2023 Listening Sessions

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San Bernardino Transit Center

Arts Connection joined the OmniTrans staff and 10 artists selected to paint public bus benches at a transit center event on January 14th in Downtown San Bernardino. Despite the unprecedented rain in the morning and afternoon, we were able to conduct 7 one-on-one interviews with artists, residents and travel goers. Discussions focused on the importance of community events such as this and the need for more family and community-oriented events locally to bring folks together. Artists interviewed at the event were all really excited to be partnering with OmniTrans to design and paint the bus benches in the area and hope to see more examples of this kind of artist and public agency collaboration happening in the region to paint murals, utility boxes, benches and more. There are many willing and talented individuals and progressive agencies like OmniTrans who are leading by example and inviting the arts into their culture and their process of public outreach and engagement.

Apple Valley – DREAM Lounge

In both January and February, Arts Connection staff joined the monthly gathering of 40+ artists in the High Desert at the DREAM Lounge in Apple Valley, to share more about the Creative Corps program and listen to what their hopes and dreams are for their communities. Artists from Adelanto, Barstow, Victorville, Apple Valley, Hesperia and Phelan all gather in this space once a month now that allows for creative expression, in an authentically inclusive room packed with poets, singers, folk artists, painters, dancers, writers and spoken word artists. In these sessions we heard the resounding call for more youth focused programming and mentoring. The impacts of COVID have created a huge gap in communication skills for our young people. There is also no central gathering space or cultural arts center in the area. NONE. Almost every person we spoke with mentioned this as a solution to many of the organizing and resource issues in the High Desert. We also need to see more city and local agencies support the arts as a catalyzing agent to the core issues of environmental destruction and homelessness that continue to impact the communities here.

Twentynine Palms – Patriotic Hall

On February 4th, 2023 from 4-6pm, artists, producers, arts leaders, city officials, agency representatives and local residents gathered at Patriotic Hall in Twentynine Palms for a lively discussion and brainstorming session about local issues and potential collaborative projects that could bring the communities of the Morongo Basin together in addressing some of the Creative Corps program goals. In a rural region such as this, residents are often very socially isolated and have difficulty finding out about events and resources that exist locally. Transportation issues, geographic dispersal and a lack of consistent resources all impact local accessibility. The impact and influx of tourism and the lack of education around the delicate ecosystem in the desert leads to tension between residents and weekenders occupying nearby vacation rentals. Focusing on environmental issues, community engagement, education and public health in ways that increase information sharing and connection to young and aging populations will reach larger systemic issues affecting the vast majority of the communities in the region. For more resources and research, please consider reading the Community Health Needs Assessment here.

San Bernardino – Thinkwise

Arts Connection partnered with Uplift SB and the Garcia Center for the Arts to host a listening session in downtown San Bernardino on February 16th from 5:30-7:30pm. A huge thank you to our hosts at the Thinkwise Credit Union. 35 community members, artists, educators, CBO leaders, and our friends at KVCR all joined us to learn more about the Creative Corps program. We hosted the team at A Space Between Us to showcase a local and regional example of work that addresses core community issues of environmental justice and public health related to the expansion of the warehouse industry and lack of resources and support for marginalized communities and workers during COVID. Discussions and brainstorming at this session highlighted the need for greater youth civic participation and ways that educators, artists and CBOs can work together to use creative strategies – film, illustration, social media to increase engagement in the voting process. Mental health resources and support were also brought up; in addition to broadband access, education and a better understanding of local history and stories.


On February 16, Arts Connection – The Arts Council for San Bernardino County partnered with the Youth Mentoring Action Network for a youth-led Listening Session in Upland to learn more about issues facing youth. We heard about civic participation, public health, and social justice issues from residents from Crestline, Grand Terrace, Highland, Montclair, Moreno Valley, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Wrightwood, and more. The youth consensus was that addressing social justice and community engagement issues would positively impact all other issues. This session culminated with an inspiring discussion with musician and producer, Michael Uzowuru.

Fontana Jazz Fest

On February 25, Arts Connection – The Arts Council for San Bernardino County partnered with the City of Fontana at their Jazz Fest: A Black History Month Celebration for an arts-forward Listening Session, featuring artists Fontana-native Nathaniel Osollo and prominent local artist, Pavel Acevedo. We heard predominantly about public health and social justice and community engagement issues from several residents of Fontana as well as Rialto, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, San Bernardino, Lake Elsinore, Upland, and more. In this cultural exchange, comic book artist Nathaniel drew portraits and Pavel Acevedo shared screen printing with participants in exchange for community insights.

Workforce SBCSS

On February 3, Arts Connection – The Arts Council for San Bernardino County joined San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools at their Workforce SBCSS meeting to learn more about issues facing youth and to look for opportunities to involve youth in Creative Corps Inland SoCal. Public health issues featured prominently, as we learned that youth are still facing issues of stress and anxiety and are seeking connection and belonging. We heard from participants from Apple Valley, Bloomington, Hesperia, Jurupa Valley, Fontana, Ontario, Riverside, San Bernardino, Riverside, and more. In this session, participants shared key issues for their region and brainstormed projects ideas for the region and ways to involve youth.

