A Japanese Oasis

Hidden just under your nose as one of the Central Valley’s best-kept secrets is the Shinzen Friendship Garden in Fresno’s Woodward Park.

By Will Freeney | memo247365@gmail.com

Have you ever thought it would be nice to get away, to find beauty and serenity that takes you outside the mundane surroundings and events of your daily life in Fresno? Sure, we are blessed with the majesty of the Sierras nearby – in Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and Yosemite. Yes, the lulling rhythm of waves breaking gently on sandy shores can be enjoyed along the Central Coast just a few short hours away. What if you really need a getaway, though, and don’t have hours or days to get to your getaway? What if you are sated with the Sierras and the coast and really desire something more exotic?
The answer could be as close as Woodward Park. Tucked away in the center of the park, easily overlooked if you drive through on your way to one of the many other features of the park, lies Shinzen Friendship Garden – an oasis of elegant natural beauty. Japanese gardens offer a very different form of landscape enhancement than, say, traditional English gardens. The controlling principle in Japanese gardens is beauty and serenity as opposed to the order and uniformity of English gardens. The result is a pocket of tranquility, a place to relax while treating the eyes to a wide array of botanical wonders and enhanced landscape features.

Shinzen Friendship Garden offers all of this, and its origins lie in the pursuit of that central element of its name – friendship. Following World War II, many American cities fostered sister-city friendships with Japanese cities, and Fresno was one of them – choosing Kochi, Japan as its sister city. The most common translation of Shinzen is “goodwill,” which reinforces the emphasis on friendship. Shinzen literally means “before god,” which can indicate an altar or place of spiritual attention. Once there, you will see how the garden evokes that kind of serenity. The vision for the creation of Shinzen Friendship Garden was born in 1967 and fostered by the donation of land for Woodward Park by Ralph Woodward. The nascent concept was nurtured by the Woodward Park Japanese Development Committee, led by Ben Nakamura. The actual design of the park was accomplished by a succession of contributors – Kodo Matsubara, Paul Saito, and Shiro Nakagawa, with assistance from the City of Fresno. The garden itself reached maturity with its incorporation and dedication in 1981. A Board of Directors for the associated 501(c)3 oversees maintenance and management of services and programs.

In addition to the original features of the garden, the Clark Bonsai Collection has made its home in Shinzen Friendship Garden since autumn 2015. This collection of over 100 miniature trees is an amazing testament to the horticultural art of bonsai, but it is also a “living museum” offering lectures, training, and workshops in the pursuit of bonsai.

There is no better time than now to experience Shinzen Friendship Garden. It is springtime when the garden’s year-round beauty is augmented by many fragrant and colorful blossoms. Springtime also marks the seasonal shift in the Friendship Garden’s hours of operation. From April 1st through September 30th, the garden is open not only on weekends and holidays (10 am – 7 pm) but also on weekdays Wednesday to Friday (10 am – 7 pm).

Lastly, but most importantly, the advent of Spring is marked by the celebration of the Spring Cultural Festival this April 15th from 10 am to 4 pm. Performances start at 11 am, with Koto (traditional Japanese stringed instrument) in the Tea House and Lusheng/Fashion Show/Dance in the Main Garden.

The performances continue in the main garden throughout the afternoon, with a varied assortment of regional dances, including Hula (Hawaiian), Khymer (Cambodian), Teocalli (Aztec), Polynesian, and Tounkara (Malinese). Simultaneously, there will be a Tea Presentation in the Tea House at noon, followed by an Ikebana (formal flower arrangement) presentation at 2pm.
In addition to expanded awareness of Japanese culture, visitors to Shinzen Friendship Garden during the Spring Blossom Festival this April can expand their knowledge of relatively recent history – McLane High School’s current Art Venture Project, “Gaman: Enduring the Seemingly Unbearable with Patience and Dignity — images and stories of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans at Manzanar” will be on exhibit throughout the day.

Should you become hungry in the midst of all this aural and visual stimulation, lunch will be available from 11 am to 2 pm, provided by Taste Catering. For those for whom no outing is complete without an opportunity to shop, the Spring Cultural Festival will be offering a wide array of unique and artful products from independent vendors: Contours in Clay, Fresno Gift Pic, Designs by Camille, North American Satsuki, Bonsai Center Naturals, Hilda Vandergriff, Wired Stone Creations, Chieko’s Art, Pastimes Pottery, Partners N Art, Beasley Ono Garden, Soaps N’ Stuff, and Lady Heather Soap Company.
So, mark your calendar. Dedicate your Saturday afternoon to experiencing new sights and sounds in an exquisitely exotic locale virtually in your own backyard. The cost of admission ($5 for adults, $1 for students, seniors, and children 4-14) plus parking ($5 per car, $3 for seniors) is well worth it. For that price, you can experience that alternative getaway and absorb new cultural experiences along with your serenity – and without the jet lag and expense of a trip to Japan.

If – as likely will be the case – you are charmed by the Shinzen Friendship Garden and stimulated by the abundance of cultural and historical education provided at the Spring Cultural Festival, you can look forward to more events later in the season.

