Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Stephen Berger

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

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

Summer looms large on the horizon. Months of triple-digit temperatures take their toll, and we all look for ways to escape the heat—even if only for a brief period.

The high desert cities of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley offer some relief, with temperatures averaging about 10 degrees cooler than those in the Coachella Valley. The cities also offer an opportunity to engage with a thriving and diverse art scene.

A weekend day trip—some galleries are only open on Saturday and Sunday—can be a great way to experience (slightly) lower temperatures and see some unexpectedly sophisticated art.

These three suggestions represent just the tip of the art-scene iceberg, but are a good introduction to the treasures waiting to be discovered.

Located in the former Harley Davidson showroom on the frontage road of Highway 62, the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center provides state-of-the-art exhibition and studio space that artists in many large cities would envy. The center is the western annex of Joshua Tree’s Hi-Desert Cultural Center.

The Visual and Performing Arts Center will be celebrating its first anniversary with Perplexing Visions and Unrealities, featuring artists Matthew Couper and Pablo Romero. An opening-night reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, June 8.

The 4,500-square-foot gallery contains many technological innovations that allow for dynamic visual displays. These include movable walls, tunable spectrum lighting with full color mixing, and ultra-high-definition 4K video projection. The current exhibition makes full use of these technologies and features a mix of contemporary art and works from local school students.

Executive curator Michael McCall relocated from Los Angeles to Yucca Valley to help establish the cutting-edge gallery. He designs all the shows with the aid of a scale model of the gallery, complete with the movable walls. In addition, the center can display large-scale artworks in a lighted outdoor gallery.

“We want to be an international arts facility, but also serve the local community,” he says.

The commitment to the local population extends to the studio spaces as well. Children in the high desert can participate in a variety of mediums and have their work displayed in a gallery setting. The studios include spaces for visual arts, dance, broadcast, metal/wood—where sets are produced for the Hi-Desert Cultural Center’s theater in Joshua Tree—and a fabric studio where the costumes for the theater are designed and created.

Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, 58325 Highway 62, Yucca Valley; 760-366-3777;

The Joshua Tree Art Gallery is a small jewel-box space currently featuring works by several accomplished local artists, including poetic desert landscapes by artist Marcia Geiger. Geiger also is a board member of the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council.

JTAG began 10 years ago as a collective gallery in response to the lack of display space in the area. As members came and left, the responsibilities of running and promoting the gallery fell on current owner Frederick Fulmer. It grew into a full-time job. Fulmer—a painter who also has a studio in Venice, Calif., and has worked with acclaimed artists such as Jasper Johns and Joe Brainard—recently put the gallery up for sale. He cited his desire to get back to producing his own art. Good news: On May 15, the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council unanimously voted to purchase JTAG, and the council will start running the gallery in July.

Over the past year, Fulmer has invited some big-name artists to show at JTAG, including exhibits by Ed Moses and Ed Ruscha. He said he wanted locals to be able to see art that was otherwise only available after driving to Palm Springs or Los Angeles.

A special two-day exhibit will open with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturday, June 8. The event features three visual artists and a writer from the Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency

On Saturday, June 15, the gallery will open the JTAG EXPO 2019, a community-invitational salon-style showcase. This is one of the gallery’s largest exhibits. Fulmer said it’s a great opportunity to see diverse styles of work at affordable prices. The opening reception takes place from 6 to 8 p.m.

Joshua Tree Art Gallery, 61607 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree; 760-366-3636;

No art day in the high desert would be complete without a visit to the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture. The 10-acre site is filled with found-object sculptures by the renowned artist.

Purifoy was born into a former slave family in 1917 in Snow Hill, Ala. After serving in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II, he moved to Los Angeles to study art and earned a degree from the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in 1956. He founded and was the first director of the Watts Towers Art Center.

