It’s always a good idea to sit down and have a conversation especially when it involves art, entertainment and venues that attract a following. We can’t say Riverside is much ofÂ a “destination” if the residents working to create the reasons behind being a “destination” don’t feel they can freely express themselves. Hats off to councilman Gardner and Lt. Manning for their willingness to be open and maybe even a little surprised.
10 PM PST on Wednesday, February 9, 2011
By ALICIA ROBINSON
Several downtown Riverside artists complained to the city that police and code-enforcement officers recently accused them of being connected with underage drinking and graffiti and questioned their political views.
After a 90-minute meeting Tuesday, both sides agree: What they had was a failure to communicate.
The conflict arose last month, when Councilman Mike Gardner heard complaints after the monthly Arts Walk. They seemed to center on a venue he’d never heard of, the Blood Orange Infoshop on University Avenue, Gardner said.
He asked police and code enforcement to check it out, and a cadre of officers along with a fire inspector paid the place a visit Feb. 2.
It may have been the books and pamphlets about Nietzsche, anarchism and Noam Chomsky, or memories of problems with the now-closed Pharaoh’s Den music venue down the street, but officers seemed to suspect lawbreaking, said Micah Carlson, a graphic designer, activist and member of Blood Orange Infoshop.
He describes it as an art, music and educational space run collectively by about a dozen volunteers and focused on young people.
“(The officers) came in under complaints about kids and minors hanging out on our steps,” Carlson said Wednesday. “They said there was marijuana smoking, and that there were minors drinking and that there was an increase in graffiti in the area.”
The comments surprised Carlson because, he said, the venue’s aim is to offer a drug- and alcohol-free space. He said the officers also made fun of business cards that listed painter Marian Semic as CEO of the nonprofit People’s Gallery, which is on the same floor of the building as the Infoshop.
Semic wasn’t there at the time, but she and Carlson brought the issue to the council’s attention Tuesday.
“I’m not saying that we don’t need police involved, but I just think that it should be a little bit more judicious,” Semic said by phone Wednesday.
Riverside police Lt. Chris Manning said when officers went in to inspect Blood Orange, “Initially there was some less than productive interaction between the people on site and the officers.”
City officials and the artists met and agreed to let each other know about future problems and concerns.
Carlson said, “We have direct lines of communication with each other now.”
Now that they have more information about the Blood Orange collective, Gardner and Manning said, they support what its members are doing. The venue offers free art shows, music performances, lectures, book studies, yoga and meditation, and it has a free lending library, Carlson said.
“To me this looks like it’s going to be a productive long-term relationship between the arts community and the Police Department,” Manning said.
Reach Alicia Robinson at 951-368-9461 or arobinson@PE.com