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Over the past year and a half, it has been my privilege to visit, learn about and write about a number of nonprofit organizations in the Coachella Valley dedicated to the arts.

Someone once said that life without art is like food without salt. From Palm Springs to Coachella to the high desert towns of Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree, these organizations provide safe places filled with beauty, hope, joy and inspiration to thousands of people. They enrich our communities and create a fertile nest from which fledgling artists can take their first flight.

While some of the people involved in these organizations are wealthy, most are not. Who are the donors that help provide the funds for the facilities, the teachers and the supplies? One name kept coming up during my visits. It was hard for me to miss, because we share the same name, but there is no relation: The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation of Palm Desert.

H.N. and Frances first met in Santa Barbara. “Fran” was a school teacher, and “Nor” was an accountant. They shared a positive outlook on life and the uncanny ability to turn dreams into reality.

They married in 1925. They borrowed money from a friend and took out a loan to build their first house together. The experience changed their lives: They quickly built a real estate and development company that eventually spanned Southern California. Their next success came in the banking industry, when they founded Prudential Savings and Loan. Nor died in 1988; Fran passed away in 1991.

The Bergers, despite their great wealth, never forgot where they came from. They believed that opportunity was for everyone—so they established the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, with the mission “to help people help themselves.”

Today, the foundation provides grants to charitable organizations throughout Southern California and the country, often in health care and education.

Catharine Reed is the program director of the Berger Foundation. She has been involved with the foundation since 2008 and has more than 20 years of experience with multi-million-dollar nonprofit foundations. She responded to my questions via email.

I’m aware of the recent Spotlight grant given to the CREATE Center for the Arts and your support of the Old Town Artisan Studios, as well as your sponsorship of the free Second Sundays at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Are there other art organizations in the valley that have received grants from you?

The Cabot’s Museum Foundation (free public arts programs); S.C.R.A.P. Gallery (the Student Creative Recycle Art Program); Tools for Tomorrow (after-school program that promotes arts education); Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert (overall programming, which includes hands-on arts opportunities); the Ophelia Project (a comprehensive enrichment curriculum that includes academic development and arts for personal growth of teen girls, at most middle schools in the valley); Boys and Girls Clubs—all clubs in the valley (programming includes arts); Family YMCA of the Desert (programming includes arts); Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council (programming includes arts); and All Desert Wellness Centers (a mental health center that includes art therapy).

The organizations were each funded through the Coachella Valley Spotlight grant program. The Coachella Valley Spotlight is a partnership between the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation and Gulf California Broadcasting (owners of KESQ News Channel 3 and five other broadcast properties). Nonprofit organizations are selected to receive a $25,000 grant from the Berger Foundation and media coverage during a designated month.

How does the Berger Foundation’s support of the arts tie into the mission “to help people help themselves”?

Some people may not have the ability to purchase supplies or to pay for admissions to museums, for example, but through grant-giving, we can make more of these things available to residents at little or no cost. This allows for an opportunity. It’s then up to an individual to use that opportunity to impact their own life.

What are the things you look for in an arts organization when you are deciding on grants?

No matter the type of services an organization is providing, the foundation board evaluates grant requests the same way. Primarily, we look to see if an organization is established. We don’t often fund startup organizations. It’s important to us that an organization is sustainable on its own for basic operating expenses and that it is offering programs that are serving many and impacting people’s lives. If the basic structure of an organization is in place, and we can enhance it or help the organization add a program to its existing ones, then the foundation board sees value in that.

We also invest in the people behind the organization. If the leaders of the organization have a track record of success, then we are more comfortable that the funds will be used responsibly. Grantees must report the outcome and impact of grant funding, and most grants are to be used within six months of receipt, so we expect an organization to show us fairly immediate results that they are making a difference in the community.

Were Mr. and Mrs. Berger interested in art themselves?

Mrs. Berger was a school teacher, so all aspects of education were important to her.