The Toro Nagashi (Floating Lantern) Festival takes place late in the summer at the conclusion of Obon. Obon is a traditional Japanese celebration in which the souls of the ancestors are honored and are believed to return. Toro Nagashi, in which lanterns are set afloat on a nearby body of water, represents the return of the ancestors’ souls to the afterlife. The release of several hundred lit lanterns on Woodward Lake, in this case, will be both a solemn and joyful spectacle well worth experiencing in person and will be held at the Woodward Lake shore adjacent to the Shinzen Friendship Garden on August 11th.
Additional events this year include Art & Music in the Garden on May 5th. For upcoming details on these events and for comprehensive information about Shinzen Friendship Garden and the many opportunities for meaningful getaways that it offers, consult their website (www.shinzenjapanesegarden.org) or give them a call at (559) 840-1264.

Breaking the Chains

An organization dedicated to helping victims find life beyond their trauma.

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Human Trafficking is the ugly buzz word that has been on the rise in Fresno’s ear increasingly within the last few years. The high rates of concentrated poverty, the suspiciously discreet location of motels along Golden State, and the proverbial ‘sweep-under-the-rug’ attitude of political big wigs of the past – Fresno became the perfect incubator for the rampant growth of a seedy industry for more than three decades. But the covers are coming off and organizations, both locally and nationally, are rolling up their sleeves to tackle the disease that is the sex trafficking industry head-on.

Breaking The Chains (BTC) is a local, 501c(3) non-profit organization fully immersed in rescuing victims of sex trafficking. While law enforcement hunts down the abusers and dismantles whole circles of ‘business,’ Breaking the Chains is there for the victims – to help them put back the pieces and find a life that exists beyond their trauma.

“Human Trafficking is a very complex issue, it looks different across the board, and touches every walk of life … Everyone’s healing process is different, so is everyone’s level of trauma,” explains CEO and Co-Founder, Debra Rush, “We are complete comprehensive wrap-around service providers, everything from the simplest of needs which would be food, shelter, medication, medical attention, and mental health treatment to things like life skills classes, and trauma therapy courses.”

The road to recovery for each victim varies, but by all means is not short or could be even be categorized as ‘straight-forward.’ BTC has no set exit date for the girls in their program; however, the average is anywhere from 9 months to 2 years, although it remains on a case-by-case basis. Rush often compares the trauma suffered by victims, and its aftermath, to that of a combat veteran with complex PTSD – more specifically, of those from the Vietnam era.

“I’m a social worker, and I’ve worked with that population, with CPS, and studied different statistics. I helped with Real Change Fresno with the homeless population – it was eye-opening for me to look at some of our veterans – why they were out there, homeless, why there was a high rate of drug use and alcohol abuse. And then, why is there a difference in what we’re seeing with some of our Afghanistan vets? It’s intensive counseling and debriefings when they come home,” Rush shares.

Service members from the Vietnam War were being shipped home without any trauma therapy, only to be given a job and sent on their way. Although PTSD remains a deeply layered issue with no clear-cut solution, the military has evolved its process in bringing combat veterans home – with debriefings, counseling, etc. Likewise, victims of sex trafficking also require the same level of intensive therapy and rehabilitation to reintegrate themselves safely, and healthily back into the world. There’s often a misconception that victims can be rescued, given a few resources, a class, and then immediately placed into society without issue when, to the contrary, it’s a lengthy, intricate process.

Rush states that “It’s like having a domestic violence victim – because most girls believe they are loved – meshed with a combat tour to Vietnam on the front lines followed by a stint in a P.O.W. camp for a year then rescued and then dropped off on a corner with a job.”

The notion that a person who has suffered that level of trauma is rescued, and in some respect made whole again, merely because they’re no longer in an abusive environment is misguided. Removing the victim from a terrible situation is just the first step.

Furthermore, victims have to come to the realization that they are, in fact, victims before the healing process can begin. A shocking realization for outsiders, but it’s something BTC expects to work through as a crucial turning point. The organization understands how girls are lured and/or abducted into sex trafficking in the first place – they were convinced, manipulated, into believing that it was their choice. Rush educates that one of the core components of trafficking a child (victims are often underage and as young as 13) is making them believe that this is what they want. “It’s the leash that keeps them there.”

Reprogramming that way of thinking is a vital part of a victim’s rehabilitation process – watching a girl make the connection, or rather, break the psychological leash and understand that she has value far and away above sex is “better than getting a million bucks” for BTC. But that breakthrough is only the beginning – as painful memories can be easily triggered through smells, colors, locations, and sometimes, a tone of voice – the road to recovery is long and full of hard work for both BTC and survivor.

