Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced Art Hop to end quarterly events downtown

Successful 11-year run could not overcome ongoing funding woes 

Young artists take part in an interactive art exhibit during the Merced Art Hop. 
Young artists take part in an interactive art exhibit during the Merced Art Hop.

The quarterly downtown Merced Art Hop unfortunately is ending at the height of its popularity. The next event — a winter edition that would have been held on Saturday, Jan. 18 — has been canceled.

The Art Hop brings together Main Street shops and local artists for a night to promote creativity and commerce. It just celebrated its 11th anniversary in October and its accomplishments over the years have been truly stunning — especially considering it all started, against all odds, during the Great Recession, with the hard work of just two people: a small business owner Kevin Hammon and an upcoming artist Kimberly Zamora.

Since October of 2008, the couple have been responsible for organizing a whopping 44 events. The Art Hop grew from one block to all of Main Street in the downtown core and surrounding locations. Each event featured an average participation of 35 businesses, and hundreds of artists and residents who would come out to enjoy it all. They also created a website, citywide marketing, a quarterly promotional magazine, and a Main Street art gallery. Last year, the Merced County Courthouse Museum honored the event with a special exhibit highlighting its decade of service to the community.

“It makes me sad, and I get very emotional even talking about it,” Zamora told the Times. “It was a very difficult decision. I’m very passionate about the arts in Merced, and being that vehicle and venue for artists to express themselves. And the people who will be the most affected are the community members — the artists who were excited about showing off their latest works, and the families that would come out and take their kids for something fun and educational. It’s unfortunate that it has come to this, but it’s becoming so stressful.”

Hammon and Zamora say they had continued to exhaust their own personal resources with every event, despite the help of some sponsorships and city funding that came in at various times. In recent months, city funds for the Art Hop were severely reduced through a process that involved the Merced Main Street Association (MMSA) and city staff. The MMSA receives funding from the city which collects a special tax revenue from downtown businesses.

Despite the costs of putting on the event, the couple said they have also struggled to keep up the integrity of the event. From the start, they had a formula they believed in. The Art Hop was all about increasing foot traffic downtown on a regular basis, and giving local artists a place to showcase their work. Yes, they did have quarterly themes to include community groups, but they say they constantly had to fight against other events hitching on to theirs.

Hammon and Zamora didn’t want the Art Hop to become the “be-all and end all” of events downtown. Yes, it involved artists from all walks of life, and all areas of the city — every school campus, college and university, for example — but it wasn’t a carnival, or a car show, or a money-making strip for mobile food and trinket vendors.

Indeed, the Art Hop was a formula that worked — there was never a lack of participants or visitors for every event.

“I’m passionate about the Art Hop,” Zamora said, “but passion doesn’t pay the bills.”

Hammon said they had to perform 250 different tasks to prepare for each Art Hop, and that they were able to put on a “high-quality” event for about $5,000 to $8,000. And that’s cheap, Hammon points out, considering other events of the same size and magnitude.

It’s a new year, and while Merced is losing the biggest ongoing event on Main Street, both Hammon and Zamora say the Merced Art Hop will continue as a nonprofit for now.

They hope to create a mobile art gallery, and do individual art activity “outreach” events in the county’s rural places like Planada, Le Grand, Winton, or even the Beachwood-Franklin area. That’s the plan for now.

Says Hammon, “We personally have to recover from the loss of the quarterly Art Hop, but the arts are definitely alive in Merced. We urge residents to keep it going. Get involved in the Multicultural Arts Center. Keep the arts going in schools. We also urge the city to buy-in for the arts. It’s a great investment that will benefit the city in amazing ways that will exceed expectations.”

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