Your website states that donations to the foundation are not accepted. Is the Berger Foundation funded solely from the personal fortune of the Berger family?

The Berger Foundation was founded on the personal fortune of Mr. and Mrs. Berger, who made wise investments throughout their lifetimes. Since 1988, when Ron Auen became president of the board, the foundation has increased its value many times over through a diverse portfolio of thoughtful investments. Unlike other foundations, we have several working board members who are making investment decisions every day. That work means that the foundation is self-funded. A portion of the money made by the foundation is then distributed through grant-giving. By maintaining a solid investment portfolio, the foundation can continue to give. The foundation is responsible for its own financial health and its giving.

What would you like to see happen in the future with the arts organizations here?

For any healthy and growing community, it’s important for the arts to also grow and flourish. Having accessible arts programs available to all areas and economic sectors of the Coachella Valley is important to its overall vitality. When a lot of people are interested in the programs and services of an arts organization, then the significance and need is most clear.

What message would you like to convey to our readers about the Berger Foundation and its charitable support for those less fortunate in our communities?

The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation looks for nonprofit organizations that can build on the grant funding we can provide. We know there are many aspects to a healthy community, including health care and education, so we get tremendous satisfaction out of contributing to those building blocks that create a strong base in the area. Then, if we can enhance the community further through grants to arts, cultural, athletics and other elective activities, this creates a diverse community of people engaging in their interests, forming a healthy whole.

What also builds a strong community is each individual contributing whatever they can to continually improve the area where they live. Part of the goal of the foundation board is that by giving, others will be inspired to give and to give back. Nearly everyone can contribute in some way, whether it’s donating money or volunteering time. It all helps create a more vibrant community and helps those who are less fortunate.

For more information, visit hnberger.org.

Published in Visual Arts

About 18 months ago, I volunteered with the CREATE Center for the Arts for a week to see what it was all about.

The fledgling nonprofit was approaching its first anniversary in its inaugural home, subleasing space in a former thrift store on Highway 111 in Palm Desert. The members and students were still reeling from the sudden death of founding board member Susan Smith Evans; in fact, one of my first tasks was taking down memorial retrospective of Evans’ paintings.

Soon after, the company the CREATE Center was leasing space from closed—and the center was suddenly without a home. The future of the organization was unsure; funding and support were a constant source of anxiety.

Mumm—the center’s founder and director—announced CREATE was moving. She asked everyone involved with the center to bring their cars, trucks and dollies, because a lease for a space had been signed, and they had to move.

Mumm’s dedication to her mission—to enrich her community through the arts—coupled with her tenacity and her laser-focused vision of the future, pulled the young organization through the crisis. Today, the fruits of her labor, and that of other CREATE board members and volunteers, is evident. The transformation is astounding.

Mumm—a longtime leading figure in the local arts community, thanks to her Venus Studios Art Supply store and studio, which she closed to run CREATE—described some of the changes that have occurred since the move 18 months ago.

“We moved into a new space last January—we added more space. We now have dedicated studio spaces,” Mumm said. “There’s an art-supply store on location. We have a screen-printing studio dedicated to the memory of Susan Evans, and a printmaking studio that uses only nontoxic inks, which is unique to the valley. There’s a tech studio that is the only virtual-reality art studio in the area. You can draw or paint in virtual reality and even sculpt. You can then 3-D-print your sculpture.

“We’re developing a whole fiber program—knitting, weaving, spinning; we’re planning an exhibition for the fall. Our goal is to make tools and equipment accessible for a wide range of disciplines that might be too expensive or take up too much space for most people. We believe that sharing and collaboration bring positive results.

“Making art is a vulnerable act. Being in that state brings people together in a closer way.”

Mumm said CREATE’s expansion allows the organization to host events and private parties.

“We can do unique events that demonstrate virtual reality and 3-D printing. Groups can print T-shirts, tie-dye and engage in team-building. We can seat 80 people or do cocktails for up to 150. … And we’re just getting started.”