With six other artists, Purifoy created the groundbreaking 66 Signs of Neon traveling exhibition a year after the 1965 Watts riots. The assemblage sculptures were fashioned from two tons of debris left over from the riots and were a stinging commentary on the economic and political conditions of the time.

Purifoy moved to Joshua Tree in 1989; until his death in 2004, he created sculptures on his land that spoke to his concerns about life. The assemblages range wildly in scale and go from whimsical to macabre.

In 1999, a volunteer foundation was formed to protect and maintain the site. Purifoy had no interest in his pieces once they were completed. He famously said, “I’m not a maintenance man!”

Expect a self-guided tour with brochures available at the entrance. Occasional docent-led tours give a deeper insight into the many layered meanings of the works.

Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture, 63030 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree;

First below: "Ohlson Ruins" by Marcia Geiger. Second below: "The Kirby Express" by Noah Purifoy.

Tucked off a small side street in La Quinta Cove is a sparkling oasis of serenity and inclusiveness—dedicated to the healing power of art.

Founders Richard and Victory Grund created Old Town Artisan Studios 10 years ago as a gift to the community, and as a vehicle for them to share their passionate belief that art is for everyone. The backstory: After Victory Grund lost her parents, she fell into a deep depression. A concerned neighbor handed her a lump of clay with the instruction to “build something”—and Grund quickly realized the power of art to heal even the deepest wounds. It was a lesson she felt compelled to share with the world, and share, she has: Last year alone, Old Town Artisan Studios’ outreach program reached 21,683 people in the Coachella Valley.

Through a heavily timbered Spanish gateway sits a multilevel compound with tree-shaded courtyards, patios, fountains and historic buildings. Coletta Herbold, the studio coordinator, gave me a tour. What started as a family homestead grew to include three houses, which were later converted into restaurants. The buildings and a little more than three acres were purchased three years ago by the nonprofit Old Town Artisans Studios foundation. After a year of renovations, doors opened to the public.

Today, there are six studios in the various buildings. The topics for classes and workshops include wheel-thrown and hand-built ceramics, painting, fused and stained glass, fabrics and mixed media. The shaded patios with their fountains provide a pleasant retreat for sack lunches and are also available for events. The costs are kept low, and the popularity of the classes and workshops allows the foundation to channel tax-deductible donations toward serving the less fortunate in our valley.

In keeping with the commitment “to provide a positive art experience for all people despite age, disability or financial condition,” the Old Town Artisan Studios offers a number of programs, including youth summer day camps with a variety of artistic mediums, programs for special-needs youth and adults, outreach programs that partner with charities throughout the valley, and a new program for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

Thomas Burns is the executive director. The Chicago native has lived in California for 23 years. He founded the Carmel International Film Festival; prior to that, he founded and published the national art magazine ARTWORKS.

“The Summer Youth Camps are one of our most popular offerings. Last year, the classes sold out early,” he said. “This year, we are doubling the size. Because of this, we are able to split the camps into two age groups, 7 to 11, and 12 and up.

“The camps are one week long, Monday through Friday. Mornings and afternoons are different mediums. We even had a sewing class. Girls and boys both made their own backpacks and used them. We supply all the materials and drinks and a healthy snack. It’s bring-your-own lunch on the patio.”

During my tour, I saw a special-needs class working in clay in the large studio.

“The La Quinta High School special-needs class comes here,” Burns explained. “We also have adults as well. We don’t separate them from the rest of our clients. We want everyone to be able to have the same experience.”

The Alzheimer’s program is a fairly new addition.

“When we started the Alzheimer’s program, I wanted to make sure that we included the caregivers as well,” Burns said. “People actually sign up for this through the local Alzheimer’s Association. … They wanted a variety of classes for stimulation.”

Veterans receive a deep discount on all fee-based classes and workshops. Old Town Artisan Studios’ outreach program partners with other local charities to make sure anyone who can’t afford the modest fees has access to classes.

