Riverside is the "City of Art and Innovation,” and Juan Navarro, founder of the Eastside Arthouse and artist-in-residence at the Riverside Art Museum, is making sure that remains true for the sake of current and future artists in the area.
Juan founded the Eastside Arthouse in Eastside Riverside in 2021 as a studio space for local artists from all over the Inland Empire to work on their craft, receive feedback from other artists and cultivate a more unified community of artists in the city. Juan is also passionate about teaching local artists how to build a business and make a living with their craft.
Some may believe that Juan has, in essence, built a business that creates his own competition — as he cultivates and helps develop other great artists around him — but he doesn’t quite see it that way. In his mind, it’s not about him — it’s about the community of Riverside. It’s about an artist graduating with an art degree and choosing to stay in Riverside instead of moving to Los Angeles because there is a community and a market to plug into here.
“My philosophy is there is room for everyone because people connect with different people. Every artist is different, and people’s tastes vary. I’m happy to uplift our studio members and our community. When you get more artists working and making a full-time living on their craft, then you can create a thriving art market and art scene that is big enough for everyone,” explained Juan.
There are already many artists at the Eastside Arthouse who are finding an audience for their work. “We have artists being collected at The Cheech [Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture] right now,” Juan said. “Others are being commissioned for murals and having art shows.”
Juan knows how difficult it can be to survive as an artist. He started his art career from nothing and has had to live off credit cards at times. But even before that, he gave most of his art away or reinvested his profits into giving back to the community.
Juan is a first-generation American. He grew up moving between Eastside Riverside and downtown Riverside, jumping around from school to school, before landing at Riverside Community College. Wanting to become a social worker, he studied human behavior and film.
While in college, however, one of Juan’s mentors encouraged him to pursue his creative talents instead of social work. Although he did street art in high school and enjoyed film, he never thought of himself as an artist. “Being raised as Chicano, we can’t imagine ourselves being part of a museum or being a full-time artist,” he explained. “But we could do graffiti because it was free art in public and it’s what we enjoyed and were inspired by. I’d go out with my brother, but I was also a scholar and in honors classes, so I didn’t fully commit to a vandalism lifestyle.”
Deciding to pursue his creative talents after college in 2014, Juan discovered a streaming app called Periscope, where he created a live stream channel, vlogging a bit of his artistic journey. He’d record himself doing graffiti lettering and quickly built an audience. He drew “Luvmonsterz,” a character he loved to draw growing up, and used the things he learned with his behavioral health degree to share positive thoughts, self-talk and bits of wisdom.
Before he knew it, he began receiving fan mail and the audience he built began purchasing art supplies for him to use in creating new pieces. “This online community backed me up and invested in me. They said they loved the joy I brought them with my channel and were excited to watch me grow creatively,” said Juan.
It was through this online community that Juan got his first commission job — a mural deal in Oxnard, CA. Within a year, he was making good money creating murals and paintings across California and was being invited to speak at conferences for the Periscope app. However, everything he made through the app he’d donate to different community organizations.
“I wanted to be a social worker, so I really enjoyed giving back. I knew I would never be rich enough to be as philanthropic as I could at that moment, not having any debt, no car, no bills and living with my parents, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity I had to fundraise online, give paintings away, do all night painting fundraisers, etc. And people loved it. That was the whole point of Luvmonsterz,” Juan explained.
When Juan was invited to a charity event in Oakland to do some pieces with other street artists from around the world in a “Meeting of Styles,” he had an epiphany. “I realized that although I was known online, I wasn’t known in my hometown. And if I wasn’t even known in my own community, how could I reach and impact the world?” he said.
So, Juan turned off the computer and put all his focus into reaching his community. He volunteered with the Riverside Community Health Foundation, which was revitalizing a few of Eastside Riverside alleyways with murals and was soon being commissioned by the community for other projects. After using up their budget, they put the word out to other organizations looking to support an artist, and that’s when the Riverside Museum of Art reached out.
Juan has been the artist-in-residence at the Riverside Art Museum for the past four years in a row, working on projects funded by both nonprofit and commercial businesses such as the National Endowment of the Arts, California Arts Council, Riverside Community Health Foundation, U.S. Bank, Verizon, Macy’s, Altura and the city of Riverside.
He and his wife just had their first child, and with the launch of Eastside Arthouse, he is super excited for what the future holds for his family and career as well as the entire art community of Riverside.