Access to potential victims has grown over the years as social media developed both dramatically and exponentially, abusers are able to assume whatever persona necessary to achieve their goal. BTC recommends that parents become actively involved in their children’s lives when it comes to their social circles, both virtually and in-person, by asking pertinent questions such as what a friend’s birthday is, where they live, who their parents are, who are some of that person’s other friends, etc. Apps and devices have come out on the market that helps parents create filters and monitor internet usage. Circle with Disney comes recommended by Rush as the service allows parents to manage every device that has the ability to connect to the Internet. Parents can see which sites are visited and how often, they’re able to turn the Internet on and off to specific devices at any given time for any length of time and create custom filters for each member of the family.

Human Trafficking can and does affect every walk of life, “However, most victims are coming out of the broken foster care system – 70/80%. These pimps are smart; they know that if they come into the average, working-class family’s home and take a kid, it’s going to be all over [the news] but if a girl runs away from a group home… the most that will happen is the head of the group home will call [local police] and file a report,” explains Rush.

There would be no wanted posters, no state-wide manhunt, nothing – police may come across the missing child or they may not.

There are also those who weren’t abducted into sex trafficking but were born into it. Second generation victims whose entire understanding of the modern world is wrapped around their oppressive environment. And one of the most identifying characteristics of Breaking the Chains is their ability to efficiently understand both perspectives.

“I’m not only the founder; I’m a survivor. I’m not just a survivor but a second-generation survivor. I was literally born into human trafficking. So, I have a very unique perspective,” shares Rush.

BTC provides victims with a comprehensive program to help them reintegrate alongside with helping them deal with their trauma; Addiction Treatment, Case Management, Education/Job Training, Education and Job Support, Long-term Housing, Survivor Leadership, and Transitional Housing. A full range of programs painstakingly put together with the personal touch of first-hand knowledge and experience in what victims need.

And the need is growing. Over the three years of operation, BTC has consistently pushed its capacity every day (rescuing 86 women and children in 2017 alone) and as a result, plans to expand into a new 1.2-million-dollar facility is currently in the works. As it stands, the building is in the design stages and will hopefully be built over the next two years. It’ll act as a 24-hour drop-in center working with local law enforcement and first responders in rescue situations.

Volunteers are also a big part of BTC’s ability to meet the needs of the girls in their programs – and more are encouraged to lend a helping hand. The opportunities are entry-level and include driving, safe-house supervision (various shifts, spend time with the residents and assist in making sure they stay on task), donor coordination, and even those willing to roll up their sleeves to help organize donations in storage units.

College students and young adults are highly encouraged to apply for the upcoming youth program. Volunteers are needed to help lead sports activities, facilitate classes, take part in mentoring opportunities, and overall, spend quality time with the kids in the program by doing things as simple as playing video games.

Anyone interested in volunteering with Breaking the Chains can reach the organization directly by calling 559-402-3955 or emailing info@btcfresno.org.

Breaking the Chains will also be a recipient of a fundraiser hosted by Granville for their annual Home of Hope event. Participants will have a chance to win a brand-new home valued at $400,000 along with a 2-year lease to a 2018 Lexus – there will also be additional prizes in the shape of weekend getaways, electronics, and fine dining opportunities. The drawing is limited to 6,000 tickets in total and will take place on April 25 for the two-ticket bundle drawing (for the home and lease of the Lexus) and on May 2 for the grand prize.

Proceeds from every ticket purchased through BTC will go back to BTC to help fund their various programs in support of human trafficking victims. For more information on purchasing tickets call 559-402-3955.

The difference Breaking the Chains makes not only within the local community but also in the fight against human trafficking as a whole is undoubtedly due to the tireless dedication of Founder, Debra Rush, the BTC staff, and the diligent hard work of the local law enforcement agencies; but it’s also due to the level of community support BTC receives. It’s individuals and organizations alike who contribute their time and talents or donate supplies that help make sure BTC is always ready to carry out the life-changing work that they do.

Keep up the fight with Breaking the Chains by staying informed on their events, activities, calls-to-action, and volunteer opportunities by following them on social media: @breakingthechainsfresno on Facebook and @btcfresno on Twitter or visiting their website at www.btcfresno.org

Under Your Nose – Fresno Water Tower

By Will Freeney | memo247365@gmail.com

Water towers are a universal fixture of the American landscape – providing a clean, gravity-fed water supply for the communities they serve. Their design has changed over the years, and various communities have used them as a means of advertising their presence, their town motto, and in some cases their whimsy. Nowhere, however, has a water tower been envisioned and manifested with such elegance, forethought, and unique style as the Fresno Water Tower.

As you criss-cross downtown Fresno, going about your business, pre-occupied with which one-way street you can take to get where you’re going and where you can find a vacant parking space, you might overlook the Fresno Water Tower. It is not exceptionally tall by modern standards, and in fact, the water tank was disguised by the third-floor level walls of the tower. Perhaps you did look over at it in passing and think, “Hmm, what a quaint adobe cylinder, here on the edge of this park.” (Eaton Plaza)

The water tower’s history goes all the way back to the 19th century chronologically and all the way back to Germany geographically and Chicago financially. Fresno Water Works was established in 1876 by partners George McCullough and Lyman Andrews. They, in turn, sold it to a group of Chicago investors for $140,000 in 1890. In 1893 that company hired George Washington Maher to design an elegant new water tower for the city. Maher provided a design that was inspired by a water tower in Worms, Germany.
G.W. Maher designed what you can see today at the corner of O Street and Fresno Street. His plan called for the lower interior portion of the tower to serve as a library. Although that function was never pursued, the original structure matched Maher’s blueprint in every other detail.

