Every year in Riverside, the middle of May brings along a group of art events that ring in the beginning of the warmer and more social seasons: the Riverside Arts Weekend (RAW), and the Riverside Art Center (RAC) Gala. This year is no exception.

Despite the similarity of their names, the Arts Weekend and Arts Center follow related but distinct missions.

This coming weekend, the Riverside Arts Weekend (RAW) will take place in Guthrie Park. In its sixth year, RAW is a vibrant, once a year multi-cultural event for residents and visitors alike. Core elements include a juried arts fair of decorative arts and crafts and music performances.

On the evening of Saturday, May 18, the Riverside Art Center (RAC) will host “Prom-O-Rama,” its annual gala and fundraiser. Founded 20 years ago by a group of visionary local residents led by Ruth and Bob Freeark, the Arts Center is a not-for-profit community organization dedicated to providing Riverside, its surrounding suburbs and the city of Chicago with exhibitions, art classes, and special, art-related events, offering over 120 art classes each year.

In looking at the events programs for this weekend, however, and in distinction to earlier years, a positive trend is emerging: the quality of art performed, discussed and auctioned, is noticeably rising.

Let’s take a closer look at how specifically this is happening.

Take, for instance, the series of 20-minute outdoor spectacles that will take place on Saturday afternoon in Guthrie Park. Redmoon Theater, a nationally renowned, Chicago-based performing arts group that seeks to transform urban and suburban landscapes through ephemeral events that provide opportunities for public engagement, will collaborate with Riverside Central School fourth-graders.

Redmoon will be playing poetry written by the students on a “Sonic Boom” contraption, and the fourth-graders in turn will interact with the audience. A unique combination of art and community which focuses on the power of the imagination, the spectacles promise to be an immersive and magical weekend highlight.

Another example of the remarkable rise of high-quality art in Riverside is the Arts Center’s auction during Prom-O-Rama. Directed by Kim Piotrowski and Anne Harris, both nationally renowned artists in their own right, the Arts Center has been able to attract some of the best Chicago area artists, such as Jim Lutes, Paul D’Amato, Candida Alvarez, Stephanie Brooks, Sabina Ott and Margaret Wharton.

Both Jim and Paul, who also are Riverside residents, have exhibited in some of the most important galleries and museums both nationally and internationally, and the common thread among Candida, Stephanie, Sabina and Margaret is that their work can be found in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Through the drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture donations of these artists, the Prom-O-Rama auction represents a win-win-win opportunity for Riverside residents in three distinct ways.

First, own a real, high-quality, yet affordable work of art, whose personal and monetary value will increase over time; second, get to know the artist and his or her way of looking at the world; and last but not least, support accessible arts education in Riverside. Every dollar spent on the Riverside Arts Center goes towards this not-for-profit community asset.

But, one might say, does art really matter?

In Riverside, this answer is an easy yes, because for 144 years, we residents have literally been living in a work of art. As inhabitants of Olmsted’s masterfully artistic plan, we are the benefactors of his meaningful, thought-provoking, and deeply humanistic creation.

The great sculptor Constantin Brancusi once said of artist’s creations that “the work must give immediately, at once, the shock of life, the sensation of breathing.” We know this to be true in Riverside. We know art matters, because we live and experience it every day.

By participating in the events this weekend, let’s build upon our essence: Riverside is Art.

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