As one of the oldest artistic hubs in Southern California, Riverside exists in a very strange place between the aggressive Los Angeles sprawl and the wonderful but desolate desert. Famous artists and architects have graced the city for decades, but the Riverside art scene has still been able to stay consistently intimate yet inviting.
In the early 1950s, a loosely knit group of artists formed the Riverside Art Association to encourage the study and appreciation of the arts. Their first home, the Riverside Art Center, was a recently abandoned Municipal Dog Pound, which the City of Riverside generously leased to the Art Association for an annual fee of $1. By 1960, the growing Association clearly needed more space for its studio classes and numerous exhibitions. The historic structure, which now houses the Riverside Art Museum (RAM) was built by the renowned architect Julia Morgan. When Morgan's building became available for sale, the Riverside Art Center purchased the building for $250,000. A successful fund drive followed and on July 5, 1967, YWCA officials formally turned over Morgan's building to the Riverside Art Center and the transition from a YWCA building to the existing art museum was soon underway. The beautiful building is now designated as a historical landmark by the city. The City of Riverside has been supporting local arts since it's inception, and today is no different. With the new acquisition of Drew Oberjuerge as their Director, RAM is paving a unique and relevant path all it's own.
An I.E. native, Oberjuerge has worked with significant art institutions such as LACMA, USC and UCSD. In 2008, she returned to the I.E. to create, under the umbrella of Jefferson Transitional Programs, a creative-arts-for-wellness program for individuals who carry a mental-health diagnosis. Since March, she has been with the Riverside Art Museum and has a vision for the museum to be accessible and relevant to all communities.
The RAM has functioned on a short staff for some time now, but exists as a strong and independent art museum, with a power-fist of innovative young women to set the stage for a solid and inspiring institution. Oberjuerge's strong passion for participatory programming and involvement not only makes RAM significant in Riverside residents lives, but also encourages the youth to be active in their community, helping kids to grow up with a strong and positive opinion of art and art institutions. Getting kids involved at an early age is a great marketing strategy, but Oberjuerge finds more peace in the fact that they can offer children more artistic and social skill-building opportunities that Riverside schools are lacking now due to budget cuts.
Only 60 miles east of Los Angeles, many Riverside teenagers grow up without any art in their public school curriculum. This lack is a big motivator for Oberjuerge when it comes to programming, and RAM's mission. Oberjuerge is fortunate to work with talented art education director Beth Yeager who breathed life into a summer teen arts program that helps art-minded kids learn what it takes to build a solid portfolio for college applications, how to think and talk about art, and gives them opportunities to interact with art professionals, giving kids a chance to see their potentiality. "We hope to continue to expand the program by collaborating with other organizations, extending our existing Student Curatorial Council program to include high school students, and hosting guest professionals to share their career paths," says Oberjuerge. She has strong opinions on participatory art programming, and feels it is necessary to step outside the museum walls to affect people. "We have to open our doors and actually go into the community," says Oberjuerge.
With strong support from the school board, a number of generous donors, and a few small grants, RAM is shifting their focus to a younger crowd altogether. RAM has partnered up with Social Services, nearby Safe Houses, and the Probation Department to reach out the large numbers of "at-risk youth" in the area. The Inland Empire has the largest number of unemployed people in the state of California, and that truly effects the quality of life for kids growing up in this area.
While growing up, Oberjuerge's mother was a Kindergarten teacher, and she recalls her first segue into the arts as children's artwork was strewn all over the house, a beautiful and inspiring sight. "She would take all colors of paper and make these floor to ceiling installations. The students' artwork would be woven in and a few weeks later the classroom was transformed. As a kid, I absolutely adored her classroom and thought all teachers transformed their spaces in the same way," says Oberjuerge.
With every art walk and every exhibition, Oberjuerge tries to involve a workshop for kids, and participatory aspects for all museum-goers. Running on the momentum they've had recently, RAM can't seem to stay still. With occasional Mobile Mural Lab visits, classes and workshops for every age, outdoor sculpture competitions, designing programming younger generations want to see, the ladies behind the magical curtain of RAM are powerhouses in the best possible ways -- the down-to-earth ways. You can find Director Drew Oberjuerge and Curator Kathryn Pointdexter at all events, smiling and chatting with everyone. The strong exhibitions that have been gracing RAM's walls as of late are much more risky than RAM is used to. "We take risks because we are off the beaten road," says Oberjuerge. "You see things [at RAM] you would never see at larger institutions."
Oberjuerge plans on exploring more exhibitions that connect youth to art in a less intimidating way offered by other institutions. Creating annual shows and themes, exploring graphic design as an interesting medium in art, and even getting live local indie bands to play in the gorgeous atrium during receptions and art walk nights.
RAM's longstanding relationship with art magazine Juxtapoz brought Baby Tattooville to RAM annually for six years now, and with the cooperation of nearby high school students, elementary students, RCC and UCR students, RAM is creating bonds that will last through generations. Some of the upcoming programming includes exploring the relationship between photographs and stories throughout Riverside history with Susan Straight and Douglas McCulloh in April; Matthew Tyson, a British painter and book artist who lives and works in France and will exhibit original work and work inspired by RAM's permanent collection. Later this spring, RAM will be exhibiting Riverside County high school artworks and the Plein-Air Artists of Riverside, helping to educate people about the rich history of plein-air painting in Riverside. In the upcoming summer, guest curator Michele Urton will be exploring children's books illustrations in an exhibit, in conjunction with their busy summer arts education program at RAM. There will also be an exhibition exploring the abstract work of Elke Zauner, a German artist from their sister-city, Erlangen.
"It is an interesting time to direct a museum," says Oberjuerge. "Museums across the nation are actively exploring how better to engage audience members. Museums have so many treasures to share that shed light on our collective experience, yet many struggle with creating a vibrant, welcoming environment. At RAM we offer free interactive art and writing programming geared towards families that are thematically linked to our exhibitions." Oberjuerge may have some risky adventures planned for Riverside's art scene, but she has a keen talent for embracing and supporting different art, tastes, and generations in a fun and positive way.