Great arts town—almost

This weekend’s kick-off of Artoberfest, Chico’s annual month-long festival of the arts, promises to be a lot of fun. Beginning Saturday (Sept. 29) at 10 a.m. with the Chico Palio handcrafted-horse race, it continues all day in the City Plaza with a continuous array of music, storytelling, dance and poetry performances. Highlights include the Mayor’s Arts Awards from 11:30 to noon and the Annies Arts Awards at 8 p.m.

Subsequent events during the month include concerts, exhibits, plays, poetry readings and more. Kudos to Debra Lucero and her group Friends of the Arts for organizing this spirited event showcasing the artistic abundance of the Chico area.

Chico long has patted itself on the back for the richness of its artistic life and its designation as one of America’s best small arts towns—and rightly so. But before we get too smug about it, we should ask ourselves this question: Is it possible to be a great arts town, one that truly deserves to be called a center of the arts, without having a community art museum? We don’t think so.

Look at it this way: For the next eight months, the Chico Museum downtown is presenting a series of exhibits from the Janet Turner Collection, which is owned by Chico State University. There are 3,000 prints in the collection, spanning 40 countries and six centuries and featuring works by some of the world’s greatest artists. The museum could put on exhibits for years without exhausting it. But the Turner has no permanent home, and when this series is concluded, it will go back to its little room tucked away in the mezzanine of Laxson Auditorium, unseen by all but a few people.

A Chico Art Museum could provide a permanent home for the Turner. It could also begin assembling a collection of works by local and regional artists for another valuable permanent collection. And it could host traveling exhibits, young-artists’ shows, special performances and so much more.

Anyone who has lived in a city with an art museum knows how central one is to the cultural life of the community. It’s time for “folks of means and vision,” as university President Paul Zingg recently put it, to step forward and begin to work to create a community art museum.

The success of the Northern California Natural History Museum shows it can be done. Let’s make Chico the arts town it so much wants to be.