The 95 degree weather of Riverside seeps into the basement of the Life Arts Center, a building with crumbling brickwork on the outside. Inside, the music of Gang of Four wafts through the air, an auditory backdrop used as "muzak" to give the space some sonic atmosphere before the bands setup. Here, the attendees are overwhelmingly young, sweaty and excitedly languid, a contradiction perhaps but in the dry heat of the Inland Empire it is often difficult to summon vivacious feelings.
Most of the concertgoers are dressed in dark colors, a poor choice of attire in hot weather. It's a sartorial paradox: darkness attracts sunlight. A bright yellow mural with red spray-painted stencil fonts greets the visitors with some of the ideals of the space. It's non-hierarchical, drug and alcohol free, and inclusive. Outside, young adults blow tendrils of smoke into the air while discussing tour plans for their respective bands. Blood Orange Infoshop isn't just a place to see a show; it's a nexus of a community.
The venue's bizarre name perhaps reflects the unconventional nature of this Inland Empire location and collective space for the arts and politics. Concerts take place there regularly that can range from hardcore punk to noise rock to acoustic folk. It is the only venue in Riverside that is accessible to people under the age of 21, it provides a place for adolescents and adults alike to put on events for the community.
BOIS is inconspicuous enough to remain unknown to the majority of Riversidians, yet it is in in the midst of the Riverside happenings. It is near many bars and restaurants that make up the small strip of downtown Riverside. The space is laid back and unpretentious. After going down a small flight of stairs the volunteers ask for a five dollar suggested donation and the visitor is inside the venue sans pesky I.D. checks or body pat-downs. Once inside, the visitor can browse the BOIS free store, which has clothes not unlike those one would find in a thrift shop. It is filled with floral printed dresses that look like something your grandma could wear, old tattered shoes and the occasional treasure, e.g. button up shirt that may work well at the office. In addition, BOIS has a vast lending library that illustrates its political tendencies; books on veganism and people of color are present among the relatively large collection.
The ongoing mural of the late activist and transwoman of color Marsha P. Johnson dominates the space. The white background and black circular halo surrounding Johnson brings a certain kind of guiding energy to the room.
BOIS is highly political and serves as a grassroots leftist powerhouse in Riverside. The formation of the space reflects its political interests. According to Angela Asbell, a collective member at the space and a professor at Cal State San Bernardino, the seeds for the space were sown when five or so neo-Nazis were going to "stage a protest and have a display of flags" to intimidate workers at a Home Depot. "Two hundred people showed up," Asbell says. "They were really angry that the [neo-Nazis] would dare to do that. People got really excited and really heated about what happened and they wanted to take that same momentum in order to create a more sustainable resistance."
Some of the people who formed a resistance against the neo-Nazi protesters ended up forming BOIS in 2009. It took the BOIS collective a whole year to find a space they could afford but the first artwalk they hosted made it apparent that they outgrew the space. There was not enough room at the location to house all the attendees for artwalk, so the collective moved to their current home at the Life Arts Building. Asbell says the space was created with the idea of forming a place "that was generative and (to create) a new culture, create resources and a space for people who don't get listened to and who are marginalized."
Alongside the space's interest in supporting people of color is its interest in feminist and queer activism. Genesis Saucedo, a collective member at BOIS, points out how the space is maintained by PoC and how this differentiates it from other DIY venues, which are not always lead by members of color. Paola Alcala, another member, says the venue is "[its] own removed thing. I feel like we are a lot different than the local DIY venues. I think we are way more political and radical." Asbell adds that BOIS is her favorite space. "It dares to have a collective structure instead of a hierarchy," Asbell says. "What makes us really different is this idea that power is horizontal. It gives us time to build a real grassroots base." Pavel Acevedo, also a collective member agrees. "Blood Orange is the only radical space that always embraces their ideals and supports ideas in benefit of the community," he says. "The Infoshop is always open for people to join and is a place that renews itself because it is an unusual place with diversity in art from inside and outside California."
BOIS has received positive feedback from surrounding residents. Alcala points out how many queer people of color feel very welcomed in the space. "We have gotten really positive reactions from minority communities," Alcala says. "There are people that really appreciate what we do. People feel like this space is needed, they are very thankful for it. It feels really good when people thank us for existing as a space." Regular attendee Jason Perkins says that BOIS is necessary for the balance in the city, because there are people that don't partake in the bar scene or downtown Riverside scene and they need a safe space. "[BOIS] is an alternative and they have things that are open for the public," Perkins says. "There is not really any other place like that."
Musicians have also felt welcomed in the space. Downtown Boys, a Latino punk group, have enjoyed their time at the space since it seems welcoming towards people of color, they say. Kevin Greenspon, ambient musician and label owner of Bridgetown Records, wrote that it has "always been a pretty good [experience playing at BOIS] since it's a solid facility for having shows." Giovanni Chumpitazi who releases music under the name Proto Nova says, "I liked that it was in downtown Riverside where there is a lot of street traffic and stuff happening in the area. I like the theme, it's a safe and sober space."
Although, the DIY model of the five-dollar, all ages, show is something of a precedent from an earlier punk epoch, BOIS has extended the influence of this idea by bringing culture and activism to many young people that would otherwise be left out. BOIS represents what young people can accomplish even when they are given limited means. It represents the willingness of Riversiders to fight for a place where they can feel safe and share art amongst friends. It is a fight for a place to call home.