The tower consists of two portions: the upper of the three-story levels contains a 250,000-gallon tank, which weighed over two million pounds when full (the tank was decommissioned and emptied in 1963). Throughout its entire height, the tower consists of two walls. In the lower 30 feet of the tower, the outer wall is separated from the inner wall and slopes inward to join it at the 30-foot mark – creating a wraparound tunnel at the base and providing cantilevered support for the structure. Above that point, the inner wall slopes together to form the domed ceiling of the lower room while the outer wall continued upward to mask the water tank.

The lower portion, below the tank, is an open two-story room with walls that slope to a dome at 45 feet above the floor. Originally, there was a spiral staircase in the center, providing access to the second story balcony. All of this was included in Maher’s plans. At some point, the spiral staircase was removed, but it can be seen in the short-lived 1986 television series, “Fresno.”
The history of ownership and use of the water tower is as complicated as that of its design. The city of Fresno acquired the water tower in 1931. Its use as a water tower had been abandoned by 1963 when the water tank was emptied.

Subsequently, it was used by the city as a parking meter and water meter repair facility. In 2001 it was repurposed as a visitor center operated by the Fresno Convention and Visitors Bureau. The water tower’s latest chapter began in October 2014, when the Fresno Arts Council took over the operation.

Under their auspices, it still functions as the City of Fresno visitor information center – with a wide array of complimentary brochures and maps regarding local points of interest. The water tower now also functions as the Fresno Arts Council gift shop and gallery.

The FAC Water Tower gallery is an official ArtHop venue, with a featured artist of the month showing their work. There is also a wide array of local artists with longer-term exhibits in the Water Tower, including many well-known Fresno-area artisans as well as budding younger creatives. The products offered range from paintings in all media to photography to ceramics and textiles. There is also a sizeable selection of books by local authors about local topics – including the esteemed native son, William Saroyan.

All of this, plus the assistance of volunteer docent/curator/cashiers, is available inside the Fresno Water Tower, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 am to 4 pm. The next time you have some time downtown, take the time to witness the unique architectural history and the accessible contemporary art residing at the southwest corner of Fresno and O Streets, adjacent to Eaton Plaza.

Lending A Hand and Improving Homes

Habitat for Humanity Fresno County provides programs to help those in need, in beautifying their homes and neighborhoods.

Home is certainly where the heart is, as many home-owners and renters alike pour all of their heart into making their residences as warm, comforting, and inviting as possible. Sometimes, this is as simple as providing a hot, home-cooked meal for loved ones and other times, it’s a little more complicated than that. Turning a house into a home can become a rather hefty endeavor full of painting, sometimes a little light construction (or heavy, depending on how daring you are) and often, hauling around furniture of various sizes and shapes. For many, this is a challenge met enthusiastically – often leaping ahead at full speed – but for some, it lives as more of wishful thinking rather than a total possibility.

Upkeep can be a difficult task when there’s no one to help you, and even more difficult if the cost of such repair or revitalization is way beyond your income. Often, certain neighborhoods and homes can fall behind simply because assistance isn’t available. Fortunately, one local organization has made it their business to provide such assistance for homeowners in the Fresno County area.

Habitat for Humanity Senior Paint Program

Habitat for Humanity Fresno County is a firm believer that safe and affordable housing is not only new construction but also the preservation of existing housing stock. In the effort to accomplish that, Habitat for Humanity Fresno County Neighborhood Revitalization team will go into neighborhoods of the city of Fresno in search of seniors that are in need to repaint their homes. Habitat for Humanity Fresno County Senior Paint program aims at helping income eligible seniors continue to live independently in their own homes, but more importantly, enjoy the complete exterior makeover which will enrich their lives and positively affect the neighborhoods.

The program will bring hundreds of volunteers from local businesses, churches, companies and schools to mask, prime, and paint over 50 homes in the City of Fresno at no cost to the homeowner. In addition, Habitat for Humanity Fresno County Neighborhood Revitalization Team will offer senior residents an Acts of Kindness which is a minor beautification project as yard clean up, fence painting or minor trash removal.

To qualify for the Senior Paint Program, homeowners must: own and occupy a single-family home built after 1978, be 62 years of age or older and must meet income requirements of 80 percent of Fresno Area median income, as established by HUD.

If you have a neighbor, friend, or family member who could benefit from this program, or if you yourself are an eligible homeowner, call office at 559-237-4102 ext. 102 or email marina@habitatfresno.org for further information or to request an application. The application is also available for download online at http://www.habitatfresno.org/paint

Habitat for Humanity Fresno County’s A-OK

Acts of Kindness project (A-OK) is a random act of kindness and a community development project for residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods of Fresno. The initiative brings together Habitat staff, partners and volunteers to provide services to the residents and bring resources to them. Habitat for Humanity Fresno County Neighborhood Revitalization Team goes to a neighborhood twice a week and carries out beautification projects, such as interior/exterior painting, yard work, lawn mowing, minor fence repairs, etc.