While the budget remains tight, CREATE’s revenues have doubled over the last year—and Mumm plans on doubling them again this year. Her long-term goal of a permanent home for the CREATE Center now seems within reach.

The center recently received a surprise spotlight grant of $10,000 from the Berger Foundation (no relation to me) to expand the summer children’s programs and do some renovations. Yet other future plans include adding woodworking and metal-crafts studios, and overhauling CREATE’s social-media program.

“We want to grow and evolve as an organization so that we can enrich and empower our community,” Mumm said.

Of course, Mumm is not alone; CREATE’s mission has been helped along by its new chief administrative officer, Robert Mann. Mann is a writer and former TV-commercial director who most recently was a healthcare administrator; he leads a coalition advocating for the support of those suffering from addiction and mental illness. He returned to the desert last April and offered to help CREATE with branding and strengthening its ties to the community. He also wants to create a filmmaking studio at the center, so he can share his passions for storytelling and bringing those stories to life through film.

Mumm’s two sons have also found a place in the organization. Brice Williamson runs the onsite Aquarius Art Supply Store. The shop specializes in art supplies not usually found in regular art-supply stores or big-box craft stores.

“We carry fine high-end art supplies but try to remain accessible for everyone,” he said. “There are less-expensive items for students—and we offer a discount to all students, either high school or college, and also have discounts for CREATE Center members.

“As much as possible, we carry American-made products. I think that’s important. We have watercolors from Daniel Smith in Seattle. Our oil paint comes from Gamblin in Oregon. Our Golden Acrylics come with a terrific online support system. Our canvases are all from American-grown cotton from a company called Fredrix.”

Brice Williamson compared creating art to creating a meal.

“I cook. That’s my creative outlet,” he said. “It’s hard to cook without the right ingredients. This may be a tiny space, but I can order nearly anything for our customers.”

Mumm’s other son, Brady Williamson, runs the tech studio. The 3-D printer is capable of printing objects up to the size of an average shoe box. He said all the materials used are plant-based and contain no harmful chemicals. Objects can be printed in any color, including wood tones, stone colorations or metal colorations. The settings are variable and require some learning and practice.

Brady Williamson also demonstrated the much-more-intuitive virtual-reality program. With the click of a button, you are transported out of the desert and into another realm—like floating in deep space, with planets, stars, galaxies and nebulas stretching endlessly in every direction. Then the real fun begins: With controls in both hands, you can select colors, brush strokes and special effects—to draw or paint your own universe. The results can be photographed or made into short videos; they can also be created on the 3-D printer.

CREATE has come an amazingly long way since its existence-jeopardizing upheaval a year and a half ago.

“We’re a young organization, and we started with nothing,” she said. Nothing, that is, except for a vision, persistence, a lot of hard work—and an overriding passion for art.

Create Center for the Arts is located at 73733 Fred Waring Drive, Suite 100, in Palm Desert. For more information, call 760-834-8318, or visit createcenterforthearts.org.

Published in Visual Arts

This year’s Art Palm Springs—the large annual art show that takes place at the Palm Springs Convention Center—kicks off with an Opening Night VIP Preview on Thursday, Feb. 14, and runs through the entirety of Presidents Day weekend

Perhaps the word “large” doesn’t do Art Palm Springs justice; the show is truly massive and has been growing every year since its inaugural year in 2012. Nearly 80 galleries, from all corners of the globe, will be showing postwar and contemporary art, representing thousands of artists. Some of the Coachella Valley’s premier galleries, not surprisingly, are taking part.

These types of mega-art events—this one is put on by Urban Expositions, which also produces shows in Aspen and Chicago—are a relatively new phenomenon that is changing the shape of the art world. They are as much about the experience as the art itself—and the art-loving public in our community resoundingly approves, with 15,000 attending last year’s event.

In addition to the show itself, there’s a wide-ranging series of talks and events presented by critics, curators, gallery owners, collectors and artists. All of this is specifically designed to make modern and contemporary art a more-interactive experience for the public.

