African American Museum & Cultural Center In the Works
By Dianne Anderson
Not for lack of talent, the inland empire never had a gallery where Black artists could gather to exhibit their works, bask in their creativity, or otherwise have a place to call home – until now.
In the works, the Charles A. Bibbs African American Museum & Cultural Center will serve to house and preserve renowned and emerging artworks.
Janice Rooths said the center is currently in the planning stages, but there is no telling how big it could grow.
“We want the entire region to know that it’s coming,” said Rooths, president of the center’s board.
On June 12, the community is invited out to an AfroNoon celebration at White Park in downtown Riverside at Market and 9th Street. The artist village event features a mini-museum and Charles Bibbs along with local regional and national artists, among top-level sponsors IEHP and the City of Riverside. Rooths said that vendors, sponsors and volunteers are welcome to RSVP to the event, which runs from 12:00-7:00 p.m.
Last August, they received their nonprofit status, and pending approvals, are preparing to launch by late 2023. When completed, it will showcase regional creative outlets, but they also expect to attract African American influences across the spectrum, and around the world.
Aside from the museum’s permanent collections, the cultural center will spotlight various aspects of visual art, ancient modern, or futuristic, as well as traveling collections.
They are connecting with engineers and architects about potential technologies, such as ordering products from anywhere inside the museum. One creative concept includes the Nile River to the Tree of Life, possibly with water running under it with fish.
“[It’s to] have a sense of where we came from and how all of us are the branches off that, the creativity that our Black community can bring to the world, and that we at “the Bibbs” can help cultivate in the world,” said Rooths, who also serves many positions in the community, including Riverside Branch NAACP, and as a Human Relations Commissioner.
She said the area is long overdue for a world-class museum, an incubator for artists in residence program, as well as programs for junior artists K-12.
Architectural renderings are not yet available, but she said they are looking to locate downtown. Once the land is acquired, environmental impact reports will follow.
The idea came about two years ago when Mr. Bibbs received a city council award and met with the city manager. At first, the vision was to create a Black college in Riverside. They started calling the project “the Bibbs” to house both culture and art, along with an HBCU affiliation.
“We did the reverse of that [to] first incorporate the HBCU artists in residence program. Right now we’re in talks with RCC to provide credited coursework, from that maybe grow out into a college with more emerging artists in residence,” she said.
The past two years have been hard with most people stuck in the house, but it also has awakened a need to buy more art and brighten things up.
Charles Bibbs said his business has done well, which he feels reflects the power of art to inspire during the dark times. Other intense periods of history, like the Black Panthers and the Civil Rights movement also parked much artistic expression.
“We as artists did well because we were telling the story with paintbrushes and pencils. We were one of those groups during the chaos that helped fix things. We get blessed for doing that, doing something to stem the tide to encourage people to not give up,” he said.
Bibbs, a Riverside-based internationally acclaimed artist, envisions the center will draw a boom of cultural activity to their 100 seat-arena featuring three or four art galleries and exhibitions. A library will exclusively feature Black History and African American works.
He said they are rallying fundraising and support, letting the community know the benefit of the center as a place to celebrate, and that the youth need a place to learn their history.
“That’s one of the things we’re going through now in our schools to finally get them to tell the truth on the beginnings of this country. Our cultural center will be a place where our students can come and learn the things that they are not taught in schools,” he said.
He hopes to see a partnership like The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum with the city of Riverside. Named after the famous comedian and art collector, it is slated to open in June.
Bibbs said 65% of the local population is of Mexican heritage, which ensures good traffic for the future. He said Riverside has always wanted to be more than a drive-through city, and that Cheech partnership changed the dynamic.
“I can’t go to L.A. and talk to my Chicano friends without them talking about Riverside,” he said. “It is the place for Chicano art. What we’re trying to do is be a center in Riverside for African American art.”
Bibbs has dedicated decades toward getting artists prepared to showcase their works to the community through various venues, including digital, hard copies, and sales.
His end goal is to establish the center for the community to flourish, where artists can learn from each other and cultivate creativity for a long time to come.
“It’s about time that this region has something that celebrates Black people, we’re coming together to give homage to celebrate our history,” he said. “It has to be an institution that is going to last the test of time.”
To find out more about the museum, or vendor opportunities, email email@example.com