by Julie Cosgrove.
Looking for things to do this summer? Consider the First Thursday Artswalk, on June 5, from 6 to 9 p.m., in downtown Riverside.
The last one, on May 1, was a huge celebration with thousands attending gallery openings, a celebration of Cinco de Mayo, a fashion show, Aztec drumming and even a flash mob. The big galleries, ARTSblock and the Riverside Art Museum, opened their doors to the public, free of charge, offering fine arts photography, visual art and dance.
It was a kaleidoscopic street fair of art, music and dance.
The city of Riverside has been hosting art walks since 2001, when two galleries opened their doors to the public and invited people to walk the half block from the Division 9 Gallery to the Riverside Community Art Association. In the 12 years since, the event has grown to take up 12 blocks, 26 galleries and thousands of visitors.
Mark Schooley had been director of RCAA for 13 years when he and Cosme Cordova, director of Division 9 Gallery, dreamed up the event.
“At the time, Division 9 Gallery was in the Life Arts Building,” he said, “and that was the walk. Then five people asked if they could participate. Then they suggested we do it every month and I thought, ‘We can’t do that…’”
Cordova recalls that the beginnings involved Schooley’s offer of a solo exhibit at RCAA. They decided to repeat the walk every 3 months, then every 2 months and finally, on every first Thursday of the month. After two years, the city took notice, realized the potential of the event and became involved as well.
RCAA is at the southeast end of the walk area. Despite being off the beaten path, the two rooms of the gallery were filled with people enjoying a glass of wine, buying raffle tickets for original art by David Wells and Cordova, and admiring the RCAA Member Mini-Exhibit.
Schooley stood in the lobby of RCAA before a wall of art produced by school children through the Riverside Art Council’s Arts and Minds Program. He supports the program, in part, by exhibiting the work.
“The schools can only exhibit the art for maybe two weeks,” he said. “But I can exhibit it for a long time.” And the children can see that their work has value because it hangs on the wall of a real art gallery.
Schooley and his wife, Gwen Mebley, managed to sneak away from the RCAA to see what was going on at the big gallery, the Riverside Art Museum.
Cordova was organizing the Cinco de Mayo celebration on University in front of the RAM, where 1,000 people watched alternating stages of ballet folklorico dancers. The audience cheered as each new troupe, many including children, took the stage. Dance costumes ranged from traditional ruffled dresses and shirts to cowboy and cowgirl outfits complete with leather hats and boots.
Inside the museum, hundreds strolled through three exhibit openings.
Downstairs, Susan Straight was holding court before her UCR students and friends at “Wild Blue Yonder,” a collection of her stories along with photography by Douglas McCulloh.
“Wild Blue Yonder” recounts the technicalities of flying bombers, Hueys, men who survived to return home and men who did not return home. They tell of families, many of whom provided photos that were reprinted for the wall. Although Straight’s collected stories revolve about veterans, “Wild Blue Yonder” is not about war, but about the nature of memory, who remembers and how to capture these stories before the current generation of veterans passes on.
“They start with war,” she said of the stories, “but they end with love. And that’s universal.”
Straight teaches creative writing at UCR and has been nationally recognized for her fiction. Her colleague Doug McCulloh is an internationally recognized artist, writer and curator. The exhibit continues through July 22.
Upstairs, art by students in the UCR master of fine arts program was showcased in a corner room. These students were not novices to exhibiting and the work includes whimsical sculpture, enigmatic landscapes, and a “Deconstructed” painting that appears to be literally broken into pieces. The show ends June 15.
On the pedestrian mall at the western end of the Artswalk, 2,000 people gathered to watch the “Destination Style” fashion show, a production of the downtown merchants.
The Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana entertained. Two blocks east, the Heuhueteotl Hatolli Calimeca, barechested and bedecked in feather headdresses, whirled and stomped to the traditional Aztec upright drum (the huehueti).
At the ARTSblock, the UCR Dept. of Dance offered “An Evening of Indigenous Choreography,” repeating the theme of preserving and celebrating cultures through dance and choreography.
It was also the closing weekend of “Monster,” the MFA Thesis Exhibit, 2014, a show exhibiting the work of graduating art students.
Next door, at the UCR Museum of Photography, Trouble with the Index offered photography with a twist. Artists manipulated photographic prints in such a way that they eventually lost the original image and became abstractions. Photographs were altered with melting ice, soaked in lakes, mixed with substances like jello, dirt. Simple items like foil were manipulated and photographed so the foil was unrecognizable. The exhibit was curated by Joanna Szupinska-Meyers and included work by UCR professor, John Divola, and rising stars, such as Victoria Fu whose work will be exhibited at the prestigious Whitney Biennial.
“A photo is supposedly like a fingerprint,” Szupinsk-Myers said, “with a one-to-one relationship with reality.”
But it is not reality itself because an image captured at one point in time can reveal only what two dimensions can show. The artists in “Trouble” push beyond this limitation, often in humorous ways, and illustrate that the truth of a moment in time need not be limited to photo-realism. The ravages of time and nature add additional layers of meaning to the original idea and the resulting abstract images assert the presence of the artist. Despite the esoteric nature of the show museum staff expected to draw in more than 100 visitors from the ArtsWalk.
“The Artswalk is an important way for the campus to connect with the community,” Szupinska said. Many return to the Museum for weekly films or lectures. Trouble with the Index continues until June 21.
The location of ARTSblock in downtown Riverside and not on the campus helps to open doors to the public. The graduate MFA exhibit is the only one in Southern California that is shown off campus and in a public setting. In June ARTSblock will show the work of first year undergraduates in the Sweeney Gallery.
“The Artswalk includes all levels,” Division 9’s Cordova said. “It’s different points of view, a wide range of purposes, from kids’ art to professionals.”
“Everyone does their own thing,” Schooley said. “There are no planning meetings, everyone does their own publicity.”
Patrick Brien, director of the Riverside Arts Council, agrees. The Arts Council, with the city of Riverside and the Riverside Downtown Partnership, is an official host of the Artswalk.
“The Artswalk is appealing to people,” Brien said, “because there is not an imposed theme but it is so wide open, dependent only on the imaginations of the individual galleries. I can hardly wait to see what Mark and Cosme come up with this time.”
He expects June to be another month with many participating galleries and thousands of visitors. Once again, RAM and ARTSblock will open their doors to the public free of charge, June 5 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on every first Thursday of the month.