A former union army outpost, plating works plant, icehouse, barn and accompanying warehouses, which The Creative Center calls home, was leased to the Center back in 1977 by Visalia City Council for $100 per year – that price still exists today. The lease was contingent upon the Center developing $15,000 worth of improvements to the property every five years – which has been done and then some for every five-year period since.
Current Student Body
The 92 current students are between 20 – 74 years of age. Some are new, others have attended the Center for 20 or 30 years. It can accommodate up to 100 students.
“We always expand to take in new students, but at times have a waiting list,” said Amanda Guajardo, executive director. “We try to meet everyone’s needs.”
While many students live in Visalia, some come from as far as Three Rivers, Dinuba, Reedley and Armona to attend classes, five days per week.
Classes include the visual arts, performing arts and life skills.
Students “are not required to be artists,” Guajardo said, “but they are required to have a passion for the arts.”
And, while the Center does not provide transportation, staff does their best to make arrangements to get students to class every day. For example, in life skills, students may learn to take public transportation on their own.
While many students may have a preponderance toward either visual or performing arts, they are encouraged to take part in both, whenever possible.
There is a student council called People First. Twenty-year-old Selena Mejia is president and Tim Buss, 31, is vice president.
Mejia is fairly new to the Center having been a student for the past two years. The Woodlake resident enjoys expressing herself in her visual arts work.
“I call myself an alien because I am not like anyone else,” she said.
In a self-portrait, she draws herself with a small alien caricature, her cats, her mother hugging her and more. Text fills the background with printed words, cut from a book. It isn’t the text that matters, but rather the look of the words filling the rest of the artwork.
Her life has not been easy, she said. She was raped at the age of 10. Her father was a drunk. Her mother has suffered from being victimized as well, and from a broken marriage. Still, Mejia is upbeat and enjoys living with her siblings and her mom. She’s learned to cope, she said.
“All my art comes from heart,” she said. It expresses, “there are things worth fighting for in life.”
Buss returned as a student about two years ago. He had an approximate five-year-leave following his first eight years of study at the Center.
Active in the theatre, Buss has been in about 12 plays, he said, and he is now learning to work behind the camera by filming some of the Center’s podcasts for U-Tube. He plays the saxophone in the well-known Blues Brothers Act of the Center, and also paints in visual arts classes.
“Acting has always been a part of my life,” he said, with a lot of his family also being into theater.
Being officers within People First, Mejia and Buss get to travel around the state for conferences of similar groups, where they meet and learn other ideas and activities to bring home to the Center, he said. A benefit which he enjoys.
Of the Center, Buss said, “It is really just a nice place to be.”
While there is some longtime staff, many of the teachers and aides are new. A Visalia native, Stevi Daniels is a visual arts instructor and arts marketing director. An artist herself, Daniels taught art in Honduras for three years. Upon her return to the Central Valley, she began her work at the Center this past summer.
Camelo Ruiz is head of the performing arts department and has been with the Center for about a year-and-a-half. He works with students not only onstage, but backstage, teaching them to operate lights, sound equipment, cameras and more. Students also paint backdrops and create props for the Center’s theater productions.
And just this week, with the help of a Southern California Edison grant, the Center will have installed its first theater curtain. It’s an exciting time for performing arts at the Center.
The Theatre, the Theatre, What’s Happened to the Theatre?
In early December, the theatre department will produce Christmas Around the World depicting song, dance, drama and costumes from various countries including Japan, Australia, England and Mexico.
Much of the theatre productions include dance and JP Rapozo is new on staff with some fresh ideas. A South Valley native who attended a school for the performing arts in Southern California, has returned to the area having been involved in some 150 productions Los Angeles and New York theatre scenes.
“I’ve been acting for 25 years,” he said, “I was bred in theatre.”
Rapozo has a brother and two cousins who are developmentally handicapped and so, this seemed a natural fit, he said.
Rapozo is helping out with the Christmas show and will have his own schedule of teaching with the onset of the New Year including dance and musical theatre.
Visalia-native Cory Janca has been taking in all the Center has to offer for the past eight years. The 26-year-old is a writer, and enjoys theatre and visual arts. He has done some professional acting and is writing a play through the request of a friend, which they plan to produce together.
Janca is a good spokesman for the Center, and, perhaps, should consider public speaking for human rights.
The formidable Janca said, “We should all treat each other with respect. Unfortunately, women still struggle, socially, and we need to respect them, especially when in a relationship with them.”
Soup, Sip & Shop
While the performing arts department is readying for its holiday show, the visual arts department has been all a bustle preparing for its annual Soup, Sip & Shop event on Thursday, Nov. 16. Open from 5-7pm, visitors and shoppers will receive free homemade soup and enjoy live music, while strolling the Center’s Jon Ginsburg Gallery viewing the offerings of handmade gifts all by students. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Center and students.
The Creative Center’s Soup, Sip & Shop will be held in the gallery at 410 E. Race Ave. Some artwork will be available for sale in the gallery following the event well into the month of December. For more information, call (559) 733-9329.
A summation of The Creative Center was presented by twenty-six-year-old student Michael McGregor.
“It is a place where we can all be family and do things other people would not have thought possible.