Sometimes art speaks louder than petitions and public meetings.
The creators and partners in “FENCELINES: A Collective Monument to Resilience” believe their project can. The Richmond community-based art project is designed to amplify the voices of those who, for generations, have lived with the effects of pollution from the giant Chevron refinery in “fenceline” neighborhoods.
Co-creator Princess Robinson, who grew up in and works in a North Richmond fenceline community, met artist and architectural designer Graham L.P. during a beautification project at Wildcat Canyon. They became friends, and began brainstorming on an art project to generate awareness of the multiple health problems affecting the generations who have lived next door to the refinery.
“This gave me a way to express myself that was not through politics,” said Robinson.
In turn, Graham L.P. contacted friend and fellow artist Gita Khandagle, with whom he’d collaborated on a number of projects centered in Richmond. “He reached out two years ago, looking for a way for the fence [itself to become a way] for people in the community to share their voices and their stories,” Khandagle said.
Quickly, other community organizations began to come on board: Robinson’s employer Urban Tilth, Rich City Rides, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and Richmond Our Power Coalition, among others. Richmond LAND was also a major partner, tying the project to its organizational mission as a member-based organization led by women of color “dedicated to creating pathways for everyday people to organize, acquire, and co-steward land and properties as community assets to build staying power, now and for the future.”
“We didn’t think the project would get this big,” Robinson said. But it did.
The co-creators decided to use wooden slats, on which community members could write messages and/or paint images. “We were working on drawings that ‘crossed out’ the refinery,” said Khandagle, resulting in the “X” shape used for the slats.
“X is a shape of resistance,” said L.P. “Princess and her family made the first prototype, and we took the first portrait of them. That became the format.” He explained that the partners then created an info packet so that people could read about the project and its goals.
Beginning in summer 2022, the creators worked with Green Waste Recycle Yard & Millworks in North Richmond to produce the fence slats from local reclaimed urban timber. The slats were given to people during public workshops, and participants then used paint pens to create their messages and designs. “The colors are primarily reds, yellows, blues, black and white…this is a reference to many activist movements,” said Khandagle.
During the workshops, many of which were sponsored by the community partners, the materials were set out alongside the prompts: “What message do you have for the polluting industry here in Richmond?” and “What vision do you have for your community in the future?”
A quote by Robinson used in the packet reads: “We are here, we want to be seen, and we are lending our hand to make all of these initiatives work to end pollution of our communities.”
Katt Ramos, managing director of the Richmond Our Power Coalition (ROPC), noted that there was great enthusiasm for the project when it was brought to ROPC a year ago. By that point, the project had already received a first round of funding from the City of Richmond’s “Love Your Block” program, “and we saw it as a fun and creative way to advocate,” she said. More grants supporting the project eventually followed, including a Southern Exposure: 2021 Alternative Exposure Grant and a California Arts Council Impact Grant.
ROPC members hosted workshops, and “people came to the tables eager to participate,” said Robinson.
“I was constantly surprised and moved by what people contributed…how many folks spoke about what they were doing for self-care,” said L.P. “Messages were expressions of love, some including initials of all the family members, including deceased ones.”
Workshop sponsors also sent people to workshops at yet another partner in “FENCELINES”: the Richmond Art Center (RAC). “Graham, Gita and Princess proposed an exhibition here,” said RAC exhibitions director Roberto Martinez. “It was timely and appropriate. We want to use the power of art to engage conversations in the community.”
“FENCELINES” had now developed two components: the temporary installation that would go up on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, at the Richmond Parkway Bay Trail between Gertrude and Vernon Avenues, in partnership with Richmond LAND, and an in-gallery exhibit opening at the RAC on April 5 and running through June 3.
“The temporary installation will bring color and life into a neighborhood shadowed by Chevron,” said Martinez. It will be publicly accessible from the community and visible to passers-by along the parkway. The installation will be in place for two weeks. Many of the project partners will also participate in the Earth Day ceremony and festivities.
The Earth Day installation of the slats will take place from 10am-4pm on the city-owned fence. At this time, ribbons will be attached to the tops of the slats, demonstrating to viewers the direction of the wind as it blows into the fenceline community from the refinery.
