By Jacob Quezada
Adapting to COVID-19 restrictions proved difficult for downtown Riverside’s art scene, but recovery for these small, local businesses is on the horizon.
Chelsea Franzer and Chris Perez, art enthusiasts and owners of The Paint Sesh, see this hope rising as pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Known for their inclusiveness and judge-free attitude, the couple have found an appreciative community of patrons curious to attend the “Paint and Sip” and “Paint and Puff” events throughout Southern California. Before the pandemic, those wishing to learn how to paint would gather for artistic instruction accompanied by a drink or a “sesh.”
But due to COVID-19 restrictions during the past year, the duo heavy-heartedly canceled all public events and with it, the revenue to stay afloat.
“When (COVID-19), hit we took a month hiatus and didn’t really know how to proceed,” Franzer said. “Canceling all those events hurt. It hurt really bad.”
Then came the difficult conversations with customers.
“We were upfront and honest in telling people who bought tickets we weren’t sure when we would be back in person and offered full refunds or credit,” she said.
However, the duo said a lot of people told them ‘no, you guys keep it.’
“This is a hard year for you,” the understanding customers told the couple. “We’ll wait until we are able to paint again.’”
Their loyal “Paint Sesh Family,” as Franzer called it, stuck with them during their transition into virtual events.
Perez took up the task of converting their apartment into a functional streaming studio, rigged with multiple camera angles. Franzer credits Perez’s creativity in illustration, photography and web design as the tools necessary for expanding their reach. People tuned in from Japan to Ohio.
Their diversity in virtual attendees was duplicated during their first in-person “Paint and Sip” event since the pandemic hit, which was hosted by The W at Worthington’s restaurant in Riverside on April 21.
Edgar Orozco, who was enjoying the night out with family, was among the pool of first-time attendees. As a downtown Riverside resident, he noted the increased presence of art in the area.
“I think it’s really good that Riverside has invested into the arts,” he said. “It’s made it more social for families.”
Lucia Orozco, the mother of the family, said she enjoyed the family’s first outing since the start of the pandemic and left the two-hour session feeling good with her Vincent van Gogh-inspired “Rubidoux Night” painting.
Teresa Keller, another attendee, returned to the Paint Sesh with her friend Joan Parish.
“We haven’t seen each other since the start of the pandemic,” Keller said.
Keller booked the event three weeks in advance and was excited to be back to paint in person alongside her friend.
“I’m not used to being tied in a house for a year,” Parish said. “I’m used to being out and being able to socialize with my friends. Painting has helped. If you’re stressed, if there is something going on, it’s therapeutic.”
Franzer and Perez said they don’t intend to stop virtual sessions and that it is important to keep the connectivity with their base.
“Without our community we built online, we probably wouldn’t even be here today in person,” Franzer said. “We survived as a business and it only made us stronger.”