By Bob Uphues
When she signed up as a volunteer back in January to help with this year's Riverside Arts Weekend, Laurie Redden Risley thought her assistance would mainly exist at the margins.
However, the longtime Riverside resident quickly found herself in charge of RAW's annual "spectacle," a community art effort rolled out in the week preceding the annual juried art fair.
This year's spectacle – 35 hand-crafted letters and one exclamation point standing 4- to 5-feet tall, and spelling out the words "Imagine!" "art," "RAW," "create," "inspire" and "inform" – have begun appearing at Guthrie Park, Centennial Park and in front of the library to announce the event, which will take place Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20 in Guthrie Park.
"I feel thrilled at how dedicated these people were," said Risley. "Nothing they did was simple."
While this year's spectacle was simple in theory, it was perhaps the most elaborate and labor-intensive spectacle ever devised for RAW. More than 100 people participated in the creation of the letters, said Risley, and very few of those involved are professional artists.
Students from Hauser Junior High, Girl Scouts, families – even Risley's 86-year-old mom – conceived and constructed their letters out of materials ranging from crushed cans to plastic bottle tops to found wood to foam balls and material stuffed and woven into wire cages.
"People used every kind of material imaginable," said Risley, who worked on two letters herself, a letter "I" dotted with a floating eyeball and an "R" (for Risley) inspired by her home garden – where it will likely end up permanently.
Risley participated in the RAW spectacle in 2015, when participants were asked to decorate plastic coyotes. That project, she said, paled in comparison to creating the letters from scratch.
Because there were no set guidelines for building the letters or making sure they were particularly durable -- unlike previous spectacle display pieces, this year's won't be auctioned off – Risley says there's a bit of unpredictability built into this year's spectacle.
But she's not particularly worried about it.
"I do expect some to suffer a bit, but that's A-OK," Risley said. "This is people pushing outside of their boundaries. I look at every one of these as a win. This was no easy thing."
Many new artists this year
Jill Mateo, a member of the RAW board of directors, said that about 75 percent of the roughly 60 artists participating in this year's event will be new to visitors.
Items for sale this year include paintings, prints, photographs, hand-crafted wood, jewelry, clothing, ceramics, fabric, glass, paper, multimedia and more. Booths will be set up in Guthrie Park, which is located at Riverside and Bloomingbank roads in downtown Riverside.
The Riverside Arts Center will also have a booth where children and families can take part in a hands-on art project.
The event will also feature live music on both days. On Saturday, May 19 enjoy the Hauser Junior High Jazz Band from 10 to 11 a.m., Petra Van Nuis from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Blaze Triptych from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and Aryk Crowder from 3 to 5 p.m.
On Sunday, May 20, the music starts with Kevin Lucas from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Kraig Kenning from 2 to 4 p.m.
Food and drinks will be available for purchase from La Barra Ristorante, 34 East Lounge. Chocolate Twist, Aunt Diana's, Empanadus and Fruit Blended Smoothies.