The RAC exhibit will contain some of the more than 1,000 slats that have been created, along with the photo portraits taken with them. Visitors will also have the opportunity to create their own slats. “These words and messages are the heart of this work, documenting the impact of the petroleum industry on many lives, and together forming a collective monument to resilience,” state RAC materials.
The center is also printing a life-sized mural of the portraits, said Martinez. Yet another gallery element will be a five-episode podcast based on a “listening project on environmental injustice” conducted by the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
A special “Spring Family Day” on Saturday, April 29 offers a chance for younger community members to participate. Called “Clean Air in the Wind,” kids and parents will be able to make slats together. One of Khandagle’s strongest impressions of the whole project has been “a lot of inspiration and powerful voices from the younger generation,” she said.
“All of this is so our kids can have a future that isn’t burdened with asthma and other respiratory illnesses,” said Ramos.
Will Chevron react to the installation and exhibit? Several of those interviewed expressed the hope they would spark dialogue with the refinery. “We all need to be at the table together, planning for the future,” said Robinson.
But Ramos said, noting that Chevron has proposals before the City of Richmond and Costa County County to expand the refinery facilities, “Chevron has made inflammatory statements about some of our members on their corporate media [in the past].”
In its March 15 posting about the exhibit, Chevron’s in-house media outlet, The Richmond Standard, made no mention of the project’s connection to the refinery, stating only that it is “a ‘community-based participatory art project’ centered on environmental injustice in Richmond.”
The “FENCELINES” co-creators and partners are looking to the future and focusing on the project’s potential impact.
“We hope it will spark curiosity in this issue, and encourage people wanting to learn more. We are all within this…it’s a Bay Area issue,” said Khandagle.
“Art has a beautiful way of conveying that we are not at opposite ends. We can express our hopes and dreams without pitting people against each other,” said Ramos.
“First of all, we hope it will bring visibility to the environmental racism of this circumstance, and the ways people can participate in changing it. And I hope they will think it is beautiful,” said L.P.
In fact, the “FENCELINES” projects are launching just at a time when a new UN report issues strong warnings about what will happen if the world’s countries refuse to take immediate action on climate change.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking to the press on March 20 about the Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, included, among many other recommendations:
• Ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas—consistent with the findings of the International Energy Agency.
• Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves.
• Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition.
“This [project] is a milestone in this time as we speak about more formal attempts at transitioning away from the refinery,” said Ramos.
Top image: CLIMATE OF CHANGE ‘The Temporary Installation Will Bring Color And Life Into A Neighborhood Shadowed By Chevron,’ Said Martinez. (Photo Courtesy Of Graham L.P., Gita Khandagle)
Three woven baskets hold round pillows, each painted with a bright sun-like geometric design. On the wall behind them, scrawled in curly cursive, is the message, “Hug a pillow/ Hug your ancestors/Notice, feel, breathe.”
When she was a teen, Amanda Ayala’s middle school teacher took her to her first art museum in San Francisco. Ayala hated that she couldn’t touch the art.
Today, she loves museums, but longing to touch the art is still the hardest part, she says.
At Ayala’s first solo show, “Connected Always,” at the Richmond Art Center through March 18, this rule doesn’t apply. Guests are invited to touch her work.
A visit to Ayala’s home in Santa Rosa further reveals why she wants her art to be tactile.
Ayala lives with her sister and parents in the home where she was raised. Before we sat for an interview, she showed me the house, pointing out additions and upgrades her father has made.
The living room is a carport he converted. He added a covered patio. In the garden, dozens of plants he potted hang from structures he built.
“I consider my dad an artist and craftsperson. You can touch everything he makes,” Ayala says.
Ayala’s home overflows with her art-making. A few times during the conversation, she mentions appreciating her family’s support and permission to take up shared space in their house.
She speaks of her parents with tremendous love and admiration, even as she notes that living with them as an adult can be challenging.
“Connected Always” captures both Ayala’s youthful spirit and timeless wisdom, captivating her audience with an interactive, multimedia exhibition focused on one’s ancestors.