Perris – Cesar E. Chavez Perris Public Library

The Perris Listening Session was held at the Cesar E. Chavez Perris Public Library on February 11th from 12 – 3 pm. There were three core issues brought up from community members. The first issue that arose was a disconnect in the communities of Perris and Moreno Valley which may be caused in part by language barriers in addition to methods of communication. Another issue raised was the impact that the rise in warehouses in the area has caused through environmental and visual pollution. Lastly, there is a disconnect between artists in the community which is believed to be caused by a lack of a central arts hub to connect artists and community. Some of the ideas that came out of the session to address these issues were city mandates requiring new businesses to pay into an arts and culture fund so that new arts initiatives can be funded to level out the impact that the warehouses have on the visual environment. Having a mural festival for the city – partnerships with organizations that help individuals with disabilities place clients in artistic internships with local arts organizations. Development of an arts district in Perris and Moreno Valley so that artists have the opportunity to collaborate which will also provide a location for regular arts and cultural events. Another idea was to consider existing festivals that happen locally to create events in tandem, showcasing the arts in the city that the event is taking place at. For example, Desert Days takes place at Lake Perris and both Moreno Valley and Perris could collaborate for events during that weekend.

Banning – Dorothy Ramon Learning Center

The Banning Listening Session took place on February 25th at the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center from 12-3 pm. Although the weather affected the attendance of the session, many community members still attended including a few artists showcasing their artwork. In the conversation, the issues that arose were a disconnect in the community as well as a lack of a central arts hub that focuses on developing a collaborative arts community and a general lack of resources. Another issue was information access in regard to knowing where to find information on how to apply for grants or how to access technical assistance. There is also a lack of follow through on initiatives within the city such as with the creation of a program that provides housing for the homeless. The program was started but more work needs to be done but upkeep on the project is lacking. There is also a need for more public art in the community to inspire pride of place. The highway has also bypassed the community, and with too many liquor stores and tattoo shops, restrictions on how many antique stores allowed in the community, and many empty buildings there is not enough reason for people to visit the city. Some of the ideas that were brainstormed was the creation of an arts district as well as collaboration between the local businesses to showcase artists work in their facilities such as an existing coffee shop that exhibits local artists work in their establishment. Another idea was to create a more walkable historic downtown area by slowing down traffic and bringing in more small businesses and arts-based establishments. A possibility of achieving this would be to utilize empty storefronts or buildings for art galleries or artist studios. Another idea would be to establish and maintain a regular cultural arts festival.

Jurupa Valley – Glen Avon Public Library

The Jurupa Valley Listening Session took place on February 22nd at the Glen Avon Public Library from 6-8pm. There were artists on site showcasing their work as well as participating in the conversation. The core issues brought up through this session were a disconnect in the community, lack of central art hub for collaboration and a lack of public art. Gentrification is another concern based on the community’s equestrian lifestyle. The increase in new warehouses was also a concern in the community based on environmental and visual pollution of the landscape. Another environmental concern is the over usage of water. Another core issue is information access based on language barriers as well as knowing where and how to find information. Some of the ideas that were brought up in regard to these issues were the development of a community center for locals to ride on horseback to and promote community engagement. The creation of more public art and a space for artists to utilize as studio space, to collaborate with each other and showcase their artwork would help to unite the local arts community. The idea of a marketing campaign was also mentioned which would utilize artwork to create a series of posters that raise awareness for environmental issues including water usage and educate the community on how to conserve and protect the environment.


The environmental condition of Blythe is neglected, resulting in a negative perception of its citizens in the community. This negative view encourages poor public health as well as discourages the drive to improve social justice.” This was just one of the views expressed by Blythe residents during the Creative Corps Inland SoCal Listening Session moderated by California Desert Arts Council’s Executive Director, Kristen Dolan. Community members discussed dreams of a beautiful arts district, building clean up in the downtown area, environmental issues being addressed, and the love they all have for their small town. Residents discussed that one of the highlights of their town is the comradery amongst neighbors and friends but that the lack of resources (both monetary and physical) make it hard for their town to thrive. During the session it became evident that they have a plethora of ideas of how to make their town better, but they just need access to the resources that could make it happen.

Desert Hot Springs Library & City Hall

In the city of Desert Hot Springs, Executive Director of the California Desert Arts Council, Kristen Dolan, attended two town halls that were already on the books to discuss redesigning the downtown district and a conversation on how to help the unhoused. From both of those sessions it was evident that the residents are passionate about their city and making it a comfortable, vibrant, art centered space for all to enjoy. Of the four issues, all seemed to be pressing for the City of Desert Hot Springs. A discussion thread that carried through both the pre-planned town halls, and the more formal Creative Corps Inland SoCal (CCIS) Listening Session, was that there have been a lot of promises made to DHS residents in the past and lots of meetings held with regard to changes in the community, but not a lot of follow through. Lack of knowledge on grant writing and accessibility was also touched on during the CCIS centered discussions. One resident noted that they’re disappointed that discussions up to this point have not led to any viable solutions for the community. The participants discussed lack of art, lack of desert resources, fear around city officials and residents addressing social justice issues, and as well as fears around creating equitable programming for residents, or even discussions of it. All participants agreed that it will take community involvement and push for follow through to see changes enacted in their city.

Coachella Library

California Desert Arts Council held a listening session at the Coachella Library in February to discuss the Creative Corps Inland SoCal grant. Residents of Coachella were happy to sit down and talk about what more can happen in their community and for their neighbors. Residents discussed feeling left out when it comes to resources and opportunities reaching their city. Community members from Thermal and the Salton Sea were also present. Their perspectives centered around lack of clean water for many residents due to contamination issues. Both physical and mental health issues are pressing for residents of all eastern valley cities, though no issue truly rose above another. Residents of the eastern Coachella Valley need help with public health, environmental issues (especially the Salton Sea), community/voter engagement, and social justice. One resident stated, “Improvements could be made in all 4 of these issues. I feel very passionately about implementing more resources, materials, and education to ensure our community continues to move in the right direction.”