Translated from an article in Vida Latina from San Diego.
On Saturday, August 9th, the neighborhood of Casa Blanca in Riverside celebrated “Dia de Las Artes.” Largely the product of one’s man original plan to bring arts into the community, the event showcased pieces that stem from a long collaboration with the people of the neighborhood. Drew Ward, the artist and teacher who worked to bring “Dia de las Artes” to life, has in one way told the story of Casa Blanca. This is his story.
It’s a rule that students from elementary to college will hear over and over again: carefully read all of the instructions.
That’s why it was incredibly ironic that Drew Ward, an English teacher for about 20 years and soon-to-be theater program director for Ramona High School in Riverside, didn’t read in full detail what the Riverside Arts Museum was proposing for it’s latest grant.
In hopes to initiate an arts collaborative beyond it’s usual limits of the Downtown area, the Riverside Arts Museum or RAM, was making a call to artists in the neighborhoods of the Eastside, La Sierra, Orangecrest or the Magnolia Center. Unfortunately for Drew, his area of interest was not on that list.
Drew’s choice was Casa Blanca, a largely underserved community in Riverside with residents who have been living in the shadow of a violent past.
“Well I put this grant together for Casa Blanca and by the time I got to the end of my grant and I got to the end of what they were looking for I go, ‘Oh! Casa Blanca’s not one of them.’” said Drew.
It would prove to be a favorable blunder.
Undeterred by his overlooking of details, Drew sent an email to RAM asking if it was even worth submitting a grant that would bring arts into the neighborhood of Casa Blanca.
“And RAM said this and the sentence is almost verbatim,” said Drew. “‘No, please submit your grant. We’ve been wanting to do something in Casa Blanca for years and we just haven’t known what. So even though your outside the parameters of this grant, we will support you in what you’re doing.’”
“So that was all I needed in saying, ‘Okay, there’s a tomorrow for this idea.’”
Fast-forward about eight months to Saturday, August 9, and “Dia de las Artes”–the result of Drew’s collaboration with Casa Blanca–is realized.
Showcasing photography, songs, poems, a theater presentation, and even a book that either come from Casa Blanca or use it as it’s subject, “Dia de las Artes” is a one-day event (or as Drew calls it, a “snapshot) that reflects the efforts that have taken place between the residents of the neighborhood and Drew’s team–the so-called Mad St. Arts collaborative. Not to mention other artists Drew contacted, such as world renowned poet Nikki Grimes who has also offered up work for the community.
Residents from all ages, various backgrounds, from Casa Blanca and not from Casa Blanca, have come to see art, enjoy music, eat food and socialize at the Casa Blanca Library where “Dia de las Artes” is taking place.
Volunteers, visitors and long-time residents of Casa Blanca share their thoughts of the event.
“It’s been really fantastic,” says Jami West a volunteer and fellow church member of Drew’s at Madison St. Church. “We’ve had a pretty even stream of people. It’s been fantastic to see families walking in from the neighborhood, kids in wagons and their bikes and different generations.
West says that she’s excited to see author Katie Pershing read her original book produced for the “Dia de Las Artes” called “Piano for Mona,” which is inspired by one of matriarch’s of the community, Simona Valero Martinez.
Volunteer and Chair Person for the Villegas Park Advisory Committee, Priscilla Marrujo, says the event “brings something different.”
Marrujo, a descendant of one of the original families of Casa Blanca in the 1920′s, has lived through the time of Casa Blanca’s most violent episodes. She says that she looks at her school yearbooks and most of her old classmates are now dead from the shootings.
However, today she’s all smiles and discusses the event with hopes for the future.
“To me–I hope this goes on and on,” says Marrujo. “It’s the first. I think he wants to keep doing it. It’s just going to get bigger and better.”
Standing at the doorway of the library is a another life-long resident, who was instrumental for Drew in making “Dia de Las Artes” happen.
His name is Bob Garcia and as Chair of the Community Action Group as well as Vice President of Park Advisory in Casa Blanca, Garcia was a hand that Drew absolutely had to shake.
“Drew and I got in contact through Drew’s pastor, Jeff Wright,” says Garcia. Wright and Garcia are both members of the Riverside Neighborhood Partnership.
“He said that Drew wanted to start a project here in the community. So I said, ‘Okay, bring him down.’ I started making the contacts for him and then getting the appointments or else taking to the folks saying, ‘This is the guy you need to talk to. He wants to start a project in the community.’”
What Bob shares is an account of Drew’s networking strategy, which he says is driven by “a guiding principle.”
“The principle is, ‘Don’t go where you’re not invited. If you are invited, show up,’” says Drew.
In an interview with Drew just days before the “Dia de las Artes” event, he made it clear that he was in no way an interloper in Casa Blanca.
“It’s my neighborhood,” he said about why he chose Casa Blanca in the first place, when he was originally coming up with a grant for RAM project. “I go to church here and it’s just across the freeway on Madison Street.”
However, given Casa Blanca’s history, as both a neighborhood that has excluded and been excluded from the rest of Riverside, Drew knew that his heart had to be in the right place.
“So I know that we didn’t want to come riding in to Casa Blanca saying, ‘Hey, we heard that their are poor people around here, how can we help?’ We’re a little more savvy than that. What I really knew is that if were going to do anything, we need to be invited. Otherwise, go somewhere else, go find some place else.’”
“As good as the impulse might be the motivations and actual carrying them out are not always the same thing,” he added.
Translated from an article in Vida Latina in San Diego
So Drew, through people like Bob Garcia and his pastor Jeff Wright worked to get invitation after invitation until finally, his art collaboration with the community could finally commence.
The eight months that he and his Mad St. Arts team has spent engaging the community–something he wishes to continue–has culminated on this sunny day.
Reflecting on everybody’s work, he says, “I’ve been introduced as the visionary for all of this. I can tell you, the only vision I had was–I knew my friends, I knew what they were capable of and I knew this neighborhood. And what I’m seeing today is such a sweet fulfillment of what I imagined would happen. The work is stunning and we offer it freely and humbly to this neighborhood.”