Praying Over Ancestors
Ayala’s interest in her own ancestors emerged after she began Aztec dancing more than 12 years ago.
“I started dancing in ceremonies as a way of praying and connecting with my community and with the spirits of my ancestors,” Ayala says.
Although she had limited knowledge of her own ancestor’s stories, the impact of one’s ancestors—both blood relatives and chosen family—was impressed upon her, as was the understanding that she will be an ancestor with an impact on generations going forward.
She has researched her own family history, but the stories she can find are limited. Ayala’s mother is a fourth-generation Xicana whose ancestors are Yaqui. Her father migrated from Michoacan to Mexico City and then to northern California in his late teens.
“I don’t have access to everything I would like to know. People who are targeted by different oppressions have different access to their ancestry,” Ayala says.
The Ancestor Wheel
A few years ago, Ayala saw an infographic about ancestral mathematics and wrote about it in a journal.
Many people would be embarrassed to share their personal journals even with close friends, but not Ayala. The journal in which she first started thinking about the ancestor wheel is on display at “Connected Always.”
To be fair, most people’s journals don’t look like Ayala’s, which combines diaristic writing and scrapbooking with collage and painting.
She hand-sews the pages together with big, visible seams, often creating books that fold like an accordion rather than with pages that turn. Her bookbinding techniques replicate and honor Mesoamerican books.
Ayala took the ancestry infographic she saw and started sketching what seven generations of parents would look like, depicted in a circle. Across seven generations, that’s 254 people.
Images similar to Ayala’s ancestor wheels are easy to find online, but always in the context of an infographic; they never make the leap to artistic design.
Ayala creates her wheels as complete circles, starting with two halves in the center to represent parents. Each previous generation fans out from this center. The result is an eye-catching abstract pattern reminiscent of a compass.
The image of the ancestor wheel repeats throughout Ayala’s exhibit.
“Soft Landing,” the largest wheel in the exhibit, is almost seven feet in diameter. A nod to the textile part of Ayala’s practice, it is made of a satin tablecloth and canvas tarp, sewn together with thread, stuffed with pillow fluff and dyed with pink and yellow fabric ink. It is in the center of a large wall in the gallery, with hundreds of hand-dyed silk pieces hanging around it.
On Instagram, Ayala shared a timelapse process video revealing what it took to make “Soft Landing.” The fabric is taped to the floor of her living room, filling almost the entire room as she sketches it. In the caption, she says that after a sleepless night spent stuffing it, she laid on top of it feeling grateful, exhausted and amazed.
Roberto Martinez, exhibitions director at Richmond Art Center, says that “Soft Landing” is one of the most popular parts of the show.
“The colors are rich, and it’s so big that I think it’s almost shocking to people when they enter,” Martinez says. “But then when you touch it, it allows you to land in this place of connection, surrounded by softness.”
Martinez met Ayala several years ago through Oakland’s Chiapas Support Committee (CSC), which educates about Chiapas and Zapatista communities through an annual festival of Zapatista art called CompArte.
When there was a CSC talk at California Institute of Integral Studies, Ayala created an altar that Martinez says set the tone for it.
“The altar was a space we could all connect around—to express honor and reverence for the land we’re on, and also for the energies we were bringing into the space,” Martinez says. “I thought it was pretty incredible.”
Ayala’s collaborators at CompArte knew about her ancestor wheel project. As he planned this winter’s exhibitions at Richmond Art Center, Martinez realized that “Connected Always” would be a great fit.
Alongside Ayala’s art, Richmond Art Center is showing a large annual group show, “Art of the African Diaspora and The Remembrance Project.” The latter, presented by Social Justice Sewing Academy, is described as, “a cloth memorial of activist art banners commemorating the many people who have lost their lives to systems of inequity and racist structures.”
Martinez says he is moved by Ayala’s ability to visualize the magnitude of interconnectedness.
“I thought Amanda’s ability to create space for us to show care for one another would work really well [alongside the other shows], which gets us thinking about our ancestors, our neighbors and people affected by systemic violence,” Martinez points out.
Recently, Ayala visited the show to meet with Martinez about an artist talk and journaling workshop that happened on Feb. 18.
