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One of Fresno's Premiere Art Spaces Closing. Owners, Manager Look for Solutions
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By Edward Smith
Published 1 month ago on
June 17, 2024
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Artists have been clearing out their artwork at Chris Sorensen Studios in downtown Fresno. (GV Wire/Edward Smith)

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What was once of Fresno’s premier homes for all things art is being emptied as artists clear out their spaces from the Chris Sorensen Studio.

Property owners posted a three-day notice to pay or quit at the downtown Fresno art studio that hosted the first Art Hop.

And while a letter from property owners shows a debt of almost $15,000 for the downtown Fresno art studio — including two months missing rent — owners say they want to see the mission started by the famed Fresno metalworker and artist continued.

But operating the studio has proved to be more than either Sorensen’s son or the manager who took over after Sorensen died in March expected.

Sorensen Studio’s new manager put out a call to the community hoping to keep the studio alive.

“It’s not just an art studio,” studio manager Debra Cooper said. “Chris created something down there that is magical, that defies words.”

‘Dad Wasn’t Doing it for Money’: John Sorensen

Lillia Gonzalez Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council, called the Sorensen Studio a valuable resource for the arts community. When Fresno’s artists formally organized and created Art Hop in 1996, Sorensen Studios was one of the first adopters.

“The Sorensen Studio has been an incredible asset for local artists looking for a place to maintain a studio and also to work closely with other like-minded artists,” Gonzalez Chavez said.

The 40,000 square-foot building hosted nearly 60 artists.

Ten years ago, when Sorensen began getting older, the family created an LLC to manage day-to-day operations, said John Sorensen, Chris’ son.

“That was kind of a miniature disaster. Dad, even at 90-something did a better job than the LLC ever did because I think those people all thought dad was making money and dad wasn’t doing it for money,” John Sorensen said.

Chris Sorensen Had Been Subsidizing the Studio for Decades

For artists, the studio gave them a space to create and show off their work for very little money, Cooper said.

Even at the low rental rates, Sorensen would often cover rent for artists if they couldn’t pay.

“Chris used to subsidize it to the tune of a couple thousand dollars minimum each month, and this was back before the rent was doubled,” Cooper said.

The Caglia family has owned the building for decades and for decades, rent on the industrial building had been $3,600 a month, Cooper said. Earlier in the year, rent increased to $6,000.

A property management company hired by the Caglia family told them that market rate for a downtown industrial building that size is twice that rate.

Cooper said Richard Caglia often worked with Sorensen in keeping the rent low.

Rents Stopped Coming in: Cooper

Richard and Ryan Caglia said they want to see the Sorensen studio continue, but they’re not in the business of operating an art gallery. They want to rent to a single entity.

Richard Caglia said there are no plans for the space and they intend to work with all the artists in gathering their things until the time the studio closes.

“We would love to see the Chris Sorensen Art Studio continue but until such time that a viable entity comes together for the management of the gallery, unfortunately, this is the status,” Richard Caglia said.

Cooper said in the last two months, she had only received half the amount of rent from artists. She told Ryan Caglia and he let them carry the debt a month.

She fears artists lost confidence in the ability to continue the studio.

“These are artists that have no money, and if they think they have to move all of their stuff and find a new place or get storage for their artwork or anything, they’re not going to pay me first,” Cooper said.

Arts Council Willing to Strategize to Keep Studio Open

Gonzalez Chavez said she would be willing to sit down and talk to people about what it would take to keep the studio open.

“I would certainly be willing to sit down and talk to people about what might be possible, and strategize, fundraising ideas, but no one’s approached me,” Gonzalez Chavez said.

John Sorensen is not involved with the studio anymore. Before Chris Sorensen died, he three times asked Cooper to take over operations before she finally agreed.

Fresno’s .375% sales tax measure for parks — Measure P, created a fund to support artists and art galleries. The requirement, however, is that money can only go to nonprofits.

Cooper said she had tried to create a nonprofit but getting one up and running would have taken more than a year.

“By the time the studio could become a nonprofit entity, it would have taken over a year, according to the people I spoke to at the state level,” Cooper said.

With the two months’ rent owed as well as outstanding bills to Pacific Gas & Electric, the letter from attorney for the Caglia shows $14,613 owed.

Artists at Sorensen Studios are having a blow-out sale Friday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

But Cooper still hopes to continue the work Sorensen started.

“If people can pull together in many situations and just make something work for a city or for a person, this is bigger than a lot of thing I have ever known of,” Cooper said.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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