One of 31 coyote decoys that will appear in downtown Riverside prior to the Riverside Arts Weekend on May 16-17. | BOB UPHUES/Editor

Coyote sightings have been down in Riverside in the past year, but that’s about to change. Anyone walking or driving through downtown Riverside over the next couple of weeks is sure to come face to face with coyotes — and colorful ones at that.

Call it a “coyote convention.” That’s what organizers of the Riverside Arts Weekend, which comes to the village May 16 and 17 in Guthrie Park in downtown Riverside, are calling this year’s RAW art spectacle.

“This is the third year we’ve wanted a community engagement project,” said Helen Gallagher, a member of the RAW organizing committee who was instrumental in recruiting artists to decorate 31 life-size, plastic coyotes — which are actually hunting decoys that organizers found online from an Ohio-based outdoor equipment retailer.

Last year, organizers signaled the coming of RAW by “yarn-bombing” lamp posts downtown. This year the coyotes — which have been mounted on cement-board platforms — are being tethered to the lamp posts by a steel cable.

In 2015, organizers chose a spectacle that gave a nod to the village’s motto “Village in the Forest.”

“One of the reasons we all had this ‘a-ha’ moment was Riverside’s identity with green space and co-existing with nature and all that means,” said Gallagher. “And for a few years that’s meant the coyotes.”

From all of those coyotes sightings a couple of years ago came a village-wide policy of dealing with them. That policy was used by the Humane Society to craft its own policy, which it hopes other municipalities will adopt nationwide. The society asked the village to officially “adopt” their policy and Riverside became the first community to do so.

The idea for using coyotes as a theme came from committee members Jeff Davis and Cristina Saldana, who were also charged with coming up with a way to make it work. The couple found one on Amazon, ordered it in January and began working on a solution.

The coyote decoys need to be assembled and made rigid. Davis said he used an outdoor caulk to ensure the foldable legs didn’t collapse. Then he had to screw the feet into the cement board, through the bottom so the decoys didn’t fall over in a breeze.

“It was basically trial and error,” said Saldana, who then painted the prototype — one side is inspired by the stained-glass windows of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Coonley Playhouse in Riverside, while the other depicts some village landmarks.

The committee filtered word out to prospective artists through various social channels such as the Farmers Market Committee, the Riverside Public Library and the Riverside Arts Center.

But before the painting could commence, the remaining 30 decoys had to be assembled. That happened, assembly-line style, inside a coyote corral in the Arcade Building. Once they were decorated by artists, the decoys were sprayed with clear-coat by the folks at Metal Mites to keep them weather- and dog-proof.

Tommaso Lesnick, who is one the board of the Riverside Arts Center, took on two coyotes with the help of his daughters. His 7-year-old daughter, Isadora, helped decorate “Sky-ote,” a decoy painted a deep blue with clouds.

Lesnick’s 3-year-old, meanwhile, helped her dad cover a decoy with various kinds of tape, which Lesnick uses for sculptures.

“That one is called ‘Coyo-tape,'” Lesnick said.

Six coyotes were placed in Centennial Park and Guthrie Park on Saturday, and five more will appear every three days until all of them have converged on downtown, said Davis.

On May 15, the coyotes will be corralled again and placed in Guthrie Park during the weekend arts festival. In the run-up to the festival, and during the festival itself, people can bid on the coyotes through an online auction site being set up by Davis.

A link to the site will be available on the RAW website (www.riversideartsweekend.org) when the auction site goes live. Winning bidders can pick their coyotes up from the Guthrie Park corral on May 17. The money helps fund the cost of the festival.

At least one of the coyotes will be unavailable during the bidding period. That’s the one decorated by Robin Benoy and Jane Derbyshire, titled “Copper the Cents-ible Coyote.”

The coyote is covered all over in pennies. Benoy said she’s taking the option given to artists to buy theirs for $75.

“We fell in love with it,” Benoy said.