Through her love and appreciation for people, art and community, local artist Keely Berry turned her passions into a career through freelance painting, creating and coordinating spaces and events for people and artists to connect and gather together.
Berry grew up in Riverside, surrounded by a lot of small businesses. She started her artistic career as a hobby when she was young. Once she decided she wanted to pursue art, her parents encouraged her dream. Berry got her first look at artists making a living out of their passions when her mother started a consignment shop in downtown Riverside called The Weathered Feather.
“It wasn’t necessarily the art vibe that I enjoy,” Berry said. “But it was a lot of people who make stuff with their hands and do crafty things and that was the first time I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool I didn’t know people could make money with art.’”
In high school, Berry was pushed towards the classic route of going to college and getting a degree. She wanted to take a gap year and pursue her true passion for art, but she was discouraged from doing so by school staff and her peers. She attended Riverside Community College and studied psychology, which she enjoyed, but she knew it was not what she wanted to do as a career.
She started looking into the Riverside art community and people who have made a career out of their artistry, such as Alexis Andra and Geoff Gouveia. She left RCC after a year and started an internship with The Shift Creative, a backdrop and stage design studio in Riverside created by California Baptist University alumnus Alexis Andra.
Berry then got a job at the Orange County Fair as an artist, which was the first time she put her own creative work out there and transitioned from a hobby to a career. Through this job she met more young creatives who were turning their passions into careers, and she drew excitement, inspiration and confidence for her own work through them.
Berry focuses her artistic expression on areas that create a safe space for connecting and building community.
“I really like painting and I really like people,” Berry said. “Getting around creative people is what motivated me to paint more and what helped me grow as an artist. …I think it’s great when people come together and connect in a space because I think people exist to be together, so my art is really motivated by bringing people together. I like to create in spaces where I think people will be gathering or where the community is valued.”
Berry has had the opportunity to paint different murals around Riverside that are designed to build community and safe spaces. She was able to create a series of temporary murals in solidarity with the Black community during Black History Month after the recent events of George Floyd’s death and the 2020 protests. She also painted a mural for Condron Brothers Coffee near CBU.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, events such as the Riverside Art Walk and Market Nights were shut down. Coming from this place of appreciation for creative spaces where artists can come and connect, she decided to create her own event collective to connect with artists and get local artists’ work in front of people.
So she started Created to Connect, which held its first pop-up on Jan. 29 at The Shift Creative warehouse.
“I just thought there needed to be more spaces for people to go and know that they are going to see and connect with other creative people and feel encouraged,” Berry said. “I wanted to do something within my abilities that can bring people together. I want this collective to give other artists a platform to grow and connect because I want that to be a part of my career as an artist.”
Leti Bernard, CBU and a close friend of Berry’s, said she admires how Berry has been able to connect her values and passions with what she does.
“I admire Keely’s desire to connect with others,” Bernard said. “Whether that’s through her art or just how she relates to people. Keely deeply values people and community, and it’s so cool to see how she has blended that within her art.”
The first Created to Connect event featured different artists in the Riverside community with many individual forms of art. The event featured graphic designers, thrift and print designers, a nurse and artist who focuses her brand on mental health, a plant peddler, a jewelry and stage designer, a watercolor artist and tapestry designer, a florist, a musician who performed live music and a small coffee truck business, Mantle Coffee Company, that sold coffee at the event. The event had limited capacity, practiced social distancing, mask-wearing and temperature checks.
Berry is planning another Created to Connect event scheduled for the fall that will be hosted outside of Condron Brothers Coffee. She will be holding a call to artists within the next month.
Those interested in being a part of one of these events, or to connect with Berry and see her past work, you can view her work and contact her through her Instagram account @keelyberryart.