To determine if a city has a vibrant arts scene, you’d check out its museums, galleries, and theaters. You’d look into any recurring arts events or festivals. And you’d gauge institutional support for local artists. Run these tests in Riverside, and you’ll find a city that cares about art—and cares enough to adopt the moniker “The City of Arts & Innovation.” But how can Riverside grow as a city of the arts? How can the scene expand to include artists, and audiences, from across the city? And how does a small city like Riverside develop a reputation as a site of creativity? In advance of the Zócalo/James Irvine Foundation event “How Can Riverside Build a Bigger Arts Scene?”, we asked local leaders, arts administrators, and artists that same question: How can Riverside build a bigger arts scene?
Be creative and think global
Every artist I’ve invited to Riverside from Europe or the East Coast has wanted to stay longer—especially during the winter. Space is plentiful here. The climate is attractive. Why not create opportunities for longer stays? I imagine a “city of the arts” complex with live/work spaces where visitors and residents could live and work side by side. This, along with residency programs, would put Riverside on the map and create lasting global connections.
Traffic congestion and the Inland Empire’s reputation as a cultural wasteland often keep people from other parts of Southern California from coming to Riverside for exhibitions and performances. But innovative, quality exhibitions and performances that can’t be found elsewhere can change that, as events organized at the Culver Center of the Arts, the Brandstater Gallery at La Sierra University, and The Box theater demonstrate. The work that artist Beatriz Mejía-Krumbein did at the Brandstater was exemplary: The art was first-rate art, drew people from throughout the region, and set area artists on the path of national recognition.
A denser arts space is already taking shape in downtown Riverside. But more can be done in the city’s center and neighborhoods. There should be incentives to use some of the plentiful unrented commercial space in malls as art spaces. A good model for this is the Riverside Arts Council’s The Afterimage gallery and makerspace at University Village. Situated between a Starbucks and a beauty salon, this kind of space is perfect for cutting-edge projects that engage new audiences.
Renowned visual artists, playwrights, and composers live in Riverside, and many more are on the faculties of the city’s universities. But a “scene” is not made only of individuals. To strategically enhance and expand the Riverside arts scene, we need creative planning and globally oriented leadership.
Susan Ossman is an anthropologist and artist. She leads The Moving Matters Traveling Workshop arts collective and directs UC Riverside’s global studies program.
Strengthen connections between institutions and artists
As I often tell people, it doesn’t get any better than being the mayor of your hometown—and of the arts capital of Inland Southern California. Riverside made a decision some years back to brand ourselves the City of Arts and Innovation, and we put the words in that order for a reason. We put “arts” first because they do so much—they inspire us, pick us up when times are tough, and serve as the markers by which we remember our lives.
We’re blessed in Riverside to have major institutions and dedicated artists that together create a lively arts scene that befits a city with our aspirations. The Riverside Art Museum, the Riverside Arts Council, and the Culver Center of the Arts on the UC Riverside ARTSblock—just to name a few—all match or exceed the good work being done in cities across Southern California. They help fuel our events large and small, like Riverside Arts Walk, the Long Night of Arts & Innovation, the Mayor’s Celebration for Arts & Innovation, and the Festival of Lights.
Our issue in Riverside, to my thinking, is not how to create an arts scene on steroids. It’s how we take the impressive arts scene already here and connect our major institutions and all they offer to artists from across our city, and vice versa. Our institutions can showcase work and provide critical technical expertise so our artists can focus on what they love—creating. And our artists, every time they produce a new piece, can replenish the well of energy and inspiration that draws people to the arts in the first place. I look forward to a Riverside arts scene that not only is growing organically in size, but also in diversity and substance all across our city, for the benefit of everyone.
Riverside Mayor William R. “Rusty” Bailey III was elected in November 2012 after previously being elected twice to the city council. He is a Riverside native whose family has been involved in public service in Riverside for more than a century.
Cut through the noise to get the word out
Anyone involved in an arts organization knows that, aside from funding, building an audience is the hardest aspect of what we do. We have no shortage of talent; what we do struggle with is being sure there are bodies in the seats when that talent is presenting, and frankly, it’s hit or miss. Part of the problem is noise—even with effective publicity, event notices often get lost in the proliferation of marketing that we all receive each day. Another issue is, there is always so much good stuff going on, how to choose?
I’ve spent hours in committee meetings debating old and new strategies for building audiences, like handing out flyers, posting on social media, and sending out email blasts. But maybe that’s a backward way of thinking about it? Maybe the answer lies in strengthening relationships with fellow arts organizations, and with the community as a whole, and letting the problem solve itself.
When I think back on our most successful events, two things come to mind: community engagement and community partnerships. In addition, our most effective events have been participatory in some way; they involved a group of people who all had a stake in attending, and because of that, brought their family and friends.
Riverside’s arts and culture scene is thriving—it’s finding a way to cut through the noise so that more people hear about what’s going on. It means collaboration and not competition—all of us working together toward the mutual goal of bringing to light everything that Riverside has to offer.
Cati Porter is executive director of the Inlandia Institute, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to celebrating Inland Southern California in word, image, and sound.
Put art everywhere
Art doesn’t make us human. It makes us humane. I was fortunate to serve as Riverside’s first arts and cultural affairs manager when the city adopted the City of Arts & Innovation tagline. Since then, I’ve seen how the arts scene has expanded even further through innovative and meaningful collaboration.
Let me single out three organizations that work on a daily basis to support the arts:
1) The City of Riverside’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Division, which provides financial and other support and creates local, regional, and national partnerships with Riverside’s many arts and cultural institutions, the Smithsonian Institution, and other arts and culture partners.
2) The Riverside Arts Council, a private, nonprofit corporation whose mission is “to provide, develop, support and sustain the arts.” It is a state and local partner of the California Arts Council and a leader among regional and state networks of local arts agencies.
3) The Riverside Cultural Consortium—a collaboration of community organizations working together to raise the profile of arts and culture in Riverside through shared resources, networking, and joint programming.
Arts participation is being redefined as people increasingly choose to engage with art in new, more active, and expressive ways, as shown in provocative research by The James Irvine Foundation. Shorthand: Art doesn’t always occur in traditional arts spaces such as museums and concert halls. In Riverside, the arts can be experienced in a church hall, in a school gymnasium, and even on the street.
To build a bigger arts scene in Riverside, just look around. Art is literally everywhere.
Dr. Jonathan Lorenzo Yorba is president and CEO of The Community Foundation, which serves Southern California through philanthropy.