“We have two vans that go out into the community almost every day,” Burns said. “For example, we work with the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs to bring our instructors and experience to people who can’t come to the studios here. The YMCA alone has asked us to visit 40 locations. At some of these locations, there are up to 100 kids waiting for us. We’ll make it to all of them.

“We’re here to help. If we have the demand and the funding, we’ll be there. We don’t want to turn anybody down. Whatever the demand, we’ll go.”

I asked Burns about Old Town Artisan Studios’ plans for the future.

“Over the summer, we’ll be flipping our reception and retail spaces,” he said. “In our gallery, we will be changing exhibits every two weeks. We’ll be featuring work by our instructors and also some of our students. Some of our best shows have been by our students.

“We are producing a line of dinnerware that is all handmade here on site. Along with that, we are starting an events business. Right now, when someone wants to hold an event here, they have to provide all the food and setup themselves. We want to bring in our own chef and offer organic food served on our own plates.”

Burns said other long-term plans include the addition of a community-performance space and more artists’ studios geared to professional artists.

As I was leaving, I noticed a sign next to the entry gate. It reinforced my own impression of what I had just experienced: “We believe that art is healing and has an everlasting positive impact on each of us and the world around us.”

Old Town Artisan Studios is located at 78046 Calle Barcelona, in La Quinta. For more information, call 760-777-1444, or visit

The Artists Council is now fully independent from the Palm Springs Arts Museum—and its inaugural exhibition as an independent organization, rather appropriately, is based on the theme Metamorphosis.

The exhibition and sale will be celebrated with a catered opening-night reception on Thursday, March 28, from 6 to 8 p.m., and will be on display at the Artists Council’s new home—the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert—through Friday, April 12. The exhibition is free and open to the public, as is the opening-night reception, at which attendees will be able to meet the artists and vote for the People’s Choice Award.

For 50 years, the Artists Council was a part of the Palm Springs Art Museum. On Jan. 1, the Artists Council became a fully independent nonprofit organization. Its mission is to promote the art and artists of the Coachella Valley.

Metamorphosis was chosen as the first exhibit’s title by the new board of directors.

“We chose this theme for our inaugural event because it mirrors the process by which our new Artists Council is developing,” said exhibition chair Tony Radcliffe in a written statement. “Our goal is to demonstrate the high quality of artistic achievement by AC members and to bring a new audience to see their work in the beautiful art museum known as the Galen. This is also an opportunity for the public to visit (the Palm Springs Art Museum) in Palm Desert. All of the artwork is for sale, with proceeds split between the artists and the new Artists Council.”

I spoke with Radcliffe by phone about how the transition was going, as well as the Artists Council’s new home at the Galen, the Metamorphosis show, and the future vision for the Artists Council.

“Since becoming independent in January, there seems to be more energy, and it’s an exciting time for us,” he said. “The hardest part, the dirty work, was creating a new nonprofit organization. There are all the finances and budgets. When we were part of the museum, all of that was done for us. Sometimes, changes are hard.

“We are very happy to have our exhibition at the Galen. There’s 4,000 square feet of display space. This allows us to do much more interesting things and to show more local art. I think it will help invigorate the space and draw a different audience—people who may not attend museum shows. There’s a lot of talent in the local scene. Lots of artists live in this area.”

Radcliffe said it’s important to the artists to have their work shown in a museum setting.

Metamorphosis is a juried museum show. This sets the bar higher, and we are building on that high quality,” he said. “Our jurors are well-known and respected. You really have to improve your art to get into these shows.

“The Artists Council offers critiques for our members and classes to improve not only the art, but also improve the business side of what they do. The classes and critiques are run by experienced artists. This allows our members a chance to look at things differently.”

The Metamorphosis jurors are Alma Ruiz, a senior fellow at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Los Angeles, and curator of the 2020 Bienal de Arte Paiz in Guatemala City; and Mary Ingebrand-Pohlad, internationally known for her abstract landscape sculptures and member of the Palm Springs Art Museum board of directors.

