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Chico as a #10 Art Town

Sunday, August 31, 2014 7:25 PM Edited: Sunday, August 31, 2014 7:32 PM

Art Towns California by John VillaniArt Towns California: A Guide to Galleries, Museums, Festivals, Lodging & Dining, by author John Villani features an entire chapter on Chico.

"This progressive college town bordering the Sierra Nevada foothills has defined itself as an arts-supportive environment celebrating all facets of creativity. In Chico, the combined impacts of innovative arts events, inspired art exhibitions, affordable performances, and open-minded networks of creative field professionals have enhanced the quality of life for all of its 80,000 residents.

"From the visitor perspective, Chico's bustling downtown and accessible art scene bear surprising similarities to the dynamics defining San Luis Obispo's alluring texture. Historically and architecturally these Art Towns aren't even distant cousins, but in several meaningful ways their parallels form key components of what attracts return visitors and even convinces some to return as full-time residents.

"Both places enjoy the benefits of having a university presence, reflected here by the 17,000 students attending California State University, Chico. Both communities also have exceptionally attractive public parks in their midst, and in Chico's case that refers to the pastoral ambiance of lower Bidwell Park's meandering presence along parts of downtown's commercial grid. And in much the same way that downtown SLO bursts to life during its Thursday evening Farmers' Market on Higuera Street, the popularity of this community's Saturday morning Chico Certified Farmer's Market and the Thursday Night Market on Broadway both enhance the Chico version of an Art Town experience throughout the year.

"Because the upper Sacramento Valley lacked convenient anchorage for Padre Junipero Serra's Spanish galleons, westernized civilization and the religious conversion of Chico's original inhabitants was forestalled until the mid-1800s Gold Rush. But starting with the Feather River's 1848 mining boom, and General John Bidwell's subsequent purchase of 28,000 acres bordering Chico Creek, the region's indigenous Maidu population was rapidly displaced by the blacksmiths, preachers, and bartenders who provided the necessary services in a frontier outpost. Decades later in a large gesture of civic mindedness uncharacteristic of the era's wealthy, the General's family gave 1,900 of those acres to the city as a park. With the help of additional bequests and purchases, today's expanse of what's known as Bidwell Park includes 3,760 acres, making Chico home to one of the largest municipal parks. By comparison, NYC's Central Park covers 843 acres, Los Angeles's Griffith Park includes 4,107 acres, and Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, tops out at 1,754 acres. 

"During the 1930s, Bidwell Park served as the setting for several Hollywood classics, including standing in for Sherwood Forest in the Adventures of Robin Hood and working as Tara's body double in Gone With the Wind."

To purchase "Art Towns California" by John Villani or for reviews, please visit amazon.com