Since their first solo event held in 2008, Kevin Hammon and Kimberly Zamora have worked tirelessly to promote the arts in the Merced area. They had a shared vision of what they wanted to see happen for Downtown Merced. As a businessperson and an artist, respectively, the two organizers set off to boost economic growth for businesses in the Downtown Core and help foster a creative and supportive environment for local artists.
During those first years, the downtown business community became very familiar with Hammon and Zamora as they made their way from business to business asking owners to stay open late for one night and host a temporary gallery showing for a local artist and welcome the community into their establishment for the exhibit. The organization did not jury the entries, and any artists not chosen were invited to exhibit in vacant storefronts generously made available by the owners. Performing artists were encouraged to perform throughout the Art Hop as a way to make the downtown area even more vibrant.
Over the years, Hammon and Zamora have worked with organizations and government agencies ranging from the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, Merced County Community Action Agency, The Silent Witness Project, Dignity Health, Arts UC Merced Presents, and local schools. The first pages of what would become MAH Magazine were published shortly after the event began, with the duo folding their material into the first issues of The Downtown Life Magazine (DLM), before stepping up to fill the void of arts and entertainment news left behind when publication of the DLM ceased. Their fashion and arts shows began as Thursday Night Fest got underway, and continued long past the City of Merced’s decision to discontinue the weekly event.
As MAH continued to grow, Hammon and Zamora took steps to secure additional funding, both through grant applications and by expanding their traditional fundraising efforts through events like the Merced Pub Crawl. After securing their status as an official non-profit art organization in 2011, they began to pour everything they had financially into the event and offered additional benefits to donors and volunteers.
While efforts to both maintain and expand the organization’s connections are always ongoing, funding secured to this point has allowed the team to grow the creative event in large part by establishing the Epekel Gallery on Canal Street in 2015. This centrally located gallery serves as a base of operations for the Merced Art Hop and offers local artists a wide array of resources including work spaces, display space in the gallery, and a variety of classes.
The Epekel Gallery allows creators to secure a permanent area downtown where they can practice and hone their skills. Additionally, displays begin with receptions, ensuring artists have a new way to put their work into the public eye and have every chance to continue producing new work in preparation for the quarterly Art Hop. Finally, it helps fill the gaps in arts education in local schools and communities by offering art classes, art therapy sessions, and the new teaching opportunities for artists.
To date, Hammon and Zamora have presented over 39 Art Hops with the support and enthusiasm of the community. With expanding participation and attendance for each event, the downtown area has seen an increase in art, culture, live music, fashion events, and performances as both the businesses see the arts as a way to generate additional foot traffic and income for their establishment, and community members and artists have a regular area to congregate every three months to share their talents and admiration.
As the Merced Art Hop is entering into its second decade, the Merced County Courthouse Museum is proud to present “A Decade of Art Hopping” exhibit to commemorate this milestone. Please join us on Oct. 4 at 5 p.m. for the exhibit opening reception. The program, starting at 5:30 p.m., will feature a performance by Dance Saute, live music by Mariposa Cox and Azriel Montalvo, and an art demonstration by Jennifer Dudley. There is also an activity for kids where they can design and create their own Art Hop Rabbit prints. For more information about the exhibit, please contact the Courthouse Museum at 723-2401. The exhibit and opening program is free to the public.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.