Richmond Art Center is looking for youth and young adult volunteers to assist with our Summer Art Camp. Volunteers will assist Teaching Artists in the classroom (morning and afternoon shifts available), as well as support with lunchtime and student pick up.
About Summer Art Camp: Summer Art Camp at Richmond Art Center gives kids (ages 5-12) an exciting immersion in visual arts practice. Daily projects include drawing, painting, printmaking, textile arts, and sculpture. This year camps will be held over 6 weeks between June 12 to July 28. (No camp July 3 to July 7). Weekly camps run Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 2pm.
Enjoy interacting with kids ages 5 to 12 years old
Can move around in the studio
No art experience necessary, but need to be able to follow instructions from the Teaching Artist
High schoolers and recent graduates welcome (we are specifically looking volunteers between the ages of 16 and 25)
Volunteers 18+ must complete a LiveScan background check before start date of volunteering
How to Apply: If you would like to become a Summer Art Camp volunteer then CLICK HERE to submit a volunteer application.
Ruth Morgan’s stark and provocative works at Richmond Art Center highlight climate change’s role in CA wildfires
If artist Ruth Morgan’s 10 large-scale photographs currently on display at Richmond Art Center don’t send one’s ticker beating double time or one’s blood boiling, they must go immediately to the ER. They might be in cardiac arrest or have a circulatory system out of whack.
“Requiem: The Remains of the Day, August 4, 2021,” is part of RAC’s Spring Season themed environmental justice exhibits. Along with the community-based participatory art project “Fencelines” that addresses environmental issues specific to Richmond, Morgan’s “Requiem”introducesthe impact of climate change and the uptick of massive, monumental wildfires in greater California.
The full color photographs—nine 40 x 60 inch images and one entry image 56 x 84 inches—document the aftermath of what happened during the summer of 2021 in Greenville. In a mere 45 minutes, the town was completely destroyed by the Dixie Wildfire. The photographs, taken months later and presented in Morgan’s signature large scale format, are not only sizable, but they are in their details compelling, devastating and profoundly moving without being in any way strident.
In the stark perspectives and landscapes rendered in full color rather than her signature black-and-white style, Morgan avoids melodrama but manages to create an intensely dramatic vibe that is dignified, respectful, egalitarian, even elegant. Unexpectedly, there is a haunting, eery and quiet beauty to the portrayals. The charred buildings, streets, homesteads and public spaces are entirely devoid of people but resonate with the full tragedy of human lives that have been cast into disarray and a community devastated by wildfire.
As a model of visual storytelling and proof of the impact of climate change on real people with real lives, the images themselves hold ironic magnetism. Striking a viewer as a kind of propellant, something visceral, with power equivalent to a wildfire, the accumulative effect instead might spur a person into action that goes far beyond passive observational or unexpressed empathy.
Importantly, the facts are these: In less than an hour, the Dixie Fire reduced 100 family homes, a gas station, church, hotel, museum, bar, schools, restaurants and other commercial business to rubble. Over 1,000 residents were displaced; many of them low income, marginalized people whose small homes were likely valued at $30,000 or less.
These were not the CEOs of Silicon Valley with multimillion dollar homes and fire insurance to cover any damages and rebuilding costs. Most Greenville residents lost everything they owned, including generations of family photographs and heirlooms. Fortunately, everyone was able to evacuate and no lives were sacrificed.
Morgan is widely known in the Bay Area as the founder/director in 1997 of Community Works West, an organization that works directly with people impacted by incarceration and uses art to address issues related to social justice to bring healing and restoration to marginalized communities. She recently retired from her leadership role at Community Works West, but her interest in the stories of underserved people who exist on the margins of mainstream society is lifelong and continues to be expressed through her body of work as a photographer.
Her acclaimed, award-winning photo series, publications and exhibits include “San Francisco County Jail #3,” “San Quentin: Maximum Security, 1981-83,” “Ohlone Elders and Youth Speak,” ”Piqua Shawnee: Cultural Survival in Their Homeland” and others.
Morgan’s photographs are in private collections and exhibited in museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Houston and San Diego museums, the Matrix Gallery and the University Art Museum Berkeley. Most recently, her “S.F. Jail” archive was purchased by the San Francisco Public Library, and her “Ohlone Elders and Youth” archive was purchased by the Bancroft Library.