Habitat Neighborhood Revitalization team, with the help of volunteers and donors, has already completed over 90 projects, serving more than 200 families.

You can request an A-OK for yourself or someone you know by visiting our website and filling out an interest form at http://www.habitatfresno.org/actofkindness

You can also call the office at 559-237-4102 ext. 105 or email youa@habitatfresno.org for further information.

The 17th Annual Rogue Festival

Fresno’s Completely Uncensored Performing Arts Event, Returns March 1-10, 2018

The 2018 Rogue Festival features 200 performances by 48 performing groups in 10 Tower District venues in Fresno’s largest, craziest and most courageous performing arts festival

The Rogue Festival, Fresno’s completely uncensored theater and performing arts festival, will return to the Tower District March 1-10. This year’s 17th annual Rogue Festival will present over 200 separate performances of theater, music, dance, comedy, spoken word and magic from 48 performing groups in 10 different venues.

But the most important thing about the Rogue isn’t its size or variety, but it’s freedom for both performers and audience, says Rogue Festival executive director Heather Parish.

“The Rogue Festival is built on a principle that is sacred to us — that there should be no censor, no curator, no selection committee standing between the artist and the audience. We don’t choose who can or cannot participate in the Rogue. We don’t select or reject performers. There are no restrictions on what performers can say or do. For the audience, this is the one event in the San Joaquin Valley where you can see raw, uncensored, unmediated performance — and only the audience gets to say what’s good or what’s bad.”

While previous Rogue Festivals accepted all applications on a first-come, first-serve basis, this is the first year that the Rogue Festival has held a lottery to allocate performing slots.

“We have been forced to go to a lottery application process because the Rogue has been simply too successful,” said Parish. “Last year we filled all our available slots within 12 minutes of opening online applications, and our server literally crashed. This year we accepted all applications over one week, and we received 75 applications. To give all those applicants an equal chance at performing, we did a random lottery to select who would be in this year’s festival.”

New to the Rogue this year is the “Artists’ Underground” program, which allows performers to create their own venues in commercial spaces and backyards.

“The Rogue has always been about encouraging artists to be entrepreneurs, to create their own opportunities and control their own box office,” said Parish. “Since we always have more artists than we can accommodate, this year we’re letting anyone who can find a space to perform be a part of Rogue.”

In its 17th year, the Rogue Festival is now one of the oldest festivals of its kind in the United States and has built a nationwide reputation for Fresno as a city that celebrates the arts.

“Fresnans who attend the Rogue don’t always know this, but artists all around the country talk about the Rogue Festival as a ‘must-do’ event, because of the tremendous support that the Fresno community gives Rogue performers,” said Parish. “Performers love coming to Fresno because of the way they are welcomed by the audience, Rogue volunteers and local performers. Rogue performers immediately feel they are part of our community, and they always want to come back.”

Dates to Remember – Rogue Festival 2018:

Rogue Festival Teaser Show at the Tower Theater Thursday, March 1. Doors open at 6 p.m. Show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets: $10 at roguefestival.ticketleap.com. Tower Theater, Fresno. The Rogue Festival Teaser Show presents a sneak peek at upcoming shows in the 2018 Festival, plus a chance to meet and mingle with Rogue performers.

Rogue Festival Performances in Fresno’s Tower District March 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10. Full program and information is available online: www.fresnoroguefestival.com

Beatdown Poetry Slam:  Rogue Festival v. InnerEar Poets Monday, March 5, 6:30 p.m. The Revue. 620 E Olive Ave, Fresno. Tickets $12 at the door. This is 8th annual Battle Royale, featuring Fresno’s finest wordsmiths facing the talented performers from Rogue, in a war of words.

About the Rogue Festival

The Rogue Festival is one of the oldest and best respected Fringe Festivals in the western United States and part of a worldwide movement of Fringe theater festivals around the world, celebrating the independent artist rather than established arts institutions.

The Rogue is Fresno’s home for edgy, uncensored, avant-garde performances you won’t see anywhere else. Many of the acts in the Rogue are original works that are written and performed for the first time by the artists performing them, so Rogue audiences enjoy art they’ll never experience anywhere else.

Audiences at the Rogue Festival will have their pick of an incredible variety of entertainment, with shows happening simultaneously at eight different Tower District venues. Rogue Festival performances are presented in rapid rotation — no show is longer than one hour, and intermissions between shows are only a half-hour. Most Rogue shows cost $12 or less, so the ideal way to experience the Rogue is to see multiple shows during every day of the festival.

The mission of the Rogue Festival is to eliminate all barriers between the independent artist and the audience. The Rogue is a non-curated festival, meaning that Rogue Festival staff do not select the acts that perform at the Rogue. All applications to perform in the Rogue Festival are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. No one controls what’s in the Rogue, so it is a true First Amendment zone — you can see the greatest show ever, you can see the worst show ever, and you will definitely see shows that will challenge your comfort zone.