A school teacher approached Ayala and told her that her students really loved the show. Their favorite part? They could touch the art.
‘Connected Always’ is on display through March 18 at Richmond Art Center. There will be a closing party on March 18 from 2-4pm. Admission is free. richmondartcenter.org.
Top image: ENVELOPED Amanda Ayala wraps herself in purple silk she dyed in her yard. Photo by Chelsea Kurnick.
Excerpt: Originating from the 1989 African American artists salon known as “Colors of Black,” this exhibition highlights the work of over 120 artists of African descent and is accompanied by open studios and satellite exhibitions throughout the Bay.
SF Chronicle Date Book: Black History Month 2023: Bay Area events, performances and more ways to celebrate
Excerpt: The 26th annual Bay Area Black artists group exhibition features works from more than 120 artists of African descent, showcased at the Richmond Art Center and in satellite exhibitions at venues across the Bay Area. See website for offsite schedule details.
Diablo Magazine: Top Tickets: This week, explore visual art, hear from a popular novelist, revisit the music of Billie Holiday, and more.
Excerpt: Through 2/25 The Richmond Art Center’s annual exhibition includes the works of more than 120 creators of African descent and is the longest-running local exhibition of its type. Slate Contemporary Gallery in Oakland has a pair of artists highlighted in the show, Kaya Fortune and Jimi Evins.
The Daily Californian: ‘Art of the African Diaspora’ reveres Black history, present, future
Excerpt: After stepping through the Richmond Art Center’s entrance, visitors immediately begin celebrating Black excellence, as laid bare in the “Art of the African Diaspora.” Gracing the center’s main gallery in every medium imaginable, the exhibition in its entirety unveils how Black identity shifts, evolves and culminates uniquely through the lens of each artist.Cont.
Beginning in 1989, this annual showcase of African American artists is the longest running event of its kind in the Bay Area. The work ranges broadly across media, technique, and genre. A small sampling features: Cynthia Brannvall’s “identity maps,” atlas pages collaged with personal snapshots; Derrick Bell’s faceted portraits painted in color blocks reminiscent of stained glass; Claude Clark’s rough-hewn wooden balusters and walking sticks; Cherisse’s cloth quilt of a girl on a swing in a flowering tree; Alana McCarthy’s painting combining surrealism and photo-realism to capture the feeling of New Orleans; Iconic Vinyl Art’s car hood assemblage portrait of blues musician Howlin’ Wolf; and Nyya Lark’s necklace of small silver twigs. Over 120 artists are featured in the sprawling exhibition.
RICHMOND, CALIF.- The Remembrance Project will open January 18th at the Richmond Art Center as part of their winter exhibitions project, which will include an opening reception on Saturday, January 21st from 2pm-4pm, as well as a project workshop and book talk.
Social Justice Sewing Academy presents The Remembrance Project, a cloth memorial of activist art banners commemorating the many people who have lost their lives to systems of inequity and racist structures. These banners have been created collectively by volunteers across the country to help educate and inform communities about the human impact of systemic violence.
The Remembrance Project banners are displayed by local and national organizations to express solidarity in the fight for social justice and remembrance of those lost to violence. The project remembers those lost to: authority violence (officer-involved shooting, police brutality, etc.), community violence (victims of gang violence, neighborhood or family, drive-by shooting, etc.), racial violence (hate crimes, racially motivated, etc.), and sexual and gender-based violence (violence against LGBTQ+, domestic violence, “missing, murdered Indigenous women,” etc.).
The Remembrance Project Workshop will be on Saturday, January 28, 2pm-4pm. Join Social Justice Sewing Academy in an interactive hands-on workshop that merges craft, art and activism to create textile art pieces that are displayed nationally in museums and other shows. This workshop allows participants to discuss topics pertaining to social justice issues in a brave and safe space. During the two hour workshop you will participate in critical discussion and create a piece of textile art that you are passionate about. This workshop is free, open to all and no rsvp is necessary.