Debra Ann Mumm, the founder and director of the nonprofit CREATE Center for the Arts in Palm Desert, said CREATE will again have a booth at this year’s Art Palm Springs.

“The more events, the better it is overall for our community,” Mumm said. “This event is definitely an experience. It’s cool, and you can see so many different things from so many different places. As a contemporary artist myself, I think it’s worth taking a look. … As a nonprofit, it is a great opportunity to meet people interested in the arts. We’re always looking to pick up new members and donors. It gives us more visibility. We’ll also be doing silk-screen printing on tote bags and T-shirts in our booth throughout the event.”

I attended last year’s opening-night reception; it was my first experience with this type of show, and it was something I won’t forget. It was a heady mix of art, personalities, dress-up glamour and conversation, all with a friendly, open atmosphere.

Some changes have been made for this year’s event, including a new entrance to better accommodate the crowds and shorten the wait times to enter, and improved food and beverage service (which was my only complaint about last year’s event).

The Palm Springs Art Museum will be the beneficiary of this year’s VIP Reception. The 2019 Patron of the Year is Marilyn Pearl Loesberg; she has served for 10 years on the board of the Palm Springs Art Museum and is the chair of the Collections Committee.

Leah Steinhardt, Art Palm Springs’ group show director, answered a few questions about the event.

These types of mega-art events are a relatively new phenomenon, gaining popularity in the last decade. How do you think they are changing the landscape of the art world for artists, galleries and collectors?

The fairs are indeed changing the landscape of the art world, in that it is a different platform for galleries to exhibit art. Our goal is to create an environment where collectors and art enthusiasts can view art in a concentrated space.

Could you offer some insight into how you put one of these shows together?

We plan all year long for our shows, so there is very little downtime. As soon as one of our fairs is over, we are polling our exhibitors and attendees for their feedback. We then analyze those results and create a strategy for the next year’s show. From there, it’s a year-long process leading up to the fair. There are site visits, partner meetings and tons of outreach that happen on a consistent basis in addition to participating in all of the other essential art events throughout the year.

What is the impact of these events on the local communities that host them?

We work closely within each of the local communities, and our goal is to hopefully give platforms to the local art resources. For example, in Palm Springs, our opening-night beneficiary is the Palm Springs Art Museum, while in Chicago, we worked with ChiArts (Chicago High School for the Arts). We spend a lot of time building local relationships, because it’s important for us to have the community’s support as well as for us to support them in return. This past summer in Aspen, there were horrible forest fires. We worked with The Art Base to not only highlight their contribution to the art community in Aspen, but also create installations to thank the firefighters for all their efforts. We also invited local kids to create images that were installed in the entrance of the fair.

I attended last year’s Art Palm Springs opening. I found the opening-night crowd, participants and event itself to be as interesting as the art on display. Could you speak to the concept of art as an experience to be enjoyed as opposed to something that is simply viewed or collected?

We want our fairs to create an experience of discovery, whether it’s for an established art collector or a new enthusiast. Our goal is to create spaces where people can enjoy art and feel comfortable speaking to galleries and artists.

Art opens up a dialogue, and that is a goal at all of our fairs. Many of our galleries bring their artists, and collectors can have intimate conversations with artists that they might never have a chance to meet. In addition to the art, it’s important for us to create an environment where people want to spend their time.

Art Palm Springs takes place Thursday, Feb. 14, through Monday, Feb. 18, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, in Palm Springs. Single-day admission is $25; VIP tickets, which include the Thursday night VIP reception and are good for admission throughout the festival, are $100. For tickets or more information, call 800-563-7632, or visit www.art-palmsprings.com.

Published in Visual Arts

Several monthly art walks take place in the Coachella Valley. They’re pleasant ways to spend cool (or perhaps not-so-cool) desert evenings.

The galleries involved all put on their best faces, and many of them schedule new exhibits to coincide with the events. You can wander at your own pace; talk with artists; and get a feeling for what is happening in our community. You’ll probably be offered light snacks and a glass of wine—and there’s often a performance thrown in as well.

