It was Saturday night in downtown Redlands and the State Street outdoor dining area started to fill up with hungry guests ready to dine and listen to live music. Around the corner at Parliament Chocolate, DJ Papa Trebizo started to play his tunes while attendees browsed The Artlands gallery art show with a drink in hand from Augie’s Union. However, the art show was not the main draw, but it was the unveiling of a new mural celebrating “Black Lives Matter.”
“We wanted to make a statement piece in Redlands to send a positive message about Black Lives Matter and physically take up that space, which is an active resistance in itself,” said Yulissa Mendoza, one of the artists who designed and painted the mural.
Daniel Gohman, the project director of The Artlands, explained that the owner of Parliament Chocolate, Ryan Berk, had reached out to them to make a new mural. The wall has had a couple of different murals over the years, depicting cocoa beans for example, but they were looking for something different this time.
On June 15, a few artists from The Artlands met to discuss the design. Mendoza, A’Kailah Byrd-Greene, James McClung and Jay McCrary ended up collaborating on the mural. They used a BLM poster created by Mendoza for the background and came up with the four colorful faces to add to the design.
“We wanted to recognize that there is a racial issue that’s part of this town and that it’s being addressed,” said McClung.
Mendoza added, “And we wanted to create a dialogue. Murals may seem like Band-Aid solutions or even come off as very performative. For me, I’m all about the small things because I know they have ripple effects.”
Next to the mural was a poster with screenshots of comments on social media from when they started the project two weeks prior. The artists behind the mural felt that the backlash from some in the community was proof that the message of the mural was needed.
Another Artlands artist and Augie’s Union worker, Jina Imani Edwards said of the backlash, “I was in disbelief. It was heartbreaking. I can’t wrap my head around it. Art is beautiful. We did it to bring the community together.”
Augie’s Union is a group of former employees from Augie’s Coffee who are working together to create better working conditions. There are 17 in the group in total and seven showed up to the event with their pop up shop selling coffee and refreshments.
Further, the Next Gen United group of Redlands and Highland college students were present with a voter registration booth. They worked together with Redlands City Council on a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis. The group consists of 25 members in the age of 18 to 23.
Makaley Montano, the club secretary, said, “This is our own community and there is a need for change.”
In early June the group was the target of some backlash for hanging posters with resources of the BLM movement and this experience prompted them to organize more formally.
Redlands Mayor Pro Tem Denise Davis attended the event.
“We have a long way to go,” she said. “This is one step forward that we have in growing as an anti-racist and inclusive community. I am especially proud after the resolution that racism is a public health crisis that passed in July.”
Miranda, Maureen and Jazzmonae showed up for the event this evening. These three African-American ladies from Redlands came to support the cause.
“This mural shows we do matter,” Miranda said.
Maureen added, “It is a creative way to show support of what is going on in the country.” Jazzmonae said, “It is important to bring awareness to people who are blind to the issue that is still happening today and who are not educating themselves.”
Throughout the evening people buzzed around the mural and art show, talking in the small groups they came in and taking selfies with the mural. Gohman mentioned that he was positively surprised by the turnout and even happier to see everyone following the guidelines of wearing masks.
The Artlands Gallery
Where: 18 E. Vine St., Redlands
Hours: Opens at 10 a.m. every day.
Background: The Artlands is a nonprofit organization that helps young and emerging artists in the Inland Empire to find a platform, get exposure and connect with job opportunities. The agency connects artists with projects like murals, branding and photography to get local people to do creative jobs. They have also worked on projects for Á Là Minute and Aroy Mak Mak.
Instagram: @theartlands Next Gen United –the Black Initiative The group has been involved with the city councils of both Redlands and Highland. Works to have ethnic studies be a requirement for high school graduation and in lower grades as well. Is involved with Juneteenth celebrations and do projects of giving back to the community. They partnered with U of R Black Student Union for the protest ‘Wake Up Redlands’ on Sept. 26.
Instagram: @nextgenunited Augie’s Union Their goal is to open their own coffee place both in Redlands and Riverside by forming a cooperative. They are planning to have a regular pop up shop at Artlands from 7 a.m. to noon on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.