Stitching Stolen Lives: Book Talk With Author and Founder of SJSA, Sara Trail will take place Saturday, March 4, 1pm-2:30pm. Join us for a talk and book signing with Sara Trail, founder of Social Justice Sewing Academy and co-author of Stitching Stolen Lives, a book that chronicles the work of SJSA and the Remembrance Project. With forewords by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr, the book includes personal stories of individuals and their families whose lives have been cut short due to social injustices. This event is free, open to all and no rsvp is necessary.
Post News Group: Richmond Art Center Announces Trio of Winter Exhibitions
Community members can check out Art of the African Diaspora Jan. 18 through March 18 in the RAC’s Main Gallery, with the opening reception being held Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m. The exhibition will spotlight the work of more than 120 artists of African descent “through representation, professional development and building a creative community,” per the RAC.
Community members can check out Art of the African Diaspora Jan. 18 through March 18 in the RAC’s Main Gallery, with the opening reception being held Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m. The exhibition will spotlight the work of more than 120 artists of African descent “through representation, professional development and building a creative community,” per the RAC.
Artists Derrick Bell, Cynthia Brannvall, and Pryce Jones will be featured in the exhibition and community members can find the Art of the African Diaspora print catalog at the center for info about open studios and satellite exhibitions off-shooting from the RAC event. Learn more about the exhibition https://richmondartcenter.org/exhibitions/art-of-the-african-diaspora-2023
Amanda Ayala’s exhibition, Connected Always, will take place in the RAC’s South Gallery Jan. 20 through March 11, 2023. An opening reception is set for Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m., while a free Ancestor Wheel Workshop and artist talk open to everyone will be held by the artist Saturday, Feb. 18, 12 – 2 p.m.
Connected Always will see Ayala — who identifies as a Xicana indigenous visual artist — explore our ancestral connections through her latest works. The interdisciplinary Santa Rosa artist runs workshops “that combine artist liberation and social justice for people of all ages,” per the RAC, and will have one as part of her continuing Ancestor Wheel project during her RAC exhibition. Find out more about Ayala’s exhibition at: https://richmondartcenter.org/exhibitions/connected-always/.
The third winter exhibition, The Remembrance Project, will be shown in the Community Gallery Jan. 18 to March 18, with the opening reception being hosted Saturday, Jan. 21 from 2 – 4 p.m. The Remembrance Project Workshop will be held Saturday, Jan. 28 from 2-4 p.m. and a book talk with Sara Trail will happen on Saturday, March 4, from 1-2:30 p.m.
The Remembrance Project is not only “a cloth memorial of activist art banners commemorating the many people who have lost their lives to systems of inequity and racist structures,” per the RAC, but also two special events for community members — the aforementioned workshop and book talk.
The Social Justice Sewing Academy is presenting the cloth memorial, which has been created by volunteers nationwide “to help educate and inform communities about the human impact of systemic violence,” said the RAC.
The community can coalesce with others fighting for social justice and remember those lost to violence, while also learning about the academy’s work, through two related special events. A workshop on Saturday, Jan. 28 will blend craft, art and activism, while the founder of the academy, Sara Trail, will give a talk and book signing of her work Stitching Stolen Lives on Saturday, March 4. The events are free and available to community members of all ages. Learn more about The Remembrance Project at https://richmondartcenter.org/exhibitions/the-remembrance-project
The RAC is located at 2540 Barrett Ave. in Richmond. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the exhibitions and events are free and open to the community.
Top image: The Remembrance Project (left). Caption 2: Amanda Ayala Ancestor Wheel 2020 (center). Fulfillment by Cynthia Brannvall, 2021 (right)
Artist Rigo 23’s sculpture of Leonard Peltier was eventually found with its arm missing and racist graffiti scrawled on a U-Haul truck in which it was being transported.
by Matt Stromberg
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Artist Rigo 23’s statue of incarcerated Native American activist Leonard Peltier has traveled across the county, stood watch alongside the water protectors at Standing Rock, and survived bomb threats. But it almost met its demise in the back of a U-Haul truck in Oakland last month.
