Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

In the arts world, Debra Ann Mumm—president and founder of the family-owned business Venus Studios Art Supply, in Palm Desert—is an oxymoron.

She’s a successful artist. And she’s a successful entrepreneur.

In the industry, many art galleries and supply shops close within months of opening. However, Venus Studios is celebrating its fifth anniversary with an art expo in January—and the business has not stagnated; in fact, it has expanded. Venus’ expansion about three years ago led to a significantly larger gallery space, an increased number and variety of courses, private areas individual artists can rent, and an art-supply store that carries the latest materials and is the only store in the desert where some products can be purchased.

Unfortunately, artistic purists and entrepreneurial purists alike bash Mumm. The artistic purists claim that Mumm sold out and is now a lesser artist. The entrepreneurs impugn her efforts because she lacks the singular focus demonstrated by the best entrepreneurs. In other words, Venus Studios has too many individual and seemingly separate initiatives.

Mumm laughs at both groups. She would tell, quite bluntly, the entrepreneur complainers that their criticisms are without merit. For example, Mumm sees Venus Studios’ public-murals wing, PLANet Art, as offering practical solutions to big-picture issues. The artist asserts that murals and other large-scale works foster communication and build bridges that are not possible with traditional written and spoken language.

Whether or not explicitly articulated by Mumm, her and her studio’s socially responsive initiatives are based upon three powerful business models and theories: “synergy,” as discussed by systems theorists; “collective unconscious,” or images, concepts and beliefs that are contained within every culture; and the fundamental gestalt psychology principle, “The sum is greater than each of the parts.”

Mumm says she’s a “lifetime doodler” who has always made art. Before founding Venus Studios, her professional title was “trained materials specialist”: She explored the surface and subsurface interactions (chemical and structural) between specific acrylics and non-acrylic surfaces.

Over the past few years, Mumm’s artistic vision, like her business, has increased in scale. She’s moved from small-scale canvases and paintings on found objects to larger works with defined presences.

“Inner Dimension” is a dreamy piece. By connecting the organic with potentially hard-edge geometric forms, and by using light-to-medium blues and greys on a highly textured object—a wood plank, probably a found object—Mumm produces a clearly 21st-century piece with a 1950s retro sensibility. Both the palette and organic forms are vintage 1950s, while the easily missed purplish-blue grid floating in and out of the other objects and shapes moves the work forward some 50 years. “Inner Dimension” could be hung over a sofa and not be called “sofa” art: Each visit to the piece reveals something different and fresh.

The otherworldly qualities of “Just Beyond” (above right) make it hard to find a frame of reference in the visual-arts arena. Some elements seen reminiscent of the transcendental movement; however, Mumm’s harsh backlighting makes the piece’s inclusion in a modern offshoot or reinterpretation of the works of the transcendental painters of the 19th-century Hudson River School impossible. The otherworldly qualities seem better-suited to the transcendental school that came from New Mexico’s early modernists.

The best fit, however, is probably not the visual arts, but contemporary Gothic and horror literature. On some level, Mumm—a voracious reader who in December rolled out a new blog—may in some way be channeling contemporary novelists, like Stephen King, in a visual format.

Two icons of American innovation and business meet with Mumm’s “Smith and Wesson Meets Westinghouse.” However, the meeting is not pleasant. The front door of an old Westinghouse refrigerator hangs on the wall. By highlighting and exaggerating the discolorations, dings and dents, Mumm makes it easier to recognize the obvious. The emotional impact of the piece becomes evident once the perforations are recognized as multiple bullet holes, quite possibly caused by a Smith and Wesson gun.

In contrast, a childlike sensibility of freedom and hope is present in “Taste the Rainbow” (below). Created from an old, partially broken wood pallet, the wood’s textures remain; however, they support and do not conflict with the overall composition. In lieu of removing or repairing the broken slats, Mumm reinterprets them. Ultimately, they add an almost sculptural quality, especially when they are a foil to the shadows they create.

Going forward, Mumm sees herself doing more writing as she continues to paint with found objects as her primary canvases. Meanwhile PLANet Art continues to thrive as she talks with other desert businesses and cities about murals and other large-scale projects. For example, she recently worked with the Westfield Mall on a mural project.

Venus Studios Art Supply is located at 41801 Corporate Way, No. 7 and 8, in Palm Desert. The shop and gallery are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday. For more information, call 760-340-5085, or visit

Published in Visual Arts

It’s official: Authorized murals will be coming to the city of Palm Springs.

After months of controversy—starting with the painting of a provocative mural at Bar on Palm Canyon Drive, and going through the police-led shutdown of the PLANet Art mural project last month—the Palm Springs City Council voted 3-1 to enact a mural-approval process.

Paul Lewin cast the only opposing vote, citing concerns that the new policy was not restricted enough. (Councilmember Ginny Foat was absent from the capacity-crowd meeting.)

The ordinance states that any mural plans must go through a multi-step process, and get approval from bodies including the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission and, ultimately, the Palm Springs City Council. Existing murals, such as the one at Bar, are not grandfathered in, and must get approval. The ordinance had fairly widespread support, including the endorsement of the Main Street Palm Springs merchants association.

The first public speaker at the meeting was Kim Funkey. Her family owns the Smoketree Supper Club, Giuseppe’s and Bar in Palm Springs. It was the mural at Bar, painted in November by Fin DAC and Angelina Christina, that sparked the mural debate in Palm Springs.

