arts and cultureIssue 2

Carnegie Arts Center



Just two blocks from Turlock’s downtown, on a sleepy street strewn with fallen leaves, lies an unlikely hidden gem: the Carnegie Arts Center. For a little over a year, the Carnegie has been bringing the art world home to the central valley with major exhibitions of work from some of the largest names in art, including Ansel Adams and, with its current exhibit, the private world of impressionist master Edgar Degas.

To understand the story of the Carnegie, though, and what it means to the City of Turlock, you have to go back. Way back.

carnegie2In 1916, the Carnegie Library opened on North Broadway Street in Turlock. The mostly-brick Classic Revival building, one of over 1,600 similar libraries around California that were built with grant funds from the Carnegie Corporation, served as Turlock’s library for over 50 years, and as an important community life center in the area for over 30 more, before being closed for renovation in 2005. In November of that year, just before completion on the renovation process, a pair of burglars broke into the building to steal computer equipment. Then, realizing they’d left fingerprints at the scene, the thieves decided to burn the building down to cover their tracks.

The Carnegie Library’s newly renovated upper floor was gutted by the ensuing fire, said Rebecca Phillips Abbott, the Arts Center’s Director and Curator, but while this could easily have been a story of failure, it instead became a tale of community engagement. “The government and citizens of Turlock came together to rebuild the Carnegie and expand it,” said Abbott. “It’s ultimately a positive message of community resolve to get something rebuilt.”

According to information provided by the City of Turlock, many citizens volunteered to sit on committees to determine the fate of the Carnegie after the fire. The community overwhelmingly chose to preserve the old Carnegie within the context of a new, larger addition that would continue to serve the cultural needs of the community well into the future by securing affordable access to the arts for the greater Turlock region.

carnegie3In October of 2007, the City Council identified over $7 million in funding and planning began on an 18,000 square foot, two-story Carnegie Arts Center that included two multi-purpose rooms, studio classrooms, an exhibition gallery, a small retail gallery, catering kitchen, lobby and office space, and an outdoor plaza.

On September 10, 2011, the new Carnegie Arts Center opened to the public. In the process of renovation, it was expanded to four times its original size and graced with a beautiful interior that pairs the Classic Revival brick and oak of the original building with sleek and modern styling dominated by the use of aluminum and airy spaces decked with high tech advancements. A large wall in the interior of the Carnegie still shows the dark charcoal marks of the fire that destroyed the building over seven years ago, a remembrance that Abbott said was a special request for the reconstruction. The burn marks serve as a memorial of the original building and a testament to what Turlock’s community can accomplish together.

The renovated and expanded Carnegie Arts Center led its first season with a stunning exhibition of rarely seen works by Ansel Adam from the collection of the photographer’s son and daughter in law, followed by a retrospective of work from Yvonne Porcella, a local quilt artist whose work also hangs in the Smithsonian. The Arts Center is currently exhibiting a private collection of sketches, paintings, photographs and sculptures by famed impressionist painter Edgar Degas, a show that reinforces the Carnegie’s stated mission of bringing diverse community and regional audiences together to experience and celebrate art in all its forms. “We really are filling what we think is a void in visual arts here in this reason. We are doing this for the region, and programming ambitiously with that in mind.”  This ambition extends to working artists, as well. In honor of the Degas exhibition, interior walls are also lined with work from artists across California who were inspired by the colors and lines of Degas’s masterpieces.

As the leading visual arts center in the valley, the Carnegie balances its motivation to bring the work of famous artists to Downtown Turlock with its commitment to supporting the arts in the local community.  The Carnegie’s programs include exhibits, education classes and programs, lectures and activities in artistic genres as diverse as dance, music, theater and more.  At least 25% of the Arts Center’s programming is dedicated to children and teens.

But with headlining exhibitions like the Degas show, the Carnegie is also drawing visitors from all across Northern California, said Abbott. “The show is attracting huge amounts of interest, from all throughout the Central Valley, the Bay Area and Northern California. But we get fewer visitors from Modesto and even Turlock itself.” Abbott added that about 25% of visitors to the Carnegie are Turlock residents, and only 10% hail from Modesto.

“We can’t present works like Edgar Degas without a regional audience. If we thought we’d have an exhibit like this and have only Turlock residents come, we’d have to close our doors.”

Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist is exhibiting at the Carnegie Arts Center until January 13, 2013. An exhibition of the work of local sculptor (and 30-year faculty member of CSU Stanislaus) John Barnett follows from January 30 to April 14.

More information about the Carnegie Arts Center and upcoming exhibitions can be found at

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