Exhibit notes for “Requiem” explain the Dixie Fire was later determined to have been caused by Pacific Gas and Electric Company equipment failure. Even so, human actions and inactions exacerbated and fed the fire’s intensity. Overgrown forests resulting from short-sighted, man-made fire suppression policies and housing development located near forests created an incendiary situation.
With climate change causing years of drought and more virulent storms during California’s increasingly extended wildfire season, there was high propensity for the volatile terrain to ignite. It was only a matter of time—and remains so—before a town like Greenville would suffer a blow.
Morgan said in an interview she had originally gone to the area intending to gather interviews from people who had been displaced. Upon her arrival, she found Greenville was like a ghost town. “Originally, the idea was to photograph the people impacted by climate change and the fire. To photograph the people most invisible. But there was no one there, other than a few people living in RVs outside of the area. The first two trips, I saw no one. The third time, I saw occasional people bulldozing, trying to clear the land. Eventually, it was totally razed and the rubble taken away. Now, it’s being reborn with people trying to rebuild,” she noted.
Although there are no physical people in the photographs, signs of human life are everywhere. In charred, residential areas, burned-out vehicles in driveways and crumbled chimneys in yards stand like ominous sentinels or gravestones where once an entire house stood. Personal items are visible—a typewriter, a bicycle, pots and pans, broken dishes, gardening pots and tools, children’s toys, a child’s desk. In one image, “#107” on a sign is the only thing that marks a family plot. In another, a street lamp having lost its verticality to the intense heat folds upon itself and curves downward, as if bowing like a supple, graceful ballet dancer.
Compellingly, black-and-white murals painted by Mendocino-based artist Shane Grammer on several burned and fragmented walls after the fire bring humanity back into the picture. One, painted on an exterior wall of a former movie theater, is of a glamorous film star-like woman, against which leans a detached, upside-down neon sign that reads, “Pioneer.” In another photograph, the image of Jesus adorns a chimney.
“Grammer came before I was there and on his own came and I assume wanted to make something of beauty in the space,” said Morgan. “Those murals were mesmerizing, and seen in the midst of the devastation, it was breathtaking. It was incongruous. It added to the mystery of everything that happened in Greenville.”
Aside from her reaction to the murals, Morgan said her initial and overall response to what she saw in Greenville was devastating, overwhelming. “Because of that, I became interested in photographing landscapes instead of people, which had not been my experience before,” she explained. “Initially, it was the enormity of the tragedy that struck me. To get there, you cross over mountains and drive into this valley. There, you come upon eight-square miles of total rubble. These were the homes of people who, many of them, had probably lived there for generations. I found solace only in connecting to the people through the remnants left.
“It was three to four months after the fire, so people had already come back and retrieved anything that meant something to them, anything that was still intact. But what remained still told a story. Remember, these lives weren’t shattered by an Act of God. It was human impact on climate change. Yes, a fire might have happened naturally, but that was not what happened here,” she continued.
Morgan said what happened in Greenville was such a monumental event that the exhibit needed large-scale imagery to capture the impact of the fire on the town. “If I could have, I would have had them all seven-feet wide, or larger. The large scale gives you a way to enter the work, and it’s powerful to be as close to the scene as you can. You have to see the details and those, you can only see in a larger format,” explained Morgan.
Working with RAC exhibitions director Roberto Martinez to curate the show, the two made the decision not to include in the exhibit the black-and-white photographs versions of the images Morgan has also printed and plans to exhibit in smaller venues. Morgan said those photographs are much smaller and have a different aura. “It felt like the 10 four-color photographs were enough to tell the story. I tend to think less is more,” she said.
Martinez has a masters in museum studies from JFK University and has worked with community-centered institutions like the Museum of Social Justice, the East Side Arts Alliance and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. He first met Morgan through Robbin Légère Henderson, a Berkeley-based artist, curator and writer who will be in conversation with Morgan at the gallery on May 27.
“I knew that during the spring I wanted to focus on the impact of the climate crisis. I felt Ruth’s work resonated with that. She has a wonderful eye and in the past has captured so much of humanity with her photographs from San Quentin or with the Ohlone community here in the Bay Area. This series was a striking contrast because there were no people in these photographs,” he noted.