I recently had the opportunity to attend two of them: One in Palm Springs, and the other in Cathedral City.

The Backstreet Art District in Palm Springs hosts its event on the first Wednesday of the month from 5 to 8 p.m. It’s located on Cherokee Way, discreetly hidden behind the Mercedes-Benz dealership off Highway 111. If you haven’t been before, you’ll feel a little bit like an explorer once you find it. It’s a collection of individual galleries and artist studios housed in a compact strip mall. There isn’t much else around, and it’s not visible from the highway.

I arrived just after sunset and found small groups of people wandering in and out of brightly lit storefront galleries. My first stop was Tom Ross Gallery, which features the exquisite abstracts of the artist Rosenberg (aka Ross). He uses a technique of back-painting on acrylic panels to create shimmering lace-like panels in metallic colors. The works have real depth to them because of the technique—and the finished pieces are often a surprise to the artist himself. He describes the paintings as “meditations.”

Around the corner is Galleria Marconi. I spoke with artist Marconi Calindas about his work. He’s originally from the Philippines and divides his time between San Francisco and Palm Springs. His paintings are brightly colored graphics reminiscent of early pop art. At one of his exhibits, he said, he was asked if he’d ever looked at the paintings through 3-D glasses. He was offered a pair—and was surprised to discover his paintings jump into three dimensions. Be sure to witness the transformation for yourself.

Poldi owner Julianna Poldi is a teacher at the Desert Art Center. The exhibit I saw featured her work and that of her students. I was impressed with the quality of her students’ work; I would have never guessed it was a student art exhibit.

At Maxson Art, Greg and Linda Maxson offer a delightful mixture of their own work and pieces by artists they represent. Linda does hand-painted ceramic tiles and paintings. She’s working on a new series that incorporates burlap fabric attached to the canvas, which is then over-painted to create subtle abstracts. Greg makes beautifully crafted wooden boxes that are also musical instruments. There’s a collection of stained-glass kaleidoscopes from another artist that is sure to inspire oohs and aahs with the glittery displays. I was also treated to a performance preview of storytelling by Los Angeles performer Larry Dean Harris.

The highlight of the evening was the exhibit at Stephen Baumbach Photography Studio and Gallery. It’s the first comprehensive show for artist Rebecca Dant. Rebecca teaches printmaking at the Create Center for the Arts; I met her during my volunteer work there. In the show, she presents not only her recent prints, but also paintings and tie-dye art that has not been previously shown. The paintings are a knock out; I could easily live with one or two of them. The abstracts contain multiple references to Miro and to Matisse’s cut-out period. It’s a rare opportunity to see stunning work.

For more information, visit www.backstreetartdistrict.com.


The Second Saturday Art Walk on Perez Road in Cathedral City has a decidedly different flavor. The industrial-retail complex setting is much more urban and gritty—but certainly just as interesting. This art walk is scheduled every second Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m.

Several businesses near the galleries are open for the event as well. A couple of midcentury furniture stores are on hand, and if you enjoy rummaging around estate sales (like I do), Mel’s Estate Sale is fantastic. The owner, Malina, will delight you with tidbits of wisdom and humor as you rummage through her incredible collection of just about everything.

Custom metal artist Jeffrey Spakes works in hand-ground aluminum; his space is a combination gallery and studio. The wall pieces have color applied at high temperatures that makes the works appear to change as you move in front of them. He also created the palm tree for the Cathedral City New Year’s Eve ball drop. The palm tree is now being repurposed into a fantastical giant statue of the Tin Man in the back of his studio.

If you’re looking for sculpture or ceramic art, Trenz Gallery is a great destination. The all-white space is a perfect setting for brilliantly colored glass, ceramic and metal sculptures. There are some exceptional paintings, too. It’s all about color in this jewel box of a gallery.

