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Art, Innovation, and Community: How The Cheech elevates local talent while joining the national conversation

Explore the transformative space where local masterpieces meet influential national narratives.

Justin Favela, Gypsy Rose Piñata (II), 2022, on view in Xican-a.o.x. One of many excellent works sure to draw any viewer in. (Timothy LeBlanc / Gazette)

Riverside is the City of Arts and Innovation. As a city, we have three major art centers and a multitude of smaller organizations. The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture is the newest among them. Readers of the Raincross Gazette certainly have heard about its opening on Mission Inn Avenue in what used to be the library's main branch. It is a fantastic use of the building and has quickly become a space to engage with the arts and the Riverside community.

The space is broken into a few sections giving visitors a more accessible sense of what is where. They will always have selections from the nearly 700 works that Cheech Marin has donated to the museum on view on the majority of the first floor. One must also look at the current limited-time exhibitions they have on view in their other spaces. In the Altura Credit Union Community gallery, located just inside the main doors, the Cheech highlights wonderful local artists.

They currently have up the show Origenes/Origins, which looks at how artists take inspiration from their personal lives to make art. A highlight of the show is the Riverside-based painter Richie Velazquez. He is an excellent painter who in town has not just shown with the Cheech but, a few years ago, had an excellent installation with the downtown-based Pain Sugar Gallery. His work in the show rewards someone willing to spend a bit of time and see all of the amazing details put into his works, like Basura Brains Day Oof, 2020 (pictured below). Many people would have a hard time leaving with a smile after spending a while with the works.

Richie Velazquez, Basura Brains Day Oof, 2020, on view in Origenes/Origins. One of three by the artist in the show. (Timothy LeBlanc / Gazette)

Upstairs the focus is not so much on the personal but on the communal identity building. It is also not as locally focused as the show, Xican-a.o.x, which starts here at the Cheech before moving to four other venues across the country, including Miami's premier institution, the Perez Art Museum. This is an excellent thing as it highlights the Cheech's ability to be part of local community building and speak to national-level conversations.

The work in Xican-a.o.x is quite varied. The Cheech itself states the work may "illuminate, challenge, unsettle, confound, provoke, and at times, upset," and all of that is true. It may not be a show for everyone, though many will find it illuminating to communities they are not personally part of. This is one of good art's great triumphs. It is also true that many works also excite.

At the start of the show and of this article, one is greeted by Justin Favela's wonderful work, Gypsy Rose Piñata (II), 2022. The work, a piñata the full scale of the famous Gypsy Rose lowrider, is undeniably appealing. On a Sunday afternoon, one could see person after person come up and hear them admire the skill and artistry it took to create an item that, in most settings, gets thought of as a children's party favor. One could also hear multiple conversations drift from the piece to people's own experiences with cars like this. This could be felt all around the show, in both upbeat and dark ways.

This is because Favela's work sets a precedent of accessible subjects being used throughout much of the show. There are works that use tattoos, magazines, cowboy boots, coin-operated rides, punk music, and many other common subjects as entry points. Most all the works then allow the viewers to dig deeper into them and learn or participate in the artist's community.

The Cheech itself acts like many of these works allowing a viewer to participate in the Riverside arts community. It is a space shared with institutions like its partner, the Riverside Art Museum, and fellow downtown spaces, UCRARTS, Pain Sugar Gallery, Division 9 Gallery, and more. There are three universities, each with its own spaces that build and play off each other. As one gets familiar with the scene, hopefully, they will gain a better appreciation of how it all comes together to make Riverside deserving of its' beautiful motto: The City of Arts and Innovation.