Martinez said the human impact that fuels the climate crisis is huge and wants the images to wrap the viewer in a haunting embrace, but in a space that also feels safe. The exhibit design is intentionally quiet: The photographs have little additional interpretive content or labeling. “People can be there contemplating the images and not being told what to think,” he said. “They confront the images that are themselves quiet, despite the destruction you can see. There’s a somber tone to any place after a devastating force passes through it.”
One image that struck him deeply upon first seeing it shows a broad landscape of mountains and trees in the background. “You see that, and then in the foreground, you see a massive tangle of destruction. Then you see one of Shane’s murals, painted after the fire. In the mural, you see hope in humanity and how it might re-flourish,” he said.
The photograph with the collapsed streetlight, according to Martinez, also immediately grabbed him. He called it a powerful symbol suggestive of the connections that human actions have on the environments in which people live. Streetlights illuminate and increase community safety; wildfires also illuminate, but human carelessness can unleash flames strong enough to bend metal, destroy man-made inventions and diminish safety.
Martinez has definite ideas of the dialogue and action he hopes the exhibits will initiate. “Art opens doors and windows into difficult conversations. The mirror on harsh realities shown through art allows for transformations in our minds towards actions,” he said. “In Ruth’s exhibit, we see the devastating impact of climate change and a world devoid of humans in which we’ve destroyed ourselves. She’s helping us see the future in a foreboding sense, but it forces us to reckon with the possibilities.”
But seen in their totality, Martinez suggested the exhibits this season invite a participatory response that might result in hopeful solutions to alleviate the crisis. “I want to paint a picture that can be dark because it is, but a picture that motivates people to take actions to not walk toward that dark future, but to a different one. We want to plant, nurture and grow ideas around environmental justice,” he explained.
Morgan agreed and said the response she has received to the exhibit thus far has confirmed her overall purpose, which is to better understand what happened in Greenville and to cause people to become involved in protecting and preserving the natural environment.
“People are moved and sobered by ‘Requiem.’ For me, I am compelled to do this work, whether it’s to expose the criminal justice system or climate change. Greenville sounded an alarm for me and hopefully will for other people. We need to meet this moment. Individually and collectively, we can make a difference. We need to understand how much damage humans are having on the planet. We need to know we can still change course,” she said.
Asked for her thoughts about the power of imagery to convey complex matters relating to social or environmental justice, Morgan said, “For some people, the visual is more impactful than any words I can use. You can look at the photographs and see climate damage right there, unmistakably. As a photographer, I think there’s nothing like an image. One image can say a lot. The power of art is palpable.”
Save the date! On Saturday, August 5, 1pm-4pm, we’re having a community party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Andrée Singer Thompson’s Guillermo, the Golden Trout (the large fish sculpture that adorns our building).
Go Fish! will be Richmond Art Center’s first in-person fundraiser since the pandemic. We’ll be honoring Andrée Singer Thompson and wishing Guillermo a happy birthday with art-making, games, live music, auction and cake. This event is free and open to all, but we’re also selling ‘Golden (Trout) Tickets’ to those who can show their support.
Please consider purchasing a ticket for yourself and a community member to enjoy the event. We are counting on those who can contribute to help us raise money to support class scholarships, free community programs, studio equipment, and teaching artist fees.
A new public art installation, called Fencelines, redefines the only barrier separating Richmond’s residential neighborhoods from the Chevron oil refinery: a wire fence.
“It is a participatory project meant to engage folks and get a message to Chevron, but also gather visions that offer a future that is different and will hopefully transform this situation,” says Graham Laird Prentice, one of the co-creators of the installation.
Fencelines incorporates community-painted slats along the fence, which is also decorated with ribbons intended to indicate which way the wind is blowing. Pollution from the Chevron Richmond Refinery, also the largest greenhouse gas emitter in California, doesn’t confine itself to the refinery’s side of the fence.
In addition to transforming the actual fence, Fencelines also occupies space at the Richmond Art Center, where visitors can find a sculptural fence with more painted slats. During free community events held at the center, people can come and decorate their own slats with messages regarding their feelings around Chevron, the Richmond community, and climate justice to place on the fence.
This past April, photographer Lonny Meyer attended Spring Family Day to document how a community coming together for a day of art, positivity, and love can also be an act of resilience against environmental injustice.