The 12-foot-high statue was the centerpiece of Rigo 23’s 2021 exhibition Time and Again at the Richmond Art Center, whose curator, Roberto Martinez, volunteered to drive the artwork down from the Bay Area to the artist’s Burbank studio. He packed the disassembled redwood, metal, and clay sculpture into a U-Haul on Thursday, December 22, and parked it outside his home in East Oakland, with the intention of delivering it the next day.
“He wakes up and there’s nothing there,” Rigo 23 told Hyperallergic. “He calls and says, ‘I have news and it’s not good.’” Martinez began driving all over town frantically looking for the U-Haul, while police and even a private investigator aided in the search. Rigo has never put a price on the work, but estimates its worth at $100,000.
Rigo 23 (born Ricardo Gouveia) made this sculpture in 2016, after an initial design made of clay, based on a self-portrait that Peltier made in prison in a pose reminiscent of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” In December 2016, the statue traveled to Washington, DC, where it was installed on the campus of American University. On its cross-country journey to DC, it stopped at Standing Rock, the Pine Ridge Reservation, Alcatraz, and other sites, where individuals stood on its momentous feet, acts of solidarity documented in photos. Soon after it was installed, however, the university received a bomb threat and a letter from FBI Agents Association requesting its removal, which the school acquiesced to.
Peltier is a Native American activist who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences after being convicted of murdering two FBI agents in a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He has always maintained his innocence, and a movement for clemency has been ongoing for decades, with one of the original prosecutors in the case asking for clemency in 2017.
After the truck theft, a few days passed with no leads. “It’s a living monument. The feet are charged with the energy of 1000 people,” Rigo said. “I was particularly distraught that the feet would be destroyed.” The following Tuesday, a woman named Darby identified the truck based on the license plate she had seen in a news story about the theft, and the police eventually found the car abandoned on East 22nd Street by Lake Merritt. Racist graffiti, including the n-word, was scrawled on the truck, and the sculpture’s left arm was missing, but it was otherwise intact.
Despite the controversy the statue has elicited in the past, and the significance of Peltier’s legacy, Rigo doesn’t think it was a targeted attack — instead, he said, it was probably someone’s “last-ditch effort” to stave off the worsening scourge of poverty in the Bay Area.
“At first we didn’t know how to interpret this theft, but as the days passed, it became clearer that in all likelihood this was just another U-Haul truck theft in the Bay Area,” he told Hyperallergic. “One more episode of societal breakdown in an area where teachers can not afford to live near the schools nor the students they are supposed to nurture and teach.”
He added that when it was eventually found, the truck contained a baby stroller and shopping cart, “icons of urban homelessness in the USA.”
A few days later, Rigo received a message from an Instagram user who sent a photo of a dog standing on the sculpture’s missing arm outside an RV encampment. Martinez and a police officer went to the site, and, with a long pole with a loop on the end used to restrain dogs, hooked the arm and dragged it over a makeshift fence.
The Leonard Peltier statue, a bit worse for wear, is now safe in Rigo’s studio. He plans to send it to South Dakota at the end of February for a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Occupation of 1973.
Top image: The Leonard Peltier Statue by Rigo 23 at the San Francisco Art Institute (2020) (photo by Alex Peterson)
The Richmond Art Center has overcome much in recent years, including the closure forced on all during the pandemic and more recently, a significant loss in donations over the summer.
As 2023 looms, Executive Director José Rivera says that despite bouncing back from the major revenue losses of 2020, the RAC is still in need of additional funding to return to its pre-pandemic level of operation.
When Rivera was appointed in 2020, the RAC was just over $110,000 in the red, causing him to cut staff by about half in his first six months. And though he was able to keep the organization in the black through 2021, the challenges kept coming.
In January, the center learned that it could no longer expect to receive about 23% of its annual funding past July, with three major donors either dropping out or cutting back. The loss was upwards of $300,000, with the city itself making up the largest portion at around $150,000.
Citing a changed economic landscape, the city’s Department of Arts and Culture Manager Winifred Day explained the cuts as an attempt to fund all local art organizations equitably, without picking favorites. Though the city still provides around $55,000 to the RAC’s annual budget, it no longer matches donations that Rivera and his team raise. Day emphasized that the city encourages all organizations to fundraise to fill any gaps.