The Rogue Festival is also a non-juried festival, meaning that no prizes are given and there is no judging of content. The audience decides for itself what it likes and doesn’t like, so the Rogue Festival encourages word-of-mouth and online reviews from audience members.

The other mission of the Rogue Festival is to eliminate barriers between independent artists and their earnings. One hundred percent of all ticket sales goes directly to performers. The Rogue Festival, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, supports itself through sales of Festival wristbands, individual contributions, and sponsorships.

Tickets to Rogue Festival performances can be purchased online in advance or at the door starting 30 minutes before each performance.

The Rogue Festival draws 3,000 audience members into the Tower District, most of whom combine their Rogueing with dining, drinking and shopping at Tower District businesses, creating a sizable contribution to the local economy.

High Class

Q & A With Audie Fulfer

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Pop culture, comics, realism, full-color renditions of your favorite childhood (or, let’s face it, adulthood) characters, Audie Fulfer of High Class Tattoo and Body Modification of Fresno has made it his business to bring them to life on your skin.

From The Maxx to Breaking Bad to Ghost Busters to Superman, Fulfer is no stranger to pop culture requests. Often tackling portraiture work of famous characters, he’s also nailed down fictional creatures, cartoons, and monsters born from films and graphic novels. An unabashedly self-proclaimed ‘nerd,’ it’s difficult to say who’s enjoying the tattoo more, Fulfer or his clients.

We had a chance to chit-chat with the Owner of High Class to get to know the man behind the explosively colorful tattoos bringing people to Fresno from all over the world.

Year you started tattooing:

I started tattooing around 2005-2006

Was it a linear path to tattooing or a surprising detour?

I would have to say that I just kind of fell into it. It wasn’t planned whatsoever. I had a totally different route that I was going to take with my art but after doing it for so long, people close to me – knowing that I was artistic – would always ask me to draw things for them. Over time, all of that eventually turned into me drawing designs for their tattoos as well; I was basically nudged into that direction slowly.

Are tattoos the only type of artwork you do, or are you also a painter, sculptor, photographer, filmmaker, etc.?

Yeah, I do a lot of drawing still when I can, which I feel is important as a tattooer because not everything art-based should completely revolve around designing the next tattoo. Drawing for fun is always something that I’ve done.

Favorite tattoo on your body (why):

I got my first when I was 16, I’m 35 now, so that’s a lot of years to collect plenty of tattoos that I’m both happy with and those that I’m not, but I would have to say my favorites are my kids’ names. They were tattooed how they wrote them in kindergarten. When they got a little older, I let them tattoo a little piece next to each one of their names, which is pretty special to me.

Favorite tattoo you’ve given or most memorable (why):

I think that’s a million dollar question for most tattooers haha… I’ve done so many that I thought were awesome; it makes it really hard to say what was/is my favorite because each of those tattoos is memorable in its own way.

Artwork by Audie Fulfer of High Class Tattoo in Fresno, CA

Talk about how you got into tattooing – where did you start:

In the beginning, I just did small tattoos here and there on close friends, mimicking what I saw in magazines – but I never took it too serious mainly because I just didn’t want to mess people up. After some time, I did become more confident, but I was still playing it safe. However, I knew that if I really wanted to tattoo correctly, I needed to get into an actual shop.

Eventually, I ended up at a shop, and I finally got my foot in the door. It helped me get a feel for what needed to be done in order to be clean, safe, and sterile. So, in hindsight, it was the beginning of an apprenticeship. After a few months though, I got thrown to the wolves being told that I had to step-up and start tattooing after one of the artists was fired – I had to hit the floor running. I stayed within my skill set at the time, but it was difficult and mind-racking. So I guess you could say that I had a partial apprenticeship, but mostly, I taught myself.

You own High Class, talk about the early days?

Well, I had been tattooing for this shop, and things were going good for a while, but eventually, the owner started doing things that were unsavory to me. He was treating customers and the staff like crap, snaking clients from his own staff and then taking advantage of the situation without appreciating any of it because he wanted to be the rockstar of the shop. So when I decided to leave, I told myself I didn’t want to work at a shop that treated people unethically or wrong but then a buddy that worked at the shop with me said that I should open my own place instead of working for someone else. Ten years later, here we are!

Who’s your ideal client?

I would have to say someone who knows what they want but wants me to fully take creative control and design the tattoo because I know what will look good, work, and hold up over time. There’s so much trust that’s needed for that so when a client is willing and shows that amount of trust the results end up being awesome.

Favorite moment in your career thus far:

If I absolutely have to pick one I would have to say when I first got an email from a client in Canada who wanted to fly to Fresno just to get a tattoo. For me, it was a big deal because I finally knew that my work had started to make an impact in the industry. Since then, I’ve had numerous clients fly from different parts of the world.

