CVIndependent

Sat11162019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Last year, the McCallum Theatre celebrated its two-year Crisalida Community Arts Project with a showcase called East Valley Voices Out Loud.

The goal of the project was to foster a relationship between the McCallum Theatre and artists in the underserved eastern Coachella Valley—and East Valley Voices Out Loud was a triumphant showcase of the fruits of that project.

While the Crisalida Community Arts Project’s James Irvine Foundation grant ended a year ago, the McCallum is bringing back East Valley Voices Out Loud for a second year, on Saturday, May 13.

Poet, playwright and musician David Gonzalez worked with the McCallum Theatre on the Crisalida Community Arts Project and put together the showcases both years. He explained what will be different about this year’s showcase.

“We have a bunch of new artists, and we have expanded the role of other artists who have mentored a couple of new people,” Gonzalez said. “We’re having a dance troupe from Mecca that is going to be performing, which should be really cool.”

The Crisalida Community Arts Project gave much-deserved attention to East Valley poets, musicians and more. Gonzalez said the project is still going, albeit in a “greatly reduced fashion.”

“The real emphasis is the showcase, but I’ve been doing some outreach and mentoring with people (from) other organizations,” Gonzalez said. “The issue right now is funding. We had a major grant for those first two years. This year, the McCallum has dipped into its own pocket to do this project. They are demonstrating their commitment to the East Valley through this. The intention is to keep doing East Valley Voices Out Loud, and to look for other sources so we can reboot and recharge Crisalida from where we left it a year ago.”

While the success of the project and last year’s East Valley Voices Out Loud was evident to anyone who talked to the participants, the efforts received some unfair criticism. A review by Bruce Fessier of The Desert Sun panned last year’s East Valley Voices Out Loud showcase, while prominent East Valley artist Armando Lerma, of the Date Farmers, harshly criticized the project. Gonzalez addressed some of that criticism.

“(Lerma) had a very skewered, egocentric, self-serving, defensive, destructive and myopic experience of it,” Gonzalez said. “I have negotiated many difficult situations and tried with my greatest skill to deflect and move that in a positive direction.”

As for Fessier’s critique, Gonzalez said East Valley Voices Out Loud was not meant for critical review.

“It was meant for social review, but not aesthetic review,” Gonzalez said. “To make comparisons to other organizations who put up community work was so ill-guided. Could it have been better? Of course! We had 35 amateurs onstage, and there were things that went haywire, but to take the platform of The Desert Sun and the platform of theater critic and turn that against an effort where we did over 350 community residency projects with so much blood and sweat and tears? It was so unfortunate.”

Local musician Giselle Woo took part in last year’s showcase and will return this year. She discussed what made last year’s experience special.

“It was my first time ever performing at a theater like the McCallum,” Woo said. “I think it makes it interesting, because it gives an opportunity for young Latinos—who make up the majority of people who performed in East Valley Voices Out Loud last year—to be performing there. Things like that are sometimes something we only get to dream of, and never get the chance to do.

“The west side is popping, but the east side has been, too, and it continues to do so—just with not a lot of coverage. It’s nice to expand the light.”

Woo said she’s hoping to step up her performance this year.

“I have plans to bring a band with me, if I could,” she said. “I’m still working on completing it. It’ll be alumni from College of the Desert and stuff like that.”

Carlos Garcia, from the East Valley Repertory Theatre, is another returning performer.

“One of the pieces we’re planning to do is an all-male production of monologues—spoken word, poetry and deconstructing masculinity,” Garcia said. “The working title right now is Bad Hombres, referencing what Trump said.”

Garcia said some of the works in this year’s showcase will undoubtedly address the politics over the last year.

“I think that it will possibly be more focused on what’s happening politically,” he said. “I personally am not. Our pieces are more personal, but I feel that other groups might get political. I don’t really care for that myself, but I feel with what’s happened in one year with Trump and with us being Latino performers, there will be some issues addressed.”

Garcia said last year’s experience was inspiring because it fostered community.

“We felt as actors and performers that we were inspiring other actors, poets and musicians. We were also inspired by the other performers,” he said. “We didn’t know each other, and through the East Valley Voices Out Loud showcase, we were able to come together and meet each other. For one night, we are one group united, and that’s one thing I really enjoy about that.”

Gonzalez expressed optimism that the Crisalida project and the East Valley Voices Out Loud showcases will continue. He explained what the community can do to help.

