Motel mystique

Spring arts festival to take over the grounds of the iconic Matador Motel

Photo by matt siracusa

Art Fiesta at The Matador, Friday, May 6, 5-9 p.m. & Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Free.
Matador Motel
1934 Esplanade

With its Spanish Colonial Revival look and 50-foot palm trees, the Matador Motel on The Esplanade is one of Chico’s unique landmarks. But while it’s as familiar as its iconic neighbors—Big Al’s Drive-in and the giant metal Chico Nut building—most locals have never gotten any closer to the grounds than the inside of their cars as they drive by.

This spring, if organizers of the Art Fiesta at the Matador have their way, that disconnection will be a thing of the past. Friday and Saturday, May 6-7, the Chico Visual Arts Alliance (ChiVAA) is hosting the first free art festival spread across the motel grounds, and is inviting the public to join Chico’s artists, galleries and arts organizations as they showcase their paintings, sculptures, jewelry and crafts outdoors and inside the guest rooms. Many artists will literally live and sleep in their custom-designed motel studios over the weekend, and others will produce works outdoors in the open and under tents.

And, as the title suggests, the Art Fiesta will have a general Mexican theme, complete with live mariachi music, Mexican dancers, food and even margaritas to round out the atmosphere.

“It’s different from an art fair in that many of the artists will create their own studios out of motel rooms and live there for the weekend,” said Maria Phillips, one of the event’s organizers. “Even some of the bathrooms will be converted into studios.”

An example of a themed room will be the one created by Jason Tannen, gallery curator for Chico State’s University Art Gallery. The room will be outfitted with Tannen’s film-noir photos, and he will also transform the atmosphere into a dark scene reminiscent of the ’40s and ’50s films of the style. Using antiques from the period—lamps, desktop pictures, cigarette packs and even a 1940s-era telephone—Tannen will make the room its own work of art.

ChiVAA designed the Art Fiesta as a spring counterpart to the fall Open Studios Art Tour—the Chico Art Center’s annual October tour of galleries, cafés and approximately 100 local artists’ studios. The Fiesta is the latest ChiVAA effort to make good on its mission of promoting the local visual-art community.

Two of the Fiesta’s main organizers are Phillips and Dolores Mitchell, local artists and retired art historians and co-founders of both ChiVAA and the Avenue 9 Gallery.

The event is still a work in progress, but they plan to rent a dozen rooms for the artist studios as well as use the entire spacious front lawn and parking lot for the festivities. While widely known art groups such the Chico Art Center, 1078 Gallery and Chico State’s galleries will participate, the organizers stress the Fiesta is open to any local artists (visit for details).

“If you’re a solo artist and don’t have a gallery to display your work, what do you do? You rent a motel,” Phillips said wryly. “We figure artists like to eat in the spring too.”

Along with vendor booths and the art displays, the Fiesta will also feature art lessons for adults and kids.

“Many non-artists would love to paint but don’t have the time or knowledge,” said Mitchell. “The Art Fiesta gives the public a perfect chance to learn how.”

Latin music will be provided by the duo of Carlos Carmona and Alejandro Iniguez, Pastor Dave Vallelunga from Trinity United Methodist Church and other mariachi performers. Dancers will include the Richard Parker Flamenco group and the Ballet Folklórico de Chico children’s dance troupe (scheduled to perform Saturday).

Other noted local artists showing will be plein-air painter Ray Kruger, who will be outdoors creating a painting of the Matador; splatter-dash painter Frankie Brown; and Chico State graduate student and teacher’s assistant Crystal Keesey, who will be showing pieces from her recent Women’s Lounge MFA exhibit, a mixed-media show featuring blown glass, neon and photographs.

Phillips stressed that the Fiesta is not a fundraiser.

“All the money goes to pay the expenses such as renting the rooms and grounds, security and port-a-potties,” she said.

The Matador was chosen by ChiVAA partly because it is owned by a North State local and for its proximity to the organizers’ Avenue 9 Gallery, but also because it offered a chance to highlight a neighborhood with a nearly forgotten Hispanic history. Phillips said that the entire neighborhood along the numbered Avenues and The Esplanade was known as Chico Vecino—Spanish for “Chico neighbor”—through the 1960s.

“We really want to have art bring attention to the Spanish architecture of the Matador, which most people miss when they drive by,” Phillips said. “Because who knows, after the current owners pass, [someone] might just build a liquor store in its place.”