The event produced an incredibly positive turnout according to Laird Prentice, but he has been mostly moved by what the voices of the community have had to say. “The messages have been incredible. They’re about climate justice, but they’re more specifically about community care, self care, and love. The way they’ve all been woven together–there’s a deep humanity in it. We could have never predicted how powerful it would be to give over the microphone.”
On Monday, repairs on Guillermo the Golden Trout, which hangs above the Richmond Art Center on Barrett Avenue, was completed.
A small team replaced two metal scales on the 50-foot-long fish. The repair is in honor of the fish’s 25th anniversary at Richmond Art Center.
This reporter was admitted to the rooftop to get a bird’s eye of the fish sculpture.
Richmond Art Center Executive Director Jose Rivera expressed excitement over the repairs.
“We had been working for months for to get the parts,” Rivera said. “Our team and the City government did a wonderful job to help make this amazing day finally happen.”
RAC Community Engagement Director Amy Spencer noted that once the scaffolding had been put in place, two scales were repaired. One had fallen off and had been lost.
Luckily the artist had a single replacement at her studio. The other one had become bent out of shape, possibly from the wind, and needed to be flattened.
“The replacement scale was the important part…the fish had gone many years with a hole in the middle of it where the missing scale had been,” Spencer said.
Guillermo the Golden Trout embodies artist Andrée Singer Thompson’s ongoing concern with healing and survival. The artist chose California’s state fish – the golden trout – as a symbol of hope, since at the time it had just been declassified as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
“I made it because I was involved in the environment, Thompson said. “I am extremely happy it has lasted so long hanging at the Richmond Art Center.”
It was installed at Richmond Art Center in 1997 as part of Thompson’s ‘Making Waves’ interactive EcoArt installation. Messages of hope from the community are inscribed on the back of the fish’s scales. The eye is made of a metal lampshade. It was made from 800 pounds of recycled metal and is 50 feet long. Guillermo was repainted back in 2008.
On Saturday, Aug. 5, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., a free community party will be held at the Richmond Art Center (2540 Barrett Ave.) called “Go Fish! Celebrating 25 Years of Guillermo, the Golden Trout.”
The RAC states: “Join us for a community party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Andrée Singer Thompson’s iconic fish sculpture that adorns Richmond Art Center’s building. We’ll be wishing Guillermo, the Golden Trout happy birthday with art-making, games, live music, auction and cake.”
About Richmond Art Center: For over 80 years, Richmond Art Center has served the residents of Richmond and surrounding communities through studio arts education programs, exhibitions, off-site classes, and special initiatives for community-wide impact. Richmond Art Center’s mission is to be a catalyst in Richmond for learning and living through art. richmondartcenter.org
Summer Semester Registration Opens Wednesday, May 3, 10am
Browse art classes now and get ready for summer registration opening on May 3. Summer class listings are posted on our website (don’t worry if the class says ‘Fully Booked’ this will change once registration opens).
Image: New class – Gel Prints into Journals! Create beautiful gel prints and then incorporate them into hand-bound journals. This weekend workshop, July 22-23, is taught by Rebeca Garcia-Gonzalez and Anna Kingsley.
Richmond Parkway Bay Trail between Gertrude and Vernon Avenues
On Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, community members gathered at the Richmond Parkway Bay Trail to install the hundreds of painted wooden slats that make up the Fencelines public artwork. The site of the installation – an existing chain link fence – highlights the close proximity between the Chevron petroleum refinery and Richmond residential neighborhoods. For generations, the refinery has polluted the neighboring community’s air, water, land and people.
Fencelines represents the collective voice of hundreds of individuals and families who, over the past year, gathered at events to paint their stories and messages on the slats, responding to the questions: “What message do you have for the polluting industry here in Richmond?” and “What vision do you have for your community in the future?” The resulting public artwork documents the impact of the petroleum industry; As you travel along this fence you will see messages of hope, unity, and care woven together into a collective monument to the resistance and resilience of Richmond.
Fencelines project is created by Graham L.P., Princess Robinson, and Gita Khandagle, local artists and organizers; inviting participation from Richmond & North Richmond community members and working in partnership with the Richmond Our Power Coalition to envision a just and regenerative future.
Special thanks to Richmond LAND for hosting the Earth Day event on the parkway, and Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez for his participation and support.