Discovering Art and Murals in Riverside

Anchored by the Mission Inn, which 100 years ago introduced the area as a destination to agricultural investors and East Coast refugees, Riverside and the city block-sized hotel and resort is still a cultural subconscious for the inland region.

Since opening day, and now under current ownership after years of being dark, the hotel has been the muse for the city. Recently, city leaders have ramped up civic arts programming and have gone as far as using the tagline, "City of Arts and Innovation."

Murals are part of that directive, and a demonstration project of how building owners can be art enablers under civic guidelines has produced an initial batch of works.

Opera Brand on Market, between 10th and 11th. Riverside

The outcome is a delicate balance of public art being used as straight-forward rebranding of a city's reputation, with a subtext of a former citrus hub rediscovering its history. With "Opera" and "Ballet," local artist Ken Stansbury promotes two regional performance companies, re-purposing vintage citrus label styling to hold detailed design elements within the frame.

If anyone treks into Riverside to see the Mission Inn Festival of Lights at night, you can fill the day by using those two murals as end points in a walk that will take you on a tour of early 20th century architectural gems, built on an intimate grid of streets. You will also be able to explore some museums.

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Riverside Art Museum | Photo by Ed Fuentes

Not too far from the "Ballet" mural, located near University Avenue and Lemon Street, is the Riverside Art Museum, housed in a building designed as a YWCA by Julia Morgan, mostly known for Hearst Castle (and Angelenos also know as the architect for the Herald-Examiner building). She is currently the subject of an exhibition at the museum: "Julia Morgan: Foundation and Transition," displayed until December 30.

The Riverside Metropolitan Museum is supporting author Susan Orlean's release of "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" with an exhibition of memorabilia from the owner of the popular canine, Lee Duncan.

UCR Arts Block I Photo by Ed Fuentes

At the open air mall, formerly the city's Main Street, is the University of California collective UCR Arts Block, housed in a former department store; California Museum of Photography, Sweeny Art Gallery, and Culver Center of the Arts. (They have been highlighted at KCET's Artbound).

Mission Inn staff getting ready for Festival of Lights | Photo by Ed Fuentes

As for the Mission Inn as holiday performance art, you may not be ready to think about Christmas events before you shop for a Thanksgiving turkey. But when it takes ten weeks to install 3.6 million plus lights to have a city block be embraced in lights and singing angels, it takes some planning to welcome in the season.

This year, The Mission Inn will be reaching for the pages of the Guinness Book of Records with the display of the World's Largest Mistletoe, measuring 12 feet by 8 feet, which will greet the estimated 250,000 plus Festival of Lights visitors, and keep 400 animated angels, elves and carolers company. (The elves include Charles Phoenix, the Kris Kringle of Kitsch, who will present his Retro Holiday Slide Show at the Mission Inn November 25.)

The ceremony to flip on the switch and a fireworks show for the 20th anniversary of the Festival of Lights at The Mission Inn will be held November 23, the day after Thanksgiving.

Fox Theater I Photo by Ed Fuentes

The Mission Inn Hotel Festival of Lights Opening Ceremony 2011, in Riverside, California I Courtesy of The Mission Inn

There are a number of events and resources to help you plan a trip inland: Art Walk on First Thursday of the month; Artist vendor focused Fall Art Walk at Dos Logos; Public Art Downtown Riverside Map.

The Mission Inn
3649 Mission Inn Ave
Riverside, California

Festival Of Lights
November 23 (with Flipping of the Switch Ceremony) to Saturday January 5.

Charles Phoenix Retro Holiday Show at The Mission Inn
Nov 25, 2012
7:00 p.m.

You can watch a photo essay from last year's Mission Inn's Festival of Lights.

Photos by Ed Fuentes. Photo of Mission Inn courtesy of The Mission Inn.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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