The new Artists Council board has a bold vision for the council.

“We’re talking about an online gallery with the ability to purchase art online. This would give us a whole new audience,” Radcliffe said. “We’d like to try to have exhibits outside of our area and invite other Southern California artists and even artists from foreign countries to participate. We’d like more opportunities to show our work in other museums.”

Metamorphosis, an exhibit by the Artists Council, will be on display through Friday, April 12, at the Palm Springs Museum of Art in Palm Desert, 72567 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. For more information, visit

The second Desert X biennial exhibition, on display through April 21, consists of 19 site-specific works of art, created by an international group of acclaimed artists, spanning the Coachella Valley—including eight of the nine valley cities.

The sites, all open to the public for free, stretch from the windmills of North Palm Springs down to the Salton Sea—but the impact is being felt worldwide.

Desert X is the fulfillment of a dream by founder and president Susan L Davis, a public-relations professional and founding member of the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities. The idea was to create a conversation between cities, art organizations, local residents and visitors. The inaugural event in 2017 was acclaimed by the international art community, with more than 200,000 visitors. Excitement has been building over the last two years for the second edition.

I had the privilege to participate in this excitement at the two-day press briefing and tour, held before the opening to the general public. Neville Wakefield, Desert X’s artistic director, explained how artists and curators collaborated with the desert environment, while co-curator Matthew Schum said one of his inspirations was a desire to make Palm Springs more contemporary. However, the most prophetic statement came from co-curator Amanda Hunt: “The purpose of Desert X 2019 is to make the invisible visible.” This, she said, was possible through the exploration of the dynamics of things like the wind, psychology and energy. This statement resonated with me at each of the installations.

At the Salton Sea’s “A Point of View,” viewing platforms were constructed in a combination of pre-Colombian and brutalist architecture by Colombian-born, Paris-based artist Iván Argote, allowing visitors an elevated view of the landscape and an opportunity to communicate with each other. Messages in both Spanish and English are pressed into the concrete steps and change in meaning depending on whether they are read top to bottom or vice-versa.

The most enigmatic and environmentally friendly installation comes from Los Angeles-based Nancy Baker Cahill. The installation is actually in two locations which serve as gateways to the biennial: “Revolutions” is located near the windmills to the north, with “Margin of Error” at the Salton Sea to the south. They speak to the capturing of energy and the toxic results of human intervention in the natural order, respectively. These pieces are invisible to the naked eye and can only be viewed through a cell phone app called 4th Wall. (“Revolutions” had to be moved due to the Valentine’s Day flooding; watch the Desert X site and 4th Wall app for updates.)

Another installation with two locations is “Lover’s Rainbow” by Mexico City artist Pia Camil. Brightly painted rebar is used to construct identical arches—one in Rancho Mirage and the other across the invisible international border in Mexico. The only way to get the full experience of her work is to cross that border and view it from two perspectives.

My personal favorite comes from local artist Armando Lerma. “Visit Us in the Shape of Clouds 2019” is a mural painted on a water tower near an east valley landfill. The work is monumental in scale and utilizes iconography of the American Southwest to create a sacred site in a location usually thought of as utilitarian.

I met with Coachella native Lerma at his studio/gallery to discuss this work, his evolution as an artist, and his views of what Desert X means to the oft-neglected east end of our valley.

Lerma, born in 1975, grew up on a local ranch. His interest in art began early in childhood, as he spent hours going through the family's encyclopedia, looking at art to escape from the boredom. Running served the same purpose and fostered a deep appreciation of nature in general, and the desert in particular.

“I felt like an orphan culturally,” he said. “There were no artists (within) 10 years older than me. I had to begin my own journey to find out what art is.”

Lerma studied art in college and taught middle-school art for two years. He left the valley for a number of years but returned and started after-school art classes for local children at a church in Coachella. This led to the first art shows held in the city. With a group of friends, he created the first organized “Day of the Dead” celebrations there as well.