That is precisely what Rivera and his team have done since January, winning upwards of $150,000 in grants in a matter of months. But that comes with its own complications.
The problem of grant funding, explains Rivera, is that it is often program-specific and cannot be used for operational costs. And without money for more staff, the center is hard-pressed to make good use of new-found grant dollars through classes and other programs.
This “Catch-22” gets at the core of how the RAC raises a large portion of its operational budget, through registration fees for classes. From July 2020 through the end of June 2021, the RAC saw class fees drop nearly 75%, from almost $500,000 to barely $122,000. And though numbers are not yet publicly available for this past year, limited staff has meant a severely diminished schedule.
“So that’s why you see these appeals asking people to be generous, because what we really need is money to run the place,” Rivera said. “We certainly got enough money to run programs.”
The center has been actively campaigning this fall, with a call for donations circulating in a newsletter last month. In it, board President Michael Dear cites another 18 months as the timeline for the center’s full recovery, given the funding and staffing shortages.
The center is on a good trend, with roughly $68,000 raised through November. That’s a promising start, considering the center has historically been able to raise three times that amount between November and January.
With the day-to-day running of the center returning to some semblance of normality, albeit a masked normality, Rivera remains highly optimistic and hopes to hire another staff member to run classes in January, especially during high demand times like evenings and weekends.
Currently, the center’s budget sits at $1.2 million. For Rivera, the goal is to get back to where the center was before the pandemic, on the way toward $2 million. That, however, will depend on demand for classes and generosity from the community.
After stepping through the Richmond Art Center’s entrance, visitors immediately begin celebrating Black excellence, as laid bare in the “Art of the African Diaspora.” Gracing the center’s main gallery in every medium imaginable, the exhibition in its entirety unveils how Black identity shifts, evolves and culminates uniquely through the lens of each artist.
Originally a salon for Black artists, first titled “Colors of Black” and then “The Art of Living Black,” the exhibition has supported Black visibility, representation and community in the arts since 1989. Annually, the series develops a new creative collective through the main exhibition and its Bay Area satellites, as artists display their recent work.
132 artists are part of the 2023 exhibition, displaying a diverse set of backgrounds, mediums and inspirations. The expanse of talent is embodied by the three 2022 Artistic Achievement Award Winners, Pryce Jones, Cynthia Brannvall and Derrick Bell.
Jones’ abstract yet sharp paintings greet visitors to the exhibition. These portraits are cutting — a slash of warm yellow acrylic marks a woman’s cheekbone, while bright green accentuates the shadows of her face.
In “Night Rider,” a large acrylic painting on canvas, a man’s proud face is outlined in dark blacks and grays, yet is offset by the warm red and yellow textures of his facial features. The painting evokes solitude in a chaotically colorful canvas: Two images of a person on horseback ride beside a block of text about a man riding at night, in contrast to the sunflower yellows and purples that occupy much of the painting.
Brannvall’s six displays are mixed-media collages. Political maps of Africa and the United States are overlaid by physical maps and photographs of people — some staring into the camera, inviting attention, while others look away sinking into their collages.
Occasionally, Brannvall’s use of space is blocky, such as in “Fulfillment,” where a man is collaged to sit above a cutout of the Earth, a slice of the ocean and two political maps. His posture is satisfied and comfortable, with legs and arms folded.
Contrastingly, “Descendants” brings to mind Pangea, with a physical map reaching upwards from the left corner towards three overlaid political maps spanning the top third of the canvas. A woman in a white dress contemplatively sits in the center; through her, Brannvall creates historical and modern perspectives on the woman’s journey.
Bell similarly turns to history and his roots for inspiration in his acrylic paintings. His three works appear like stylized stainless glass panes, sections of bright paint set starkly apart through their black boundaries.
In “Ancestral Contributions,” the painted panes are not glassily inflexible or flat; textures of clothing are apparent through Bell’s variation in shading and coloration. The folds of three women’s cream dresses look soft to the touch, and the group is swankily dressed for a celebration. One man holds a woman above his head; with only her skirt visible, she is unseen yet appears to be the focal point of the piece, alongside another woman in a blouse adorned with shells, proffering an empty plate.