Artwork by Audie Fulfer of High Class Tattoo in Fresno, CA

You do some amazing colorwork, were you classically trained in art or self-taught?

Everything I do has been self-taught for the most part, that and also discussing techniques and theories with other tattoo artists during my travels.

You also do quite a bit of portraits and renditions of famous characters – would you say that’s a specialty?

Well, it just kind of happened. I did a few here and there and since I’m a fan of a lot of the things I happen to tattoo and people started to take notice of that. Over time, more and more people wanted similar art done by me. I guess now you can say it’s definitely a specialty of mine.

What would you say your specialty is?

I would say full-color tattoos is my thing. I do a lot of different things but full-color realism, illustrated style art, and animation tattoos are what I’m known for.

Who (or what) inspires you?

Everything inspires me, I know that’s probably a cheesy response, but for now, I feel that it’s an accurate answer.

What’s next for High Class – any plans fans can keep an eye out for?

Well, we just started our 10th year, so I’m looking forward to seeing what another ten years bring. Also, I’m going to be starting an online store for my artwork. I’ll be offering t-shirts and stickers, buttons and prints, patches, sketchbooks and color books all based on my style of tattoo artwork and pop culture. That’s definitely going to be something to look out for.

Social media where people can follow you: 

Instagram @audie_tattoos @highclasstattoo

Recreational Marijuana is Now Legal! … Sort of

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

As of January 1st, medical and recreational (adult use) marijuana became legal in the state of California. Per the Prop 64 measure, adults over the age of 21 can now consume, purchase, possess, and grow cannabis without the fear of prosecution so long as they are within the regulation of the new law… and in accordance with any other policies put in place by the city in which they reside.

However, for any business looking to get into the marijuana industry gold rush, things are a little bit more complicated.


The state of California now allows for adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 1 oz of marijuana for personal consumption. Each household (not person) may contain up to 6 plants. However, the rules of growing are likely to differ between cities. As a general rule, plants are to be grown indoors, and they should not be visible to others outside your household. Smoking in public is prohibited under the ballot measure of Prop 64 unless allowed by a local ordinance – in other words, don’t smoke it just anywhere, fines may occur.

Businesses may begin their application process with the Bureau of Cannabis Control in Sacramento so long as they have received a permit from the city they plan to operate in. Each municipality can determine their own rules and regulations as to how commercial cannabis will coexist in their communities, if at all. Cities still hold the final ruling on whether or not marijuana businesses can operate within their jurisdiction.

So, what does all this mean for Central Valley residents and entrepreneurs? The short version is, it’s murky – there are more questions than answers as of yet – however, the long version can help give insight as to what to expect in the coming months.


Central Valley residents can lean on statewide rules regarding their right to consume, possess, and purchase cannabis. However, growing marijuana will come with some additional conditions that will vary according to the city of residence.

In an article by the Madera Tribune, it stated that Madera growers will need to obtain a permit from the city which will need to be displayed in plain view at the residence where the growing will occur. Failure to do so could result in a $1,000 fine per plant or possibly, per day. Renters who would like to grow in their residence would need written permission from their landlord before applying for a permit with the city.

Farmersville disallows growing outside which forces residents to grow indoors – this will also require a permit.

“Now residents will have to obtain a City-issued permit and inspection if they are going to grow marijuana inside. The mayor added the permit is meant to ensure that electrical component and lighting are up to code and that there is not any mold where they are growing it.” (Paul Myers, The Foothills Sun-Gazette)

At the time this article was written, no other city had yet to implement an ordinance surrounding personal growing. That said, no matter how a city decides to regulate growing in their area, it cannot take away an individual’s right to grow indoors.

Adults over 21 may also purchase cannabis and cannabis products from licensed retail outlets for recreational use. Patients who use medicinal marijuana may visit either a recreational or medical dispensary; however, medicinal marijuana will be exempt from paying the hefty (yet minimum) 15% sales tax.

“Proposition 64 would allow the state to impose a 15% excise tax on the retail sale of marijuana. Also, the state would be able to levy a cultivation tax on growers of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves. The ballot measure also would let cities and counties to impose their own taxes to cover costs of services, including enforcement.” (Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times)

Expect the price of cannabis to fluctuate from city to city, or from county to county. Although the cultivation tax only affects commercial growers, it’s likely that those costs will be passed down to the consumer.

However, locating a retail cannabis dispensary is going to be the real challenge.


As each city is in different stages of deciding how they’ll handle commercial marijuana, recreational dispensaries may not yet be either approved or available to consumers. Although adult use is now legal, finding a recreational dispensary will be difficult for Central Valley residents as many cities have moved to ban recreational operations, Fresno, Clovis, and Visalia among them.

Farmersville, Coalinga, Hanford, Merced, and Woodlake are the first cities, so far, to allow commercial marijuana operations for either manufacturing or sales, and in some instances, both.