In 2012, Lerma purchased an abandoned building on Grapefruit Boulevard and began transforming it into his studio and events center. He’s currently working on his “Coachella Walls” project. It encourages and creates murals in his beloved hometown; one of these murals was featured in the first Desert X.

I asked him how he become involved in Desert X.

“Susan Davis was working at Sunnylands,” he said. “I went there to do a presentation of ‘Coachella Walls.’ Several months later, she contacted me and invited me to participate in her new project, Desert X. The whole purpose of ‘Coachella Walls’ was to bring people to a town they might never visit. It was a slow start. Desert X came around, and I started seeing a diverse group of people showing up. There was a new cultural exchange happening.”

I asked him about the process of creating his new work for Desert X 2019.

“The idea was already brewing,” he said. “I approached the city last year about painting a water tank. My original proposal was rejected, because the tank I selected was scheduled to be refurbished. The city offered me a different site. At first, I was hesitant. I didn’t like the location. The road leading to it was in bad shape, and it was next to the landfill. The city agreed to regrade the road.

“I began to change my mind. The new location was away from the city. There would be less pressure from people living near it about what I was doing. I could be more creative. It was elevated, and you could see the whole desert, the raw desert, from it.”

I noticed a small collection of bottles and small rocks at the base of the water tank.

“It is a shrine,” he said. “Those are objects I found while working on the mural. I've always had an interest in building altars. I was hoping that visitors would add their own pieces to it.”

There are many other compelling, thought-provoking, timely and perhaps controversial works of art to be experienced in this new incarnation of Desert X. It is impossible to see all of them in one day; even a two-day tour was far too rushed. I’ll be going back to revisit many of them.

Desert X 2019 is on display through Sunday, April 21. For more information visit

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

I love signature events, and they don’t get any more “signature” in the Coachella Valley than Modernism Week. It has become the defining celebration of the things this city stands for—iconic architecture, glamour, sophistication, occasional hedonism and complete freedom.

What is modernism? Wikipedia says this: “Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past.” Modernism transformed every aspect of society and the arts—and it still permeates our thinking and world view.

Volumes have been written, discussed and debated about the movement. Modernism Week focuses on the architecture that arose after World War II but does not limit itself to that. With more than 350 tours, lectures, screenings and parties taking place from Thursday, Feb. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 24, Modernism Week is simply far too large to cover in a single article … or even a single issue of a newspaper.

After hours of reviewing press releases and schedules regarding Modernism Week, I was left with a question and a thought. The question: How did a dusty, remote village in the Mojave Desert become a world-class destination symbolizing modern style and misbehavior? The thought: The appeal of Modernism Week goes far deeper than just an appreciation of architecture and interior design.

Many people credit the Hollywood studio system with the invention of Palm Springs. Starting in the silent-film era, movie stars were elevated to the status of royalty, instantly recognizable around the globe. However, a series of scandals involving sex, drugs and suicides threatened the very existence of Hollywood, and major studios began writing ethics clauses into their contracts—and any infringement of the strict moral codes would end careers immediately. Studio spies and gossip columnists were watching every movement and action of these new kings and queens.

The studios also required that its stars could not travel farther than two hours from the studio without permission, just in case reshooting was required. However, the exuberance and freedom from the status quo of the Roaring ’20s was far too great to be contained by a mere contract, and the opening of a tennis club in a desert crossroads exactly two hours from Hollywood provided a perfect escape from the watchful eyes of studio bosses.

Spanish colonial retreats surrounded by high walls and privacy hedges soon sprang up, creating the neighborhoods of Las Palmas and the Movie Colony. A town grew to service the needs of the Hollywood elite who congregated here. Word leaked out to the public about the luxury, the parties, the affairs and the licentiousness in this desert oasis. The legend of Palm Springs took root, and people flocked here to catch a glimpse of it.

