S. E. Williams
The artistic portraits of small business owners, part of the “Merchants of Riverside” collection by celebrated fine art photographers Benoit and Kathy Malphettes, will soon be on display at Riverside’s City Hall. The Malphettes’ collection will be featured in the lobby and on the third floor in the city’s “One Stop Shop.”
The city’s “One Stop Shop” (OSS) opened last May, and brought together all city departments that are part of the development process. The OSS offers exclusive use of an express elevator, cell phone charging stations and a concierge-type system that helps customers obtain permits and approvals faster than ever. And, in support and alignment with the city’s theme of Art & Innovation, the OSS also boasts a wall reserved for the exhibition of fine art.
About 50,000 customers pass-through the OSS each year, said Raphael Guzman, Riverside’s Community and Economic Development Director. Since its opening, selected artists have been invited to exhibit their work in this innovative space. The upcoming Malphettes’ exhibit represents only the third time the OSS has extended this special invitation.
The title of the collection, ‘Merchants of Riverside’ and what the pictures depict, “is a fantastic representation of what takes place on the 3rd floor,” Guzman stressed. “The OSS is a permitting center and the Malphettes’ exhibit highlights the work of Riverside merchants. Since Riverside is the City of Arts & Innovation,” he proclaimed. “I see the exhibit as a great fusion of the two.”
Benoit shared his feelings about the history of the collection and the opportunity to exhibit it at City Hall. “In 2015, The Voice contacted Kathy and me and asked us if we would be interested in portraying Riverside small businesses to celebrate the National Small Business Week, to be exhibited at the Riverside Art Museum.”
According to Benoit, it was a pro-bono project with full conceptual freedom. “We took this offer as a great way to give something back to a community that’s been very good to us, beyond any of our expectations.”
While working on the portraits, they quickly discovered the creativity and determination the entrepreneurs showed in their daily challenges. “To illustrate this,” Benoit stressed, “we challenged ourselves to go beyond simply posing shop owners in their businesses.” He described their work on the project as being like telling a story. Through the process, they gained even greater respect for the Riverside community.
The ‘Merchants of Riverside’ exhibit is composed of artistic portraits of Riverside’s unique and diverse small business owners. Some of the merchants featured have been in business for more than fifty years while others were just getting started. All of them chose to make Riverside their home and contribute to making the city a great place to live.
In 2017, Guzman contacted the Malphettes to exhibit the large size photographs in Riverside City Hall. “This was an exciting new development as it creates for Kathy and me an even deeper connection with the community,” Benoit said. “It will create a very positive and welcoming energy for the visitors who come to the 3rd floor of City Hall for permits and information.”
About 65 percent of all visitors to City Hall go to the third floor. Guzman described it as “a place of exchange and commerce.” All of the investment dollars in the City of Riverside go through the OSS.
“Benoit is such a talented artist. We had identified him as someone we wanted as part of our shop,” Guzman said and added how it wasn’t until they talked to the Malphettes, they learned of the ‘Merchants of Riverside’ collection.
In addition to the encouragement the Malphettes have received from Guzman in regard to the upcoming exhibit, they also acknowledged the support of Margie Haupt, Arts & Cultural Affairs Manager for the City who according to Benoit was so enthusiastic about the project, “she allocated even more space for the exhibit than was originally planned.”
The exhibit will open for viewing the week of March 4.