Irreverence in Art: The World of Robyn Goudy occupies the front space in the Colliding Worlds Fine Art Gallery. The dense collages immediately reminded me of outsider and tramp art; they are witty and irreverent. The artist himself is both of those things as well. I asked him where it came from. “It comes from my attitude,” he replied. Well, as they say, attitude is everything.

For more information, visit www.discovercathedralcity.com/event/2nd-saturdays-art-walk-perez-road-2017-10-14/2018-04-14/.

Published in Visual Arts

Times are tough for community-oriented arts programs.

Despite record-setting prices for art at auctions, funding for public art and education is evaporating—or has already dried up. School districts have decreased course offerings in art, music and the humanities. As a result, to some art-lovers, the future appears bleak.

Enter the CREATE Center for the Arts. A year ago, the center opened its doors in a converted thrift store on Highway 111 in Palm Desert, and the 12 months since have been marked by accomplishment, tragedy and a dogged determination to survive.

The CREATE Center’s mission statement, “to create community enrichment through the arts,” is epitomized by founder and director Debra Ann Mumm. I’m a relative newcomer to the valley arts world, and as I’ve talked to local gallery owners, artists and museum representatives, one name kept coming up: I was told, “You have to meet Debra.”

I wanted to learn more about the CREATE Center and the woman who is the driving force behind it. I decided to volunteer there for a week and see what was going on for myself.

When I met Mumm, I was immediately swept up in her enthusiasm. She has big plans—really big plans: She envisions a multistory building serving the needs of artists, performers and designers by providing education, studio space, exhibitions and event space—available to everyone in the Coachella Valley.

“I want to make something that lasts—a permanent art center, something that increases accessibility,” she said.

Mumm described herself as a creative child. She majored in film and theater. Her first job was delivering blueprints—although the company also sold some art supplies. Later, a course at College of the Desert and interactions with local artists convinced her there was a need for a local art-supply store. She opened Venus Art Supply in Palm Desert, and started some art classes as a way to sell more paint. That led to sponsoring struggling artists and providing low-cost studio space. She’s received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to the arts community over the past 25 years, and the CREATE Center is the culmination of her history and core belief that art changes lives.

The center provides workshops and weekly classes. Low-cost studio space and equipment is available. Local artists can exhibit their work in both juried and non-juried gallery shows. Free and low-cost youth programs offer art education for kids 5 years old and up.

In its first year, the CREATE Center has made a big impression—but along with the recognition has come heartache.

On my first day of volunteering, I was asked to take down the memorial exhibition of works by Susan Smith Evans, and wrap the works for storage. Susan was a popular teacher at the College of the Desert, and a prolific painter and printmaker; she was also one of the founding board members of the CREATE Center. She was killed last March in an accident at her home, within months of the center’s opening.

Her husband, Ron Evans, a ceramics teacher at College of the Desert, asked the CREATE Center to be the permanent home for his wife’s art. He died on Nov. 30.

I talked with Michele Ohanesian, an instructor at the center, about the highs and lows of the first year. Susan Smith Evans was her first art teacher in college, and Ohanesian said Smith Evans was her inspiration to become a professional artist. As for the highlights, Ohanesian said the center’s energy—including people just walking in the door to ask what was going on—was the best thing about the it.

Things happen quickly at the center—and change is constant. Two days after my last volunteer shift, I had this story all planned out when I got a text from Debra Ann Mumm: “We’re moving tomorrow.”

A new space had become available. It was less expensive—a critical consideration for a fledgling nonprofit. It also allowed the center to move its private studios into the same location as the classes and exhibitions. This, too, saved money, and would benefit both the professional artists and the students by having them in the same space.

Mumm had big plans for the space, she said. Her enthusiasm caught me. I returned the next afternoon to help pack for a couple hours.

The CREATE Center for the Arts is located at 73733 Fred Waring Drive, No. 106, in Palm Desert. The center will hold a first-anniversary celebration from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 13. For more information, call 760-834-8318, or visit www.createcenterforthearts.com.

Published in Visual Arts