“I’ve seen my hometown evolve over the years,” Funkey told the City Council, “from a city of empty streets and vacant storefronts, to a place that’s vibrant and bustling with economic activity. Palm Springs is in the midst of a commercial and cultural renaissance that my family is very proud to be a part of. (Our) mural at Bar has drawn accolades from international media such as USA Today, as well as local residents and visitors from around the world.”

Funkey said the city’s cultural renaissance is being noticed by a wide variety of people.

“(This is) a place many of my childhood classmates fled from, but because of this activity, several have returned and are now proud to call Palm Springs their home.”

Following Funkey was Angela Romeo, of the City of Palm Springs Public Arts Commission. She spoke passionately about terms such as “signage” and “art.”

“What’s interesting about this ordinance is that it’s very comprehensive in that it does distinguish between signage and art, which the city was lacking,” Romeo said. “What we need to understand is that murals are not alien; they’re not a crime against humanity. It’s just we had no permission for them. A vibrant art community is great for economic development. If you want to bring tourists here, you have to give them something to look at.”

When it came time for the council to discuss the issue, member Rick Hutcheson declared support for the ordinance.

“I think it has a place in our city. I think this is a careful process, and it’s been recommended by a good friend of mine who used to be part of the mural organization for Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s great to have a process for this, and I think this a good step forward,” Hutcheson said.

Councilmember Chris Mills raised questions about some of the language in the ordinance—specifically, a rule limiting murals to being 35 feet tall. He wondered, for example, if an artist could paint only 35 feet of a wall if it was taller than that. The size limit was removed from the ordinance at his request.

Councilmember Paul Lewin unsuccessfully proposed limiting the amount of murals visible along Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive to five, with an additional five allowed elsewhere in the city. He also proposed, again unsuccessfully, painting the murals on a surface that could be detached or removed by property owners.

“What that will do is allow the city to digest and experience it,” Lewin said.

Debra Ann Mumm, the owner of Palm Desert’s Venus Studios Art Supply, was one of the organizers of the PLANET Art murals project, which brought in renowned artists to create four murals along Arenas Road in April. The project was shut down by Palm Springs police, despite the fact that Mumm had earned approval from the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission.

She said the PLANET Art project is probably on hold until the fall. She now needs to submit plans for the four murals to the city.

“We’re going into summer, so I don’t think I can get these guys from the Bay Area to come down until it cools down a bit.”

When asked about Lewin’s comments about removable artwork, Mumm said it’s not really possible.

“I thought it was an unusual request,” Mumm said. “I’ve never heard of anything like that before for a mural program. Murals are traditionally painted on walls. I understand what he was going for, but it’s a different beast. How are you going to cover the Lulu building with removable material?”

Published in Local Issues

I first met Debra Ann Mumm and Ryan “Motel” Campbell in the weeks leading up to the party the Coachella Valley Independent threw last October to celebrate the launch of our monthly print edition.

Debra’s Venus Studios Art Supply sponsored the event at Clinic Bar and Lounge by donating a 10-by-5-foot canvas (and other materials), on which Campbell painted a gorgeous work of art during the party. (The painting was then donated to the LGBT Community Center of the Desert for the nonprofit’s Center Stage silent auction.)

To say I was impressed by both Mumm and Campbell would be an understatement: They always display an intense passion for the Coachella Valley, its art and its artists.

That’s why I was not at all surprised when Mumm announced she and Campbell were raising funds for PLANet Art Palm Springs (, a project to bring in four renowned muralists in early April to create four murals on and around downtown Palm Springs’ Arenas Road.

From what I know of Mumm and Campbell, I was sure they’d dot their I’s and cross their T’s when it came to planning, permits and permissions. Sure enough, they got a thumbs-up from the city’s Public Arts Commission, as well as all of the needed permissions from the property owners along Arenas Road. Since the city of Palm Springs has no law regulating murals—at least that Mumm or anyone else to whom the Independent has spoken can find—it seemed like clear sailing for PLANet Art.

Such was not the case: As the PLANET Art artists began to paint on the weekend of April 4, police showed up and reportedly threatened to arrest them if they didn’t stop.

Brian Blueskye has a comprehensive report that we posted online yesterday, and will be our May print-edition cover story. That issue will hit streets next week.

There is some good news coming out of this mess: In May, the Palm Springs City Council is slated to take up the mural matter, and will hopefully develop a policy and procedures to prevent such problems from happening in the future. (We’ll definitely keep everyone posted on what happens.)

But even if the city of Palm Springs gets its act together in May, that does not excuse the city for what happened to Mumm, Campbell and the other PLANet Art participants in April. Unless there is some law or statute that everyone is missing, the city officials who had a role in stopping PLANet Art—costing Mumm and Campbell no small amount of money—should be ashamed. If there’s no law regulating murals on the books, and Mumm and company did everything possible to get proper permission—including getting an endorsement from a city commission—then what they did is legal. Period.

People like Mumm and Campbell, who are stepping up and trying to make our community a more beautiful, culturally aware place, should be celebrated, not threatened with arrest. This seems like common sense doesn’t it? Alas, the city of Palm Springs was lacking any and all sense when it shut down PLANet Art.

Published in Editor's Note