After World War II, a new generation of stars, still under contract, sought to re-create Palm Springs in a new and modern way. The war had created new technologies, and a group of young architects were eager to employ these innovations. Large sheets of glass and steel girders provided these architects with a new palette, and they invented a completely revolutionary style of building for the desert environment.

With the demise of the studio system in Hollywood in the late 1960s, Palm Springs experienced a decline. Several decades later, a new demographic discovered its charms: Gay men of a certain age began arriving. They were drawn here by the mystic history and the inexpensive housing. They began to lovingly restore the Modernist neighborhoods.

Palm Springs experienced a rebirth.

Today, Modernism Week draws fans from all over the world. While the amazing postwar architecture is the centerpiece, the art, culture and lifestyle are also celebrated. There’s something for everyone, from serious architectural buffs to simply the curious,

Page after page of events are scheduled over the 11-day run. As I reviewed them, I was impressed by the breadth of topics and experiences. Then it struck me: Almost everything that mentioned Hollywood, movie stars, the Rat Pack, Las Palmas and Movie Colony were already sold out … and this was more than a month before opening day. There was something going on here.

It’s well-documented that, as a society, we are beginning to value experiences over possessions. I would contend that a nostalgia for the glamour, luxury, risqué behavior and lifestyle of cocktails by the pool that created and sustained Palm Springs throughout its history still runs very deep. People want to experience what went on behind those high walls and privacy hedges themselves. Who can blame them? What better way to appreciate these innovative structures and the modern living style than an icing of excess?

So, take a walking tour. Attend a lecture, Watch a film. Learn about shade block. Have a cocktail at Frank’s house. Maybe indulge in some bad behavior. (Just make sure it’s not too bad.) Immerse yourself in the mid-century.

This is our heritage. These are our traditions. It is our gift to the world. I, for one, couldn’t possibly be prouder to be a part of it.

Modernism Week takes place from Thursday, Feb. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 24, at locations valley-wide. For more information, including a complete schedule and ticket information, visit

The Desert Art Center sits nestled in two historic buildings on Palm Canyon Drive. Founded in 1950, it is the oldest art organization in the Coachella Valley.

The artists who created it 68 years ago had an expansive vision of their role in society. It wasn’t enough for them to simply express their creativity; they also believed it was important to contribute to their community.

Today, that commitment to both residents of and visitors to the valley is realized through low-cost classes, workshops, programs for students, high school scholarships, seminars and a gallery staffed by the member artists themselves. The center also provides scholarships for seniors and grants to local teachers for art materials.

The facilities themselves are worth a visit. Located in one of the first schools built in the Coachella Valley—in 1927 by Frances Stevens—the classrooms, studios and gallery are architecturally and historically important. In 1974, the city of Palm Springs purchased the site with a mandate that it be used for education, the arts and children’s programs. President Gerald Ford dedicated it as a cultural arts center.

The studios and gallery are open spaces with high ceilings, filled with light pouring in from large windows. There is an atmosphere of stability and serenity—these spaces are conducive to the creation of art.

The current Desert Art Center president, Ian Cooke, is a Brit and former horticulturist. He now teaches watercolor painting in addition to his other duties.

“We are a very welcoming group,” he said. “Whether you are an accomplished artist, a beginner, an improver, or simply an art lover, our members are willing to share their knowledge and expertise. We are open to a wide range of artists. You don’t have to be a member to take classes. We want to provide an opportunity for everyone, locals and visitors alike, to learn.

“We would like to expand our ceramics program with a dedicated clay space. Also, a purpose-built gallery would allow us to display more of our local, original and affordable art.”

Some 20 different classes are available during the year, with topics including painting, life drawing, collage, plein-air painting, stained glass and ceramic sculpture. Some of the valley’s most popular artists teach these classes. Kay Henkel, now in her mid-90s, teaches and creates ceramic sculpture.

