Since their first solo event held in 2008, Kevin Hammon and Kimberly Zamora have worked tirelessly to promote the arts in the Merced area. During those first years of the Merced Art Hop, Hammon and Zamora 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 pretend to be a gallery, host a local artist and welcome the community into their store 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, 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. And with big plans for the 2016 year, they’re just getting started.
Throughout 2015, 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 501(c)3 non-profit art organization, 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. This new fixed location will serve as a base of operations for the Merced Art Hop and offer local artists a wide array of resources including work spaces for a monthly membership, display space in the gallery with a yearly membership, and a variety classes.
This central location at 1733 Canal Street allows creators to secure a permanent area downtown where they can practice and hone their skills. Additionally, displays will 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. While the progress made with Epekel Gallery is certainly a great step in the right direction for the local art scene, Hammon and Zamora have a few more new ideas that they are looking to begin this year. Ranging classes to help fill the gaps in arts education in local schools, to art therapy sessions and all the new teaching opportunities for artists, the two are running into the New Year at full speed.
To date, Hammon and Zamora have presented over 40 Art Hops with support and enthusiasm from 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.