On Wednesday, May 11, the organizers of the Riverside Arts Weekend — RAW — will kick off this year’s “spectacle” announcing the arrival next week of the annual arts event in the village’s downtown.
Jeff Davis, who is a member of the RAW board of directors, secured a decorated tandem bicycle to a rack outside the Riverside Public Library, across the street from Guthrie Park where the arts weekend will take place on May 21 and 22.
The bike’s artist Julie Schaff, said she was inspired to take on the challenge after being so impressed by last year’s “coyote convention.”
“It looked like it would be so much fun, that when I heard there was an opportunity to be part of this year’s spectacle, I jumped at it,” said Schaff, a member of the Riverside Landscape Commission, whose leaf-adorned tandem is a tribute to the village’s new designation as an arboretum.
The bike is one of six tandems decorated by both professional and amateur artists that will pop up in the downtown area this week to announce RAW’s impending arrival. Tandem bikes were a fun and popular part of the Olmsted Society’s housewalk in 2014, which focused on sustainable living.
And now the tandems will be decorated to highlight the importance of nature to the village and to the arts weekend itself.
Last year’s effort — more than two dozen hand-decorated coyote decoys — was a hit at RAW 2015. At the silent auction held to close out the event, organizers raised almost $7,000, according to Davis.
Schaff, coincidentally, purchased two of the coyotes at last year’s silent auction, one for each of her two twin boys. While they typically can be found in her backyard, at Christmas they were out in front of the house adorned with wreaths a la the lions in front of the Art Institute of Chicago.
RAW organizers are looking to auction off the tandem bikes — which according to the ground rules for decoration had to be maintained as fully operational bicycles — at the end of this year’s event as well.
“They have to ridable, because after the auction we’d like to see them around town for the next few years,” Davis said.
This year’s spectacle is being funded via a $2,000 grant from the Helen Doria Foundation, founded in 2013 in memory of the former executive director of Millennium Park in Chicago. Doria died in 2012 of liver disease at the age of 61.
According to the foundation’s website, it was founded “to make our communities stronger with creative and innovative arts, culture and open spaces.”
RAW organizers initially envisioned this year spectacle to include large “follies” made from natural materials, but the idea turned out to be too daunting. Instead, the RAW board turned to the idea of the tandem bikes.
While smaller in scale than the follies, decorating a bike isn’t as easy as you might think, according to Schaff.
“There are a lot of challenges with painting a bike that you have to be able to ride at the end of it,” Schaff said. “Everything is round and everything has to be waterproof. This was very involved.”
Other artists participating in this year’s spectacle include Elizabeth Nelson-Sifuentes, Gelse Tkalec, Cristina Saldana, Kate Coffey and Jen Kryczk.
Schaff’s bike has a dual purpose. In addition to serving as part of the RAW spectacle, the bike is also the unofficial start of an effort by the Landscape Advisory Commission to name an official Riverside tree.
The bike is decorated with the leaves of five trees that the commission has settled on as its finalists — white oak, bur oak, red oak, catalpa and black walnut. The design also includes a basket that has a tree map highlighting the five candidates along with a history of how Riverside came to be an arboretum.
Beginning May 31, the commission will begin sending out weekly “tree-mails” and ribbons will be tied around the trees in Guthrie Park, which Schaff called “a microcosm of the Riverside arboretum.”
Voting (both electronically and on paper) will begin July 4. The Landscape Advisory Commission will unveil the winner at the Riverfest event in September.
“RAW seemed like a great opportunity to make it all work together,” Schaff said.