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When you swing open the intricately wrought iron gate at Broadway Studios, you might feel like you've stepped into an industrial palace in the Tenderloin, or a newly converted warehouse in Dumbo, or a refurbished space in the 9th Ward. But the last place you'd expect elegantly designed artist studios -- housing real artists no less! -- would be at the intersection on Tuolumne and Broadway in Fresno. The convergence of those two streets has long been an epicenter for Trade Center office workers and Cornerstone Church parishioners, but it has never been an intersection welcoming to artists or their artwork.
Reza Assemi, the owner and designer of the newly refurbished and redesigned building aimed to change that when he began work on Broadway Studios last spring. Having been a supporter and active participant in Fresno's burgeoning art scene, he saw a need for new artist spaces to accommodate the increasing number of designers, photographers and filmmakers that have flocked to the Community Arts District over the last few years.
"I really wanted to create permanent and affordable art spaces. It is something I've wanted to do for the last three years," commented Assemi during a phone interview about the new building. "The size and the look of the building were perfect, so when the opportunity availed itself, I didn't feel like I could pass it up."
You don't have to be an architect to appreciate the building's exposed brick walls, high ceilings and exposed beams. Built in 1911, the building's interior is both rugged and modern. Assemi, who came up with the design after spending hours drafting and redrafting the concept has long been an advocate for re-use projects.
"I really wanted the design to be harmonious and allow people to navigate and look around and still feel private enough for the artsists. On the other hand I really tried to maintain the integrity of the building," said Assemi.
The building, which hosts two new 20 ft. outdoor murals as well as the classic Cultural Arts District mural (from which the neighborhood derives its name), contains over 30 private studio spaces. Plans for a gallery and coffee shop are currently in the works. Quickly after the building opened its doors last month, the studios were filled by a wide variety of creative sorts; Assemi boasts that his Broadway Studios is now a home to the work of several painters, shoemakers, quilters, filmmakers and photographers.
Stephen Gamboa, a member of the activist group RANCOR and a reporter for the local arm of Indymedia was one of the first tenants to sign a lease. While he originally planned to use his space for private art projects, the studio's uses have multiplied and evolved. It has become the epicenter for independent and activist oriented news in the Central Valley.
"We're now running the space in conjunction with indie media and our own indie newspaper that will be coming out in the next few months," commented Gamboa while organizing his collection of digital prints. "It's a sort of independent media center. We're hoping to become the media wing of radical politics in town."
A sense of community seems to pervade the attitudes of the tenants and the flocks of visitors that came for the building's inaugural ArtHop last August. That sense of community proved to be a strong draw for a number of newer tenants. Painter Sylvia Savala noted that the spirit, drive and cooperation amongst the studio's inhabitants are what helped her decide to pull her collection of work out of her garage and into the new spaces at Broadway.
"The energy is here. That's real important to me," noted Savala while laboring in her studio. Zydeco blasted from her radio as she busily unpacked paints and other supplies. "I have to be on the wave."
While many of the residents of the building are established artists like Savala, members of elite local galleries with years of experience, the Broadway Studio's freestyle and dynamic nature has encouraged many non-traditional artists to come out of the woodwork and put their work on display. The respected graffiti artist, Super, recently signed up for a studio in the building. After being invited to assist with the murals on the rear and side of the building, he found himself encouraged by the other tenants tolerance and respect for his art.
"I've done graffiti art all my life," said Super while taking a break from his painting. "I came here is to find another side of me I don't know yet."
Broadway Studios is located at the corner of Broadway and Tuolumne. It will be open to the public on Thursday, September 1st for ArtHop.