While browsing through the gallery, I was impressed by the high caliber of the works for sale, as well as the moderate pricing. I found myself drawn to a large, luminous landscape of saguaro cacti and mountains. I noted the artist’s name, thinking it would be nice to speak with her. Around the same time, a woman entered the gallery. One of the two artists staffing the gallery said I should meet her … and she turned out to be Elaine Mathews, the name I had just written down. She graciously invited me to her home to view more of her work and talk about the center.

Mathews is a California native who grew up in Compton and studied art at Long Beach State University. She taught high school art for 30 years. After taking an early retirement, she and her husband moved to the desert.

“The desert and the light here were a big inspiration for me,” she said. “I started doing large paintings to cover my walls. I took one into the Desert Art Center, and they told me, ‘You’re in.’ I was asked to teach there. I was hesitant, because I’d been teaching for so many years. My husband encouraged me to give it a try. I liked it. It’s adults who actually want to be there.

“I like that the center is a nonprofit and carries only local artists. The city of Palm Springs really supports us. I’ve been teaching there for 15 years now. I also lead the group of plein-air painters. We go all over the valley to paint, and we have a lot of fun.”

After viewing a number of her works, I was in awe of her mastery of light, color and the desert landscape. I’m not alone in that opinion: Mathews was recently selected to be the featured artist at the prestigious La Quinta Arts Festival in 2019.

In addition to classes, the center also offers art-enrichment events, demonstrations and talks. All of these events are open to the public at no charge, while members can also take advantage of friendly and supportive group critiques of their work.

The Desert Art Center offers a two-tier membership. Anybody can be a supporting member, but gallery members must go through a jury process that takes place once a year in the fall. Gallery members can display and sell their work in the center’s gallery. They also staff the gallery on a rotating basis—so when you visit the Desert Art Center or purchase art there, you are being helped by the artists themselves.

In addition to the large gallery, there is also a small gallery where up to three members are highlighted in a revolving show, starting on the first Friday of the month.

On Dec. 7, the small gallery will feature David Fairrington and the first public showing of his in-progress Red Kimono II Project. Each painting in the series features a subject from the LGBTQ community draped in a vintage Japanese kimono. After the opening from 6 to 8 p.m., the exhibit will remain on display through the weekend.

Since this is the season of gift-giving, I asked Ian Cooke what he thought about giving art as a present.

“Art is something that stays with us for a lifetime,” he said. “Our appreciation of a work grows over time. It can make a gift that is never forgotten. However, art is a very personal experience. If you want to consider giving art as a gift, I would suggest that you bring the person you’re giving it to into the gallery to see which pieces they are drawn to. That way, you can be sure that your gift will become a cherished part of their life.”

The Desert Art Center, at 550 N. Palm Canyon Drive, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 760-323-7979, or visit Below: a photo of the Desert Art Center.

In October each year, a trailer pulls up in front of a gallery at the north end of the design district in Palm Springs. It’s packed full of art.

Behind the wheel is gallery owner Woody Shimko (right). He’s just completed what he calls his 3,000-mile bridge between two of the most iconic gay destinations—Provincetown, Mass., and Palm Springs, Calif.

Shimko has galleries in both towns. During the fall and winter, the art is here in Palm Springs. In the spring, it will cross back over that figurative bridge and spend the summer in Provincetown. Having just endured another blistering desert summer, I thought this sounded like an ideal lifestyle. I asked Shimko how it all came about.

“Provincetown has been an art colony for over 100 years,” Shimko said. “Palm Springs has been a creative design location for decades. What I try to do is show work that will appeal to designers, other artists and anyone else interested in buying work for their homes.

“The biggest difference, really, is the time of year. That is really why I opened both spaces. Provincetown is so quiet in the winter, and Palm Springs certainly slows down in the heat of the summer.”

Shimko opened his first gallery in Provincetown in the 1990s.

