The Riverside Arts Academy, in the east of the city, will benefit from a renovated arts center for its young talents.
California’s 2022-23 budget includes $25 million to renovate the César Chávez Community Center inside Bobby Bonds Park, Inland Empire lawmakers and community leaders announced Friday, July 1.
The Spanish colonial-era building, built more than 100 years ago and run by the City of Riverside, is full of students and in desperate need of upgrades, they said. The University Avenue structure was formerly University Heights High School.
After its days as a school, the aging building was a community center. Now it’s used primarily by the academy, which has been providing low-cost arts programs and music education to young people for nearly a decade, a press release said.
Riverside Arts Academy president Collette Lee said the aim was to honor a “magnificent old building” and make it “a high-tech arts academy”.
“The place is like a dungeon… when we started at the Cesar Chavez Center in 2014, we didn’t even have doors on the boys’ restrooms,” she said. “At our spring concert, we had a capacity crowd, and the building’s plumbing couldn’t accommodate. We had an overflow in the bathroom.
In the summer, the air conditioning works, forcing academy students to leave classrooms for cooler parts of the building, Lee said.
The academy has always “thriving” on talent, but needed funding for structural upgrades, she said. The program is made up of at least 89% low-income youth, who are eligible for free music and instrument lessons.
On Friday, she joined Inner Assembly member Jose Medina, D-Riverside; Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside; Riverside City Council members and academy officials at the Chávez Center to announce state budget dollars for the project.
Medina, who represents the 61st District, said in a statement that she approached the academy and city officials in 2019, pointing to “much-needed renovations” to the old school building “which has not has not been updated since 1938”.
“I am proud that our cultural and educational priorities are receiving much-needed investment after years of advocacy by our community,” said Medina, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.
Medina met with city and academy officials to form a committee, raise funds, and create a budget proposal for the legislature.
Lee that she was “so thrilled and honoured” that assembly members secured funding for the project. The money will be used for planning and upgrades, such as installing a Wi-Fi hub and purchasing a ceramic kiln for the academy’s growing visual arts program.
While there’s no set timeline for construction and renovation yet, Lee said she hopes the renovated arts academy will open “between two and three years.”
The center, which offers summer music lessons starting this month, will remain open through most renovations.
“Our passion is social justice and equal access to the arts,” Lee said. “I hope we can have an arts academy in Riverside that is not just award-winning, from a theater arts perspective, but (that maintains) a standard of excellence in the arts. It will undoubtedly transform the Eastside. And it already is. »