A thousand gorgeous details clamor for attention in the exhibition’s main gallery.
There, stunning handmade necklaces of green and brown stone, titled “Spirit Quest” by Donna Gatson. Here, a collage-giclee print on canvas in tribute to Jimi Hendrix, “Taste of Purple Haze” by Frederick S. Franklin. Everything on the canvas looks to be made of fruits and vegetables; a Hendrix composed of peppers strums a cantaloupe guitar, eyes closed in musical ecstasy, as cherries rain around him. Exuberance and celebration leap from the work, leaving one wishing for a mouthful of purple haze.
Wooden carvings, photographs, sculptures and a spray-painted piece all individually mark aspects of the Black experience. By drawing from as many artistic talents as possible, as indiscriminately as possible, the exhibition honors the cultural wealth of the diaspora. Appreciation and reflection on Black identity through emotion, spirituality and history are vulnerably on display, leaving visitors awed by the exhibition’s collective and individual strength.
“Art of the African Diaspora” will be exhibited at the Richmond Art Center until March 18th.
There’s no place like home for the holidays, and this year you won’t have to go far to procure the perfect gifts for friends and family. Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it seems like local holiday fairs are popping up everywhere.
Check out The Chronicle’s guide to holiday-focused markets and festivals, with an emphasis on shopping and an abundance of seasonal merriment.
Richmond Art Center Holiday Art Festival Each year the festival offers visitors a chance to shop for unique gifts from more than fifty local vendors, enjoy food and beverages, buy a raffle ticket, check out open glass and ceramics studios and participate in art-making activities for the whole family.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 4. Free admission. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. 510-620-6772. richmondartcenter.org
Amid the drug store offerings of Halloween consumer goods, any Dia de los Muertos-themed item invariably sticks out.
Decorations featuring iconic skulls and cempasúchil marigolds, or candy branded with characters from Pixar’s film “Coco” speak to the growing commercialization of a holiday once outside of the corporate limelight.
But the holiday has more cultural significance in Mexico, where it orginated. And on Saturday, the Richmond Art Center will share that tradition with a Dia de los Muertos-themed Fall Family Day, featuring art, music, and even remote-controlled miniature low riders from the collection of Cruz Arroyo, who runs a popular tamale stand in Richmond.
“There’s instances where I’ve seen somebody put on a Day of the Dead event, but it’s more of an entertainment program or event. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it misses the actual ancestral connections that are really important and really real,” said Roberto Martinez, exhibitions director at the Richmond Art Center. “I think it’s important to teach, to educate people about such an important cultural event.”
Martinez has worked closely with a number of local artists like Daniel Camacho and Ernesto Olmos, among others, to plan a day of festivities to inspire the anticipated 300 to 500 attendees.
Camacho, whose exhibition “De Fantasías y Realidades” is currently on display at the Richmond Art Center, will lead the day by setting up a community ofrenda in the main hallway. His calaveritas workshops will make the skulls that adorn the altar alongside offerings of food and objects brought by community members hoping to celebrate those they have lost.
“The idea is to share a bit about my culture. It’s a very important day in Mexico. I know people want to express their feeling about those who have passed,” said Camacho. “This brings families together. That’s the important thing.”
Ernesto Olmos, an artist and specialist in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican traditions, will give a presentation on the cosmology and history of Dia de los Muertos. For him, making offerings on an ofrenda are not mere gestures, but rather a vehicle connecting the living to those that came before.
It’s about honoring our ancestors, Olmos said, and about how we perceive the dead.
“If you’re going to build something, do it real,” he said. “Put fruit, talk to them, cry.”
Olmos fears that the true meaning behind the day is sometimes forgotten as the entertainment-oriented side of the holiday is highlighted. But traditions that had been hidden “in the kitchens, in the dress, in the language,” are being rediscovered as older people talk more about the custom, he added.
Organizations such as the Richmond Art Center are instrumental in preserving this history and these traditions, Martinez said.
The event at the Art Center is an opportunity to strengthen the cultural traditions that have been diluted through the process of assimilation, he said. “Places like this are important to keeping that.”