“After opening it, I took a job in Tokyo. Having both the job and the gallery was a little … OK, way too much,” he said. “I bought a house in Palm Springs as a stop-over. After being in Japan for 15 years, I decided to open the gallery in Palm Springs. The following season, I opened the gallery in Provincetown, hence (the gallery’s slogan), ‘3,000 Miles of Art.’

“The gallery in Palm Springs is about the same as in Provincetown. I show local artists and also artists from the East Coast. In Provincetown, I show local artists and artists from the West Coast. I don’t really show ‘regional’ art—no palm trees in Palm Springs, and no fishing boats in Provincetown.”

The Woodman/Shimko Gallery here is not one of the spacious, spare, minimalist galleries for which Palm Springs is known. Instead, it is packed full of an astonishingly varied collection of paintings, sculpture, metal work, prints and ceramics. In the rear is a section of vintage glass and dinnerware, including pieces from Tiffany and Lalique. There are even some old Lionel trains and tongue-in-cheek Japanese souvenirs. My favorites are the artfully packaged “sushi sox,” a pair of socks folded and presented as sushi.

The gallery also displays some of Shimko’s own creations, accent tables constructed out of discarded tools.

“The way I choose the work is: If I want to hang it in my home, I’ll show it at the gallery,” he said. “And yes, I do have a few pieces that I have shown that are not entirely my style, but that’s where showing a range of work comes in.

“I am always open to seeing new work. If it jumps out at me, then I’ll likely show it for a time. Work that is in conflict with artists that I already represent is art that will not work for me.”

I’ve heard Woodman/Shimko Gallery referred to as a “gay” or “homoerotic” gallery before. Shimko had his own take on these labels.

“There are some people who come in and say they love the ‘gay’ gallery, but that is not a term I use to describe the spaces,” he said. “I do show a number of male images, but I don’t focus on them. My most popular artist, Cassandra Complex, paints only men. There is nothing erotic about the images, but when people see them, they assume it’s a gay man painting the images. That’s most likely why I am termed a gay gallery. But if that’s what people think of the space, cool—I’m happy with that. The only real homoerotic art I have shown—and have had to warn families about if they came in with their kids—was the Tom of Finland collections I have shown. There’s no fig leaf on the statue of David, so I’m OK with showing male and female nudes.”

Shimko said he will be focusing on Cassandra Complex’s art during this Pride season.

“Her work is truly an icon for gay men,” Shimko said. “The second-biggest buyer for her work is lesbians. Even our straight customers are drawn to her. The Kennedy family bought three of her pieces over the years. Cassandra lives outside of Boston. She is self-taught and paints men’s faces that she makes up in her head. None of the faces are real people. After her father died 10 years ago, she went through depression, and his was the first face she painted. He was a rugged man, so she keeps that look going through for her father.”

Complex has an unusual painting technique: She applies paint to the canvas with a deck of playing cards.

A couple of other artists stood out to me. Christopher Sousa’s portraits of young men evoke a surrealistic, dream-like character.

“Christopher Sousa is based in Provincetown and is one of the most sought-after artists,” Shimko said. “Before becoming a successful artist, he worked at a coffee shop in town and would draw images on coffee cups that he would give to his customers. He is represented by another gallery in Provincetown, so I can only show him in Palm Springs. Many of his models are friends of his or people he knows in town.”

Another artist, Robert Rainone, creates male nudes—not with paint, but by cutting through different colors of matte board.

“Robert Rainone is an architect in New Jersey,” Shimko said. “His precision in drawing has led him to create some truly amazing matte-board cutouts,” Shimko said. “Many of his pieces are between six to nine layers of matte board. You can see him do a number of his pieces on YouTube.”

I asked Shimko about his favorite elements of Palm Springs.

“The views and the design element,” he replied. “The architecture is amazing. There are many people that not only buy art, but live in art.”

Woodman/Shimko Gallery is located at 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit

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