group is made up of urban local artists: aerosol artists, acrylic, tattoo, photographers, videographers, DJs, poets, etc., and our original intent was to bring more art and art programs to their community.” Since then, their vision has broadened to cultivating creativity in their community through art workshops, art programs, community murals, and music festivals. “The goal is to use urban culture to better ourselves and the environment that we grow and live in,” explains Reggie.
Aerosole art in old lumberyard behind Arts Consortium building

The Urbanist Collective group began painting in the Taste the Arts festival, and the City of Visalia approved the space to be used as a side attraction. “Everybody loved it,” says Reggie. So they built more walls to paint on from their personal funds and invited more artists. “We originally agreed to use the space until the property was sold, and sadly, this October will be our last month here.” This year’s Taste The Arts will be their last event at the lumberyard. “We appreciate every person who was in support of our venture at the lumberyard and we promise it will continue at another location.”

Reggie continues: “The most powerful tool I believe [that] I can give another person is the ability to solve their own problems. Creativity. To be innovative. To create ideas in real time. I believe the culture of art breeds creative minds. Urban art is the tool we are offering to capture and hone people’s personal abilities. I fully believe everybody should create something in some fashion, but through urban art forms we can engage the community better and in turn bring it closer together.
Pride Visalia aerosole art lumber yard behind Arts Consortium

“I also want to say that graffiti is a tool that many abuse,” adds Reggie. “But to use it in a positive, constructive manner is the best way to eradicate the negative aspect of it. If the youth have the tools and the time to engage themselves in the self-reflective art forms, I’m sure their personal work would speak for itself.”
More aerosole art lumber yard Arts Consortium

“Our mission,” says Ampelio, “is to bring together artists, art supporters, and businesses and really prioritize the arts. Our vision is to make art available to anybody at all, and make it a part of everyday life in Tulare County.”

As a nation, we have never been more in need of cultural bridges. Continue building bridges with art, Ampelio, and we will come out to support the arts and your good work.

Keep updated on the future art events and locations at and

Photography by Roger Gong
Group Urbanist Collective picture provided by Reggie Gamboa.

Evelyne Vivies is a native to the French island of Guadeloupe living the American dream in Visalia, CA.