The streets of downtown Riverside were thronged with people Wednesday night as families, students and educators gathered for the third annual Long Night of Arts and Innovation. All along Main Street from Fifth to City Hall, people gathered to witness displays of art, science and blends of both.
Even though the event began at 5 p.m., the downtown streets really began to fill up once the sun had set and the street lamps and string of lights began to turn on. Aside from the thousands of people jammed across the few blocks included in the street fair, the immediately impressive aspect of the event was the sound. Every half-block or so, there were different groups performing different styles of music, from gospel singers filling the air with their dulcet tones at the north end of the promenade to a group of young women performing a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” in a minimalist folk style. The air wasn’t only filled with the sound of music, however, as both CBU’s and UCR’s engineering departments were out in full force. CBU’s students had displays that included cracking tesla coils while UCR allowed children to rev up the go-karts that normally decorate the rooms of Bourns Hall.
Many of the art displays were concentrated north of Mission Inn Avenue, featuring art exhibits made by local artisans and booths where paintings were sold and participants were allowed to make their own artwork. There were also street performers wandering up and down the street between the booths, I saw magicians performing magic tricks for delighted children and an elderly couple dressed in full Victorian attire chatting with the attendees. One of the most viewed performers was dressed and groomed to look remarkably like Edgar Allen Poe, and he gave a moving recitation to a group of seated onlookers. Unfortunately, he wasn’t mic’d, so I was only able to catch brief smatterings of what he was saying. My favorite art piece of the night was a large metal robot statue, laid on a black sheet on the outside of a hair salon. It had no name tag or identification, and I was intrigued by the mystery.
The attractions that drew the largest crowds were in the courtyard outside of the large building that encompasses Senator Roth’s office. Illuminated by the streetlamps and framed against the few-lit buildings in the high-rise, the dancers and musicians from “Surprise of Dance vs. Music” and the dancers from Room to Dance and World to Dance dazzled the immense crowd. “Surprise of Dance vs. Music” included free-form choreography set to the rhythm of a drum line, and the deep boom of their drums could be heard up and down the street, drawing more and more people to the throng to examine the commotion. World of Dance and Room to Dance, which performed immediately afterward, showcased multiple genres of dance, featuring tight choreography and amazing grace and fluidity in their movement. Albeit not as bombastic as the previous performance, many people in the crowd cheered as the dancers moved in seemingly impossible ways.
Toward the south end of Main Street, the exhibits became more focused on science and technology. CBU and UCR were both out in full force, featuring interactive displays that entertained and informed the attendees. CBU had a display that featured slow-motion video of a slinky falling onto a table, shot at 4,000 frames per second. Another booth showcased a tesla coil that fired bolts of static electricity in a frightening halo. Their most popular display, however, was a mechanical hand, capable of playing rock-paper-scissors with children and sensitive enough to hold a foam cup without crushing it.
UCR’s displays were located slightly further south from CBU’s, featuring displays from our own physics department as well as a multi-tent display on climate change and seismology presented by the physical sciences department. As a special treat, physics researcher Mario De Leo set up a row of reflecting telescopes, inviting a line of onlookers to observe the Messier 29 star cluster, aided by other members of the physics faculty and two students from the Astronomy Club. He took time to answer many of the observers’ questions personally, at one point stopping and pointing out a low-orbit satellite that soared lazily overhead.
Even people that don’t attend UCR got a taste of the college lecture experience, as Dr. Cheryl Hayashi and Dr. G Richards Olds of the Biology and Medical departments, respectively, gave lectures on spider silks and Ebola. Both of them drew an impressive crowd, as Dr. Hayashi is a natural and engaging lecturer and Dr. Olds’ talk was extremely relevant given the recent Ebola scare. However, their performances were somewhat overshadowed by the galaxy tour offered inside the Culver Center, where anyone could don a pair of 3D glasses to view an immersive ride through the cosmos.
Overall, the night was an enriching and informative experience for all those in attendance, highlighting the very best of what Riverside has to offer. I was only able to scratch the surface of the available exhibits in the hours I was there, and I am only able to write about an even smaller portion here, which undoubtedly means I had to leave out quite a few that deserve recognition for their hard work. Though the long night is past, many of the exhibits are ongoing, and only a short trip away from campus.