“But Woodlake – a town of less than 8,000 people about 15 miles northeast of Visalia in Tulare County – has pushed forward at breakneck speed, going from idea to ordinance to the approval of two companies’ dispensary proposals in less than six months. City leaders hope to unlock a treasure trove of tax revenue, which can be used to beef up a thinning public service budget and attract customers to a blip on the map found well off the beaten path.” (Rory Appleton, The Fresno Bee)

Green Bean Pharm, formerly a medical cannabis delivery service only, is set to open their new recreational marijuana complex in February.


While some cities have approved commercial operations, not all have OK’d recreational sales. If you’re looking to get into the game as a dispensary, you’ll need to start off with the understanding that your options will be limited.

Only Merced, Farmersville, and Woodlake have given the green light to recreational sales.

Those looking to jump in as growers or manufacturers can look to Coalinga who is still accepting permit applications. More information can be found at www.Coalinga.com under the ‘Business’ tab.


Fresno voted in the 12/14 City Council meeting 7-0 to begin the steps in allowing medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits along with cultivation, manufacturing, delivery, testing, and processing – all limited to medicinal purposes only.

The original text amendment included commercial operations open to both medical and recreational marijuana. After a tense debate from City Council and passionate testimonies from the public, City Council Member Steve Brandau motioned to revise the amendment to limit all commercial cannabis operations to that for medicinal purposes only, Garry Bredefeld seconded the motion. Council President, and co-sponsor of the amendment, Clint Olivier, declined the revision before ultimately voting ‘yes’ alongside the rest of the council.

The vote does not immediately translate to an open application process for those seeking a permit to open a dispensary, but rather to begin the conversation and research into creating the rules and regulations that will allow medical marijuana sales in the future. With the total ban in place, City Council would have been unable to approach the topic with any real meaning. At least with the new amendment, Fresno can move forward on deciding what medical marijuana operations could look like within city limits.

To help them draft the ordinances, the city has set aside a budget to hire a consulting firm to “sit with professional city staff, our professional city planners and determine how many dispensaries are needed by this community, where should they go, who should the operators be, [and] how we select the operators,” said Olivier during the 12/14 City Council meeting.

Both sides of the argument were present during the discussion as members of the public took to the dais. Law officials rebuked the statement made by pro-cannabis – that by allowing legal marijuana, the black market would disappear – arguing that the imposed taxes would raise costs significantly and drive those who could not afford legal cannabis back to the black market. However, they provided no counters to any claims made by the medical marijuana community which consisted of relief for symptoms of cancer, physical pain, anxiety, and insomnia to name a few. It is perhaps, the driving reason behind the City Council’s move to revisit the total ban.

It is what helped Fresno Police Chief, Jerry Dyer, change his tune on the topic of medical marijuana, after all.

“I do have mixed feelings about medical marijuana, I really do. And I can tell you that my feelings have changed over the years after listening to some of the stories that have been told here, from the individuals I’ve talked to and I do believe that there are individuals out there that have a legitimate need for medicinal marijuana [and] I support that, I really do,” he stated during the 12/14 City Council meeting.

However Dyer’s outlook has changed on medical cannabis, the Police Chief still firmly opposes recreational marijuana on all fronts.

It will likely be several months before Fresno sees any drafts on the regulating of how medical marijuana is commercially grown, cultivated, processed, manufactured, distributed, and sold within the city.

Expect more passionate City Council debates to follow as Fresno works to reconcile differences locally with County regulations and nationally, federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance.


Just days after California legalized pot, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, decided to rescind the Obama-era policy that kept the federal government’s heavy hand out of states’ marijuana laws.

Still considered an illegal substance on the federal level, the Obama Administration’s policy allowed each state to decide for themselves on whether or not to legalize and regulate marijuana – generally barring federal law enforcement officials from interfering with sales in states where cannabis was legal.

“In 2013, President Barack Obama’s attorney general advised prosecutors not to waste money targeting pot growers and sellers that were abiding by state laws but to go after flagrant violations such as trafficking across state lines or selling to minors. Under this policy, several states legalized recreational pot, growers and sellers had begun to drop their guard over fears of a federal crackdown and the business blossomed into a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry feeding state government programs with tax dollars.”

(Brian Melley and Sadie Gurman, Associated Press)

With the shift in federal policy, some investors are skirting the cannabis industry by either choosing to wait out the storm or by leaving it altogether for fear of increased marijuana prosecutions. However, members of Congress – both Democrats and Republicans – are pushing back with the claim that the turnover not only violates states’ rights but it is also destructive and backward.

Sessions’ move also goes against the will of the people.

“According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis for adult use, including a majority of Republicans. And a poll conducted by Marists indicates that 83 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.” (Eric Brakey, CNBC)

It’s unclear how the federal level decision will affect each of the states moving forward, but it’s clear that the marijuana industry won’t be fighting it alone.

So much remains ambiguous about the regulated future of legalized pot in California, even more so in the Central Valley. As some cities are still waiting to make their final decision, others have banned it outright, and Fresno is soon to embark on the unique challenge of writing new policies for medical marijuana businesses, from growing all the way to sales – but one thing is clear, and that it is going to make for a busy yet very interesting 2018.