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Leadership Riverside ‘resiliency’ mural project underway after committee selects local street artist for the job

The mural downtown will honor the brave Riversiders and frontline workers who strengthened the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A photo of the proposed new mural that will be visible on the Box Theatre.
Darren Villegas, the local artist tapped to create a mural for downtown, will have his work displayed on the side of the Box Theatre.

To commemorate the efforts and courageous work of Riverside families and community leaders during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leadership Riverside, a committee of Riverside’s Chamber of Commerce, proposed that a mural be dedicated right in the heart of downtown.

According to Alyssa Digangi, the Director of Business Development and Special Projects at Stronghold Engineering Inc. and the Leadership Riverside Class of 2021 representative, the mural project first began as a simple idea in February. It quickly snowballed into a well-supported initiative by local public officials soon after.

With sole funding coming from multiple community sponsors, and all art materials supplied by Urge Palette, an independent art supplies store downtown, Digangi said the committee collectively hopes the vision for the mural fully reflects the historic and current values seen in Riverside today.

“We wanted this mural to be representative of our community to portray that message, and be just a really vibrant, colorful, beautiful element that we have right in our downtown area,” Digangi said.

The mural, set for an 80 by 40-foot wall, will be located on the Mission Inn Avenue-facing side of the Box Theatre at 3635 Market Street which is widely visible from the new Riverside Main Library.

According to the committee’s final proposal from earlier this year, the mural’s theme must “depict the resiliency, vibrancy, history, and innovative technological necessities utilized to navigate our world and community during a global pandemic.” The proposal defines resiliency as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, showing toughness,” as well as incorporating adaptability and perseverance during a time of crisis.

Digangi, who operated primarily as the mural project manager, worked alongside the committee team in search of a local artist whose mural design would be in line with the City of Riverside’s Strategic Plan as it pertains to art, culture and recreation to “increase civic pride.”

Out of 11 proposals from various candidates who submitted the required Public Art Application, longtime street muralist, Darren Villegas, was tapped to complete the mural in an unanimous vote by this year’s Leadership Riverside team. Villegas said the cohort expressed their desire over Zoom only months prior to move forward with his artistic vision.

“I felt very honored and privileged. I was very grateful to be acknowledged, and to have these prominent figures in our city recognize the design as something that they valued,” Villegas said.

The self-proclaimed Chicano, who has lasting familial ties with Riverside, is known for his vivid use of color and symmetry to create mural compositions when working to create a specific narrative within a single frame. As for Riverside’s mural theme, Villegas said he will draw from his own past struggles both personally and as an artist which ultimately helped him to evolve to best celebrate the diversity and “unity of the people.”

“We all had to simultaneously go through a common struggle. It called for the resiliency of each of us as individuals as well as the resiliency of all of us as a community. I’m very happy to lay my attempt at representing that resiliency and optimism toward our future,” Villegas said.

“I would like for the mural to spread joy. I hope it will help bring people together and ease tensions between differences of politics or differences of cultures,” he added.

As of now, completion of the downtown mural project is in its final stages, Digangi said. Leadership Riverside is now focused on community marketing, logistics and various community outreach initiatives. An unveiling ceremony, where all of Riverside’s community is encouraged to attend, is slated for November 2021.

To learn more about Darren Villegas and his work check out his portfolio and social media.