“more a laboratory than a museum” — a postscript

UCR ARTSblock executive director Jonathan Green shared this thought with me when I chatted with him during my final week as an artist in residence at the Culver Center.  We sat in his book-filled office on the top floor of the California Museum of Photography.  This building, he informed me, had also been a store.

I’ve been thinking about this idea ever since.  And about other ideas too.

Everywhere I go now, I see retrofits, spaces turned into other spaces, buildings with histories. In Baltimore a former barn holds, among other things, a giant statue of Divine, the John Waters diva. While I was standing in the entryway of that very different museum, a man addressed me, said he was an artist, and pointed outside to a tree made entirely of mirrors.

Those reflecting shards, ringing in the March wind, reflect me back to this place, in Riverside California.

Perhaps the cultural spaces that work for us now are indeed — less places where we “muse” (although they occasion thought and a certain repose) — but rather spaces of experimentation, trial and error, attempts where failure and success coalesce as necessary parts of a process of understanding, of moving forward, of progressing towards new knowledge.

Such spaces should and do face in two directions: they gather in, and push out.  Can the university — which ARTSblock “represents” and provides the gateway to — push out towards the public, becoming an open laboratory, rather than a privileged repository for learning?

I hope so.


b4 the culver was the culver — part 3

The past arrives for us in snippets: voices, objects, sentences, scenarios. Even the shortest are successful at capturing something gem-like — the miniscule facets that make a moment meaningful and resonant.

Stacy Davies who is off-camera shares remembrances of a very different Riverside downtown, while Christine Leapman gesticulates vividly on the screen as she recalls a phone call she received concerning Rouse’s closing sale.

Stacy Davies from Stephanie Barbe Hammer on Vimeo.

Christine Leapman from Stephanie Barbe Hammer on Vimeo.

b4 the culver was the culver- part 2- Nancy Hart

A warm and highly articulate lady sat down at my card table at the Culver Center and offered her remembrances of the Rouse department store, and other retail shops in downtown Riverside.  Only after the conversation, did she mention that she was Councilperson Nancy Hart.  That’s one groovy government gal.


b4 the Culver was the Culver- a conversation with Councilperson Nancy Hart from Stephanie Barbe Hammer on Vimeo.

b4 the culver was the culver part 1

On March 3rd, 2011, I collected memories at the Culver Center for a couple of hours with the help of Dana Rondinelli.

My discovery: Even in a place as “new” as SoCal, we’ve got layers of history going on. Downtown Riverside boasted some punk rock, apparently. Jo Scott Coe remembers an unfortunate lunch and Joseph Manally remembers some good gigs.



b4 the culver-an interview with Jo Scott Coe’s bag from Stephanie Barbe Hammer on Vimeo.

b4 the Culver was the Culver — an interview with Joseph Manally from Stephanie Barbe Hammer on Vimeo.

Talk to me #2 — a conversation with Ben Vasquez

A remembered poetic riff on Ben Vasquez’s wonderful words.  Listen  and look below for a snippet of the real thing.

Oh my God, he said. We used to go to Juarez for haircuts and for meat and for everything, and there was this beer garden. beautiful, and now these lost women. no one cares. no one is doing anything.  my sister died a few months ago.  my mother died too. these women.  I don’t ever want to go back there. it’s a war zone. what they’ve done. it’s so disappointing — I know that’s the wrong word.  But it is disappointing. I remember Juarez was so beautiful.

I just came here on a whim. I’m retired.  I drove a truck and did deliveries all around here.  But I don’t know the area really. I am not a big museum person. I didn’t have the time.

Those pictures. I don’t know what to think. My brother said we got to go back to El Paso we got to go check it out. but I don’t want to go back there now. Juarez.  Tijuana was a mess. but Juarez. Of course there were problems  but we were kids.  You know? We were kids.

But those women. Who looks for them? Who?


talk to me #2 –glimpses audial and visual of Ben Vasquez reacting to Las Olvidadas from Stephanie Barbe Hammer on Vimeo.

3 shy students/February 15th 2011

Three shy students navigate the art at Pulse and Hammer (no relation).  I follow them. Please talk to me please talk to me, I think at them with my camera. But I am white and older. They are Latino and Asian.  Finally I head them off at the copper plates on Jacob’s tables.

How do you like the art? I say. One young girl smiles lovely slow smiles. I think it’s neat.  Did you see them pound the copper? Yes she says I mean, no I mean not really I mean I aw them on the — she points to the video. Are you students?  They all nod. The boy is from UCR — the two girls are from Cal State SB. how did you meet. At church they say, shyly. Church is good I say. What are your majors? — Economics. Marketing and Psychology. Well, have a nice day says the young lady the first one I talked to. I will I do I have.

talk to me/3 shy students at Pulse and Hammer/Culver Center 02/15/11 from Stephanie Barbe Hammer on Vimeo.