For the second consecutive year, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of Riverside Arts Weekend, the juried art fair and festival slated to be held the second week of June in Guthrie Park.

However, residents and visitors will still be able to enjoy one of the annual highlights of RAW – the art “spectacle,” a large scale effort that typically involves numerous pieces created by a variety of people that are placed around the village’s downtown.

This year’s spectacle – a triptych of canvases designed by Riverside artist Erika Vazzana and painted by dozens of children and adult volunteers – can be enjoyed on June 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and June 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside the historic train station at 90 Bloomingbank Road, across the street from Guthrie Park.

If you don’t want to wait until the weekend, however, you can see each of the painted panels individually at three downtown Riverside businesses, where they’ve been on display since last week – Burlington Realty, 21 E. Burlington St.; Riverside Foods, 48 E. Burlington St.; and The Chew Chew, 33 E. Burlington St.

The colorful canvases each focus on an iconic image of the village, including the water tower, a gas lamp, the Swinging Bridge and Riverside’s street plan.

“Living here for the past year, I feel I touched on things – whether you bike or walk or run or just travel through the village — you experience,” said Vazzana, whose family moved into their home just as the pandemic struck in 2020.

The painted panels were an idea Vazzana pitched to the RAW committee for 2020, even before she had moved to the village from her Chicago home. The family had purchased a property in February 2019, but was rehabbing it before moving in.

As a working artist, Vazzana wanted to find out more about art-related resources and opportunities in her soon-to-be hometown and eagerly volunteered for RAW. In 2019, she contributed art for that year’s RAW spectacle – painted benches paired with illustrated booklets highlighting the history of Riverside’s plan.

Vazzana’s suggestion of the painted panels for 2020 spectacle was right in her wheelhouse. For the past 23 years, she’s painted murals for residence, businesses, restaurants and other commercial clients. She’s also hosted painting parties and has done custom commission work.

With kids attending a public school in Chicago, Vazzana began volunteering to provide art instruction as those programs were cut for budgetary reasons.

“I became the volunteer artist-in-residence,” said Vazzana, who organized and project managed art-related fundraisers annually involving scores of student artists and other volunteers. She had also created large-scale murals for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.

“I love that stuff,” Vazzana said. “I feed off when you can show the justification of the work to the public.”

Vazzana prepared the three 4-by-5-foot canvas panels for the Riverside mural, sketching out the rough design, which would be filled in by volunteer artists from the community. In all, she said between 60 and 65 people of all ages and abilities came to her house over the period of a week.

During the course of the six- to seven-hour days, Vazzana would give quick instructions and let the volunteers loose. In addition to overseeing the volunteers, Vazzana spent about three days preparing the canvasses and another three putting the finishing touches on them.

The experience also ended up reconnecting Vazzana with a college friend she hadn’t seen in 23 years. The woman’s daughter had been helping paint on of the panels at Vazzana’s home and she swung by to pick her up. 

The 2021 RAW spectacle was Vazzana’s way to meet her new neighbors and find an old friend.

“I just think of all the people who’ve come through my door,” Vazzana said. “Had I not done this, [my college friend and I] would never have reconnected.”

Snag a piece of RAW 2021 via online auction 

You might not be able to wander through Guthrie Park and buy a unique work of art at Riverside Arts Weekend in 2021, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come away from this year’s modified event art-less.

As in past years, the community is invited to bid on the artwork from this year’s spectacle – in this case the three canvas panels depicting iconic Riverside images – via an online auction that is being held at 32auctions.com/RAWspectacle2021 through 9 p.m. on June 13.

The minimum bid for each canvas is $250. Bids can be increased in $25 increments.

If you miss out on the auction, you might not be out of luck completely. Riverside artist Erika Vazzana, who designed and project managed this year’s spectacle, said she has already gotten some commissions to reproduce the triptych.

Vazzana’s website can be found at theenddesign.com.