By Melissa Mendonca
Connect & InspireBy Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Mike Bennett Photography
(Pictured above: Back row Left to Right: Michelle Carlson, Toni Gaylord, Christy Gadboise. Front Row left to right: Heather Griffin-Vine, Lacy Wilson, Phillip Moller, Athena Dryer
It started with a gathering, a convening of artists who wanted to connect, inspire and be inspired. “We wanted to see the creatives get together,” says Athena Dyer, an original convener of what has become Tehama Creatives. It didn’t take more than a few meetups at what are now affectionately referred to as Drink and Draws for Tehama Creatives to become a firebrand group dedicated to public art and community connection.
This burgeoning art movement in Red Bluff has cultivated enough energy to paint an alley with murals, transform drab downtown planters into vibrant works of art and connect artists to each other. “It’s starting to have practical applications to deal with issues in our community,” says Tehama Creative Michelle Carlson, also an educator, who notes that incidents of tagging are down where art goes up.
“With the Drink and Draw comes the dreaming,” says Carlson, who values the group for pulling her out of isolation exploring her artistic expression. The bi-weekly gatherings at Cedar Crest Brewery in downtown Red Bluff fueled her creative fire and introduced her to kindred spirits. “We’ve carved out a little safe space for people to be artists,” she adds. “It’s providing momentum.”
At any given gathering, which went online during stay-at-home orders, creatives can be found working in watercolors, pencils, textiles, digital art, whatever suits their fancy. “I love the organic nature of that gathering,” says Carlson. “It feels very generous and kind and wonderful to share that with people.”
While the group describes itself as informal and without expectations, it’s clear that they are indeed filled with ambition and energy to put ideas into action. “We have a bigger message, and that is public art,” says Heather Vine. “Right now, people are just ready for public art and beautification in our town.”
Red Bluff’s Art Alley is between Antelope and Pine Streets behind The Copy Center and Los Mariachi’s Restaurant and is anchored by a stunning full-building Day of the Dead mural by Carl Avery on Los Mariachi’s. Vibrant pinks and reds draw people in to the delights of a stroll through the alley.
Art Alley was conceived at a Drink and Draw and born of the group’s determination to do rather than just talk. “One of my first murals says Just Say Yass,” Vine says with a laugh. “There’s no dream crashing. We just say ‘yes.’ That was my motivation for doing it. People need to just say ‘yes.’” Art Alley began on a building owned by Vine and continued onto more buildings where owners just said yes to the creativity sprouting around them.
It has attracted a wide range of artists, most of whom have never created murals before, and are encouraged to take a chance on this form of expression. “What’s cool is people get to own their own idea,” says Vine, noting the wide range of subjects painted in Art Alley. “Red Bluff is that space where when you have an idea, you can wrap your hands around it and get support for it.”
“Inspiration hits and tomorrow we’re out there painting an alley,” Carlson says. “We have grandiose plans in pushing public art in all forms possible,” adds Vine. Creative Phillip Moller has added an aquarium of triangle fish to the mural offerings, and Lacy Wilson has left a swing surrounded by birds that visitors can pose with. Doors, oil drums, walls – all become fair game for paint in Art Alley.
“I think people actually learn to appreciate art when they can interact with it,” says Vine, noting the popularity of selfie walls and murals used in backgrounds for TikTok videos. “I want it to be a place for people to do things they never have seen before,” Dyer says, adding that it’s fun to use technology to interact with the murals.
The group continues to welcome creatives, and people with all levels of experience are encouraged to show up. “Too many times people are too afraid that they have to be at a certain level to show their art,” says Dyer. “But it shouldn’t be like that. We want to make it so everyone feels like they can do some stuff.” No dream crashing. “Most artists are introverts, and I’m one of them,” she adds. “But it’s nice to have like-minded people and not be lonely.”
With Tehama Creatives on the loose, downtown Red Bluff has become a more colorful and inspired place to explore. While it has always given a nod to its historical past, there is now a glow of the present and future around different corners and down alleys. “It shows what happens when you network Creatives,” says Dyer. And when you Just Say Yass.•
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