If it weren’t for Austin Castro’s bad luck, he might never have discovered his love of art, a passion that has led him to become a regular part of Merced’s Art Hop.
Castro had been looking for an elective course to fill out his schedule at Le Grand Union High School, and none of the courses he wanted were available. Art was his last option. It turned out to be a good fit.
“I’m very thankful art was my elective,” the 18-year-old said. “I enjoy it because it gives me something to do with my time.”
Art Hop, now in its eighth year, has become one of downtown Merced’s largest events.
“I’ve been able to meet famous artists all around the world just by doing stuff like this,” Castro said.
Kimberly Zamora, who helped create Art Hop with co-founder Kevin Hammon, said she wanted to attract more people downtown by promoting local artists.
“It’s good for businesses because a lot of people come downtown that have never been downtown,” Zamora said.
There were about 50 businesses participating in Saturday’s event, displaying artwork and having artists perform, Zamora said.
“I’m hearing a lot of buzz about art,” Zamora said. “It’s really become part of the community.”
More than 25 artists were working on their art, such as Andrew Gray, a 23-year-old spray paint artist from Atwater. Gray said he saw a video of spray paint artists on Youtube about three years ago and has been creating spray paint art since then.
“I love Art Hop so much,” Gray said. “Any excuse to bring the community together I’m all for.”
Zamora said she has lived in Merced County her whole life, and wanted more people in the community to be inspired and exposed to different types of art.
“I wanted to make a change,” Zamora said. “Art brings people together no matter your age.”
Merced resident Melissa Davis brought her nieces and nephews to Art Hop for a family outing and was impressed with the activities the kids were able to do.
“You get to interact hands on and show kids the arts,” Davis said.
Anything that involves activities, is cost-friendly and is in town is something she likes her family to experience, Davis said. This year, Davis said her nieces and nephews learned about painting and different forms of art.
“Art has this way about it where we can all connect together,” Zamora said. “Art, for me, is an outlet. That’s how I express myself. I channel my emotion through my art.”
As long as Art Hop is still in Merced, Davis said she will continue to go.
Anaise Jimenez, 22, said she was born and raised in Merced, but now lives in San Francisco. She has been coming to Art Hop with her friends since she was 16. This year she came to see performers.
“I think it’s good because it gets people out here to explore and see what the city has to offer,” Jimenez said.
When people think of art, many people don’t automatically think of Merced, Jimenez said, and having Art Hop is a way for the community and local businesses to come together through art.
“It’s a night out instead of watching reruns on the TV,” said Desri Sullivan of Merced.
Sullivan said there were a lot of young people out and it was nice to see them creating art, something positive they can bring to the community.
“I want them to see it and to use it,” Castro said. “If you take away art from the Earth, there’s nothing left.”