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Joyous Gala Celebrates Culver Center Opening

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More than 300 attend the grand opening reception in the UC Riverside ARTSblock in downtown Riverside

Amid the sweet sound of jazz, fiery flamenco music and dance, and hip-hop theater, more than 300 guests celebrated the grand opening of the UC Riverside Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts and reopening of the Sweeney Art Gallery in downtown Riverside on Saturday evening.

The center, located in the 115- year-old Rouse department store building, joins the UCR/California Museum of Photography in UCR ARTSblock on the downtown pedestrian mall.

More than 1,500 people attended two days of free community events that led up to Saturday’s gala reception.

“This has been 10 years in the making,” observed Frances Culver, who with her late husband, Tony, donated $5 million to launch the project. The center is named for Tony Culver’s parents.

“This is everything Tony wanted. I wish he were here to see it. Jonathan Green (ARTSblock executive director) was meticulous in following his dream. Good job!”

Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the UCR College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, emceed the event and said the partnership between the city and university – exemplified by the use of public money and private gifts – made possible the restoration effort that now is a key element of Riverside’s evolution as a center of the arts.

Green said the Rouse building, throughout its history, has stood at the intersection of past and present, a role it will continue to play as a center of the arts. “The Culver Center will have a lasting effect on UC Riverside and the city of Riverside, and the American art scene,” a center that will “incubate, innovate and initiate,” he said. “Tony and Frances Culver dreamed a dream. Tonight their dream is a reality.”

Recalling the high-end clientele the Rouse department store served in its heyday, UCR Chancellor Timothy P. White told the crowd that today, “the Culver Center will feed the hearts and minds and souls of all Riverside citizens.”

Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge said the gala was an opportunity to celebrate completion of the center, the close partnership between the university and the city, and the center’s place in a renaissance of the arts downtown. “Downtown will be a happening place of the arts,” he predicted.

Entertainment during the evening was provided by the Blue Wave West jazz band, whose vocalist is Karen Wilson, assistant director of the Gluck Fellows Program of the Arts at UCR; Riverside Lyric Opera performing a flash opera; modern dancers coordinated by Susan Rose, UCR professor of dance and director of the Gluck program; hip-hop theater directed by Rickerby Hinds, UCR associate professor of theater; flamenco guitarist Walter Clark, a UCR professor of music; and Forever Flamenco dancers and musicians.

Among the Culver Center’s features are: first floor – a 72- seat film and video screening room, atrium gallery for installation, music and performance, and the Sweeney Art Gallery; second floor – two dance studios, and the Culver Arts Research Lab (CARL) for university- based projects that advance artistic, cultural and performative research and study at UCR; and basement – facilities devoted to exhibition and performance support and collections, including seismically stable facilities to store the worldrenown Keystone-Mast collection of stereoscopic glass negatives.

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