“The first thing is to show up and hear the voices,” he said. “Hear, see and feel the East Valley community as it takes a step into the West Valley. Don’t go on preconceptions and what you’ve read. Come with a sense of openness and discovery, and stay afterward to shake hands, get invites or invite other people. The only way this bridge is going to be built is hand-to-hand and eye-to-eye. The showcase is a chance to do just that. 

East Valley Voices Out Loud takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 13, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $9 to $22. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Local Fun

The area surrounding the city of Coachella is dominated by farms, ranches, orchards and the laborers who work on them.

As I drove to meet Armando Lerma at his Date Farmers art studio, I passed fields where migrant farmworkers were doing their jobs under the brutal summer sun. This is one of the places where Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union fought for the labor rights of these migrant farmers.

Today, Coachella is becoming known for more than agriculture; it’s also getting more and more attention for its rising arts scene—and much of that attention is directly due to Armando Lerma and the Date Farmers studio.

When I arrived at the studio, which Lerma started with Carlos Ramirez (who was not present; he apparently avoids interviews), Lerma greeted me. Lerma’s two large dogs jumped around in excitement as he opened the door to show me the garden area out back as he explained what made him and Ramirez start the Date Farmers.

“It’s complicated,” Lerma said. “We try to keep the tradition alive of Mexican art—the culture and the traditions from the ancients to modern Mexican/Chicano art. That’s always been the inspiration. It’s something that relates to our community.”

Lerma said that when he began making art two decades ago, there wasn’t much inspiration to be found in Coachella.

“It’s kind of hard for us, because we weren’t taught those traditions and were kind of out here by ourselves,” he said. “We had to teach ourselves. Back in the ’90s, when I was in high school, there was no real art or anything that really talked to us. The art I remember that people would be talking about would be on El Paseo in Palm Desert in those galleries. I’d be looking and trying to understand whatever it was. I wanted to understand it, but I couldn’t—and I didn’t feel anything there.

“I met and talked with people who pointed me in the right direction and started teaching myself about the traditions. I found my way and the direction I wanted to take.”

Lerma said his initial ignorance of traditional Mexican art has made him appreciate art even more.

“No one in my family understood art. My parents had no clue and didn’t teach me about art,” Lerma said. “We had encyclopedias, and I remember going into those for art. Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh—all that stuff was cool. When I got a little older and started learning about Mexican history and people like Diego Rivera and all the Mexican muralists, I went deeper and deeper.”

He said a pilgrimage to Mexico helped inspire him and his works.

“I saw all the Aztec murals, the Mayan ruins and all that stuff,” Lerma said. “It’s a tradition that I wasn’t taught. That’s where I come from, and I had to teach myself, because the generations before me didn’t have time for that. Through my parents’ hard work, they were able to give me a good education. … I felt fortunate I was able to meet so many people pointing me in the right direction.”

Lerma said the collective’s name comes from the heritage of both his family and his hometown.

“That’s what established this community—the agriculture and farming,” he said. “My parents were migrant farmworkers and worked here in the desert. We had a date farm; my grandfather was a farmer, and my uncles are farmers.”


The Coachella Valley consists of nine different incorporated cities and various unincorporated communities, ranging from some of the richest areas of the country to the poorest. As he was growing up, this disparity confused Lerma.

“I felt stupid! I felt really dumb. For so long, I was like, ‘Why are things the way they are? I’m living in Coachella. I guess this is kind of cool,’” he remembered. “Back then, things were sort of junk (in Coachella) and not looking so nice. I went to school in Bermuda Dunes, and when you are going through Palm Desert, you can see the transition—and you don’t understand it. My parents didn’t know how to explain it to me. No one talked about it.

“When I came into my own and started understanding these things, I felt like that tradition (of understanding my community) was taken away from me. I should have known that stuff; I should have been more aware, and I should have been more self-confident and proud, but I wasn’t. I thought we must have been doing something wrong, because I didn’t know why we were in that position when I was growing up.”

Some other members of the Coachella Valley arts community believe this perspective has led Lerma to, at times, be over-protective of his community and his art. I reached out to a variety of people to discuss the Date Farmers—and almost none of them were willing to discuss the Date Farmers on the record. Off the record, some noted that Lerma can be eccentric, is often unafraid to state his opinions, and is overly suspicious and untrusting of anybody he views as an outsider.

However, almost everybody I talked to praised Lerma for being an inspiration to his community—and mentioned that he’s becoming more and more of an influence in the California art scene.

One person who was willing to talk to me is Freddy Jimenez, an artist and the drummer for the band Tribesmen. He has been working with the Date Farmers for years and has played various shows at the Date Farmers studio. He said he understands where Lerma is coming from.

“He doesn’t want anybody