Discover Northern California
Culture in Downtown Chico

5 More Reasons to Visit Downtown Chico

Culture in downtown Chico is alive and flourishing! Choose from museums, public art, galleries, performing arts, theaters... Or better yet - you don't have to choose. Savor it all!

Very few downtown areas anymore are still the actual hub of the town or city to which they belong, but downtown Chico is the exception.

Throughout the years - since John and Annie Bidwell first laid out the grid for the town of Chico and planned a downtown park as a gathering place for its citizens, downtown Chico has continued to be the place where people congregate.

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The Culture Surrounding Chico City Plaza

Chico City Plaza; Photo by Suzi RosenbergChico City Plaza; Photo by Suzi Rosenberg

Chico's new City Plaza was designed to be the polestar of - not only downtown Chico as a shopping hub - but also of cultural downtown Chico.

I think you'll like the newly designed plaza.

In keeping with John Bidwell's dream for a space that would be enjoyed by the community, you'll find tables with built-in chessboards, a zero level fountain that the kidlettes can play in, and a performance stage with a copper dome.

Chico's new City Plaza was designed to be the polestar of - not only downtown Chico as a shopping hub - but also of cultural downtown Chico.

I think you'll like the newly designed plaza.

In keeping with John Bidwell's dream for a space that would be enjoyed by the community, you'll find tables with built-in chessboards, a zero level fountain that the kidlettes can play in, and a performance stage with a copper dome.

If you should happen upon one of the frequently held artisan fairs, you'll appreciate the cleverly configured spaces designed into the plaza to accommodate the booths.

Check out the iconic Chico mural on the restroom building, and don't overlook the Veteran's Memorial or John Bidwell's Memorial Boulder.

Need a break from shopping and exploring downtown Chico?

Amble through the plaza, play a game of chess, have a picnic lunch, sit on the grass or the bench-walls for a little people watching, catch one of the many performances... It's a big part of the culture of downtown Chico!

Here's a sampling of Chico City Plaza Events:

  • Friday Night Concerts in the Park - May 9 through Sept 30: bring the family and spend an evening listening to live bands from the local area
  • Art in the Park - On Friday nights during June, July, and August the Chico Art Center sponsors interactive creative activities for children and families
  • Shakespeare in the Park Plaza - in the summertime the Ensemble Theatre of Chico sponsors and produces a variety of plays - not only Shakespearean - suitable for the whole family

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The Culture of Chico's Downtown Theaters

Senator Theater; Photo by Suzi RosenbergSenator Theater; Photo by Suzi Rosenberg

Downtown Chico offers several venues for a variety of culture offerings in the performing arts.

The Senator Theater on Main presents a medley of live musical performances in the Rock, Metal, and Hip Hop genres.

The Blue Room on First Street is an independent theater group; they perform "plays of depth and character".

Chico State campus - in the forum of Laxson Auditorium - provides a home for Chico the cultural offerings of the Performing Arts, which presents dance productions, dramas, musicals, and world-renowned speakers and entertainers.

The Pageant Theater on 6th Street doesn't offer live entertainment, but I had to include it here as it's a cozy place - with couches down front - to view independent and foreign films. It's also another of Chico's many icons - things that are classically Chico.

The Culture of Murals and
Other Public Art in Chico

Greek Columns Mural; Photo by Suzi RosenbergGreek Columns Mural; Photo by Suzi Rosenberg

When is graffiti considered culture rather than blight? When it takes the form of murals!

There are about 40 murals in and around the city of Chico that pay tribute to a wide variety of people, places, and events.

Here are a few of the ones you'll find in the immediate downtown area:

  • John and Annie Bidwell artist Scott Teeple), in a parking lot near the corner of 2nd Street and Broadway
  • Bicyclist (artist Scott Teeple), and Man and Dog (artist unknown), on Main near 4th Street
  • Victorian Language Houses (artist unknown), in a parking lot near the corner of 6th Street and Main
  • Pony Express (artist Andrew Crane), on Broadway near 5th Street
  • The Beatles (artist Greg Payne), near Main and 2nd Street
  • Academe (popularly called Greek Columns (artist John Pugh), on Salem at 1st Street
  • New York City Landscape (artist unknown), on 2nd Street near Main

There are many more Chico murals around, but these are ones you'll likely spot first. Also, be sure to take a close look at the upper story windows at Collier Hardware - you'll find a fun example of Trompe l'oeil (which means to mislead the eye). There's even a make-believe cat in one of the windows! This work is by artist Scott Teeple, and is on Broadway at 1st Street.

In addition to the murals, you'll find a series of mosaic benches, a stained glass representation of Chico's foothills, a dancing trout fountain, mosaic entrance arches to Diamond Alley, a pair of giant hands sculpture that's become popular as a site for weddings . . .

There's even a mobile exhibit - the so-called "Truck Mural" by Norm Dillinger. The Truck Mural is considered an icon of Chico culture, and you're likely to see it being driven around town or parked along a city street.

Exploring the Culture of Chico at Chico Museum

Chico Museum; Photo by Suzi RosenbergChico Museum; Photo by Suzi Rosenberg

Housed in the old Carnegie Library building (which was originally built in 1904), the Chico Museum is organized into three exhibits.

There are two permanent displays: North Valley Agricultural History, with historic photos of the land and its people over time; and Chico: A Place in Time 1830-2000. The time line is built around portraits, photographs, and relics from Chico's cultural past.

The third exhibit changes periodically. Today it's a collection of Janet Turner prints, or Amazing Grains: The Story of Rice in California and Beyond - next month it could be Prints from Mexico and South America; or Photography in Print; or Marcel Duchamp.

I remember one exhibit in particular when we first moved to Chico. The museum had compiled information about many of the movies that were made in and around Chico, often with Chico residents playing parts in the films.

What interested me most was the old newspaper articles. Using the acceptable language of the day (such as "picaninny" for the black children appearing in the 1939 Gone with the Wind and "Mrs. John Doe" for a local woman with a role in the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood) the reporters described the process and events for their readers.

In addition to celebrating the international fame accorded Chico, CA via the film industry, it was an interesting look into how our culture has changed!

Be sure to stop-in at the Chico Museum and take a took around!

Art Galleries in Downtown Chico

Chico Art Center; Photo by Suzi RosenbergChico Art Center; Photo by Suzi Rosenberg

Thanks to the quality and quantity of its artists and studios, Chico California was rated #10 out of the Top 100 Best Small Art Towns in America, by art critic and author John Villani.

There are many art venues and galleries at which to view Chico's media arts, but here are a few of my downtown favorites:

  • 1078 Gallery - Located on Fifth Street, this gallery showcases local and regional artists.
  • Bell Memorial Union Art Gallery - On the third floor of the Chico State's Bell Memorial Union building, it's devoted to student art.
  • The Artistry - Local and regional works of multiple media on Broadway. (In the back you'll find All Fired Up Ceramic Studio, workspace for local ceramic artists.)

In addition to the formalized galleries, step into many of the caf├ęs and coffee shops around town to find even more local artists works exhibited!

Technically not in the downtown core, the following galleries still deserve to be listed here - and they aren't too far afield for a visit:

  • Avenue 9 Gallery - The gallery is on 9th Avenue and is a professional artist guild exhibiting a variety of artists and media
  • Chico Art Center Gallery - Located in Chico's historic restored railroad depot on Orange Street and offers a forum for local and regional artists to display their works.

If you're coming to Chico for its culture, I think you'll find yourself in agreement with Sunset Magazine. In April 2006 they wrote that Chico is: "... a community abuzz with creative arts."

But don't forget to check out downtown Chico's unique shopping, if you haven't already:

  • Shopping in Downtown Chico
    With shop names like Bird in Hand, Made in Chico, and Grace, Jr., you KNOW you're going to have fun shopping!

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