YoloArts, Gibson Museum merge for ‘Cultural Center’

By Hans Peter, Woodland Daily Democrat
Photography by Hans Peter

The history of the Gibson House proves far more certain than its future, but YoloArts Executive Director Alison Flory believes the iconic structure can open its doors to some new ideas.

Walking along the creaky hardwood floors and past 19th Century furniture and decor, Flory alluded to what makes the period-piece home great, and what could be done to accent that greatness with the idea of a “cultural center.”

“It’s such an inspiring space,” Flory said.

Since the 1970s, the Gibson House has operated under the direction of the Yolo County Historical Museum, but a recent Board of Supervisors decision has called for the merger of the museum and YoloArts. Supervisors claimed that merging the entities would expand the outreach and community involvement of the museum while also finding a home for YoloArts, which has outgrown its current space. Moreover, the site would become financially viable to keep up with the attrition of the house and the grounds.

Many have criticized the soon-to-be merger as destructive to the museum’s history, and many long-time volunteers and organizers have preemptively announced resignations once the change occurs.

“Regardless of what you do, there’s going to be resistance,” Flory said. She said she hopes to gather more information on what the community wants with the space and how to keep that conversation going as exhibits change.

“We want to honor and preserve the Gibson House.”

For YoloArts, part of that homage means combining historic features with new audiences and volunteers.

District 3 Supervisor Matt Rexroad, who pushed for the merger, published “Part 1 of many” videos defending the decision to allow YoloArts to occupy the Gibson House. In his first installment, Rexroad explains that the museum must do a better job to both care for and feature artifacts, and YoloArts’s experience would step in to boost that focus.

Rexroad is taking the unusual step in the wake of opposition by supporters of the museum, who include the Yolo County Historical Society. Woodland Councilman and former supervisor Tom Stallard has also opposed the merger, claiming it will diminish the town’s historical roots.

Also, the YCHM had just finished writing up a new operation plan when supervisors made the decision, and many felt that they didn’t have a chance to prove whether or not it would introduce more funding streams or interest from the community.

Based on the YoloArts proposal to supervisors — which was approved in December — the Gibson House would continue to house artifacts in the structure, but additional artworks and activities would occupy some of the space within the house as well as on the surrounding two-acre site.

In theory, YoloArts will add programming and with it, public interest and revenue. Large barns and outbuildings could become art camp locations or classrooms. While the elderly olive trees in the front yard would remain untouched, the outdoor space could also exhibit work or host activities. By expanding the capabilities of the Gibson House, people will come to find something they love — and keep coming back, Flory said.

“There’s an opportunity here to build and expand our volunteer base,” she said.

All the while, the site — where many locals like Rexroad have been married — will continue to host events and weddings. Moreover, the site would implement more ADA compliance for those who would otherwise be unable to navigate the interior of the home.

Walking around the rooms found on the first floor, Flory said the first floor of the Gibson House would remain as is for the purpose of depicting the home as the Gibson family would have kept it.

The upstairs, which also emulates the decor and furnishings of the era, would see some changes.

“It all depends on what kind of exhibits we have coming through,” Flory said. “We would highlight some artifacts to complement the art.”

Flory said this would mean moving some of the items and effectively disrupting the period-piece setup, but it would open up the museum to people who wouldn’t otherwise have an interest.

“Art is a way to tell history,” said Development Associate Natalie Peeples, who explained that both she and Flory had an education in art history.

Explaining her thought process, Flory said a varied group of people could enter the home and all glean something valuable. Those interested in architecture can walk around the rooms and study the design. Artists can view the presented art and compare it with artifacts and furnishings within the room. Historians-at-heart, of course, can appreciate the featured items in and around the house.

“That starts a dialogue between them,” Flory said. “And that’s what we’re all about.”

Flory said that Gibson House itself derives from the idea of inspiration and interconnectivity. The structure started as a tiny, humble building, but as the Gibson family grew and became wealthier, they added on more rooms or remodeled areas to fit trends found across the U.S.

“It’s a combination of so many different architectural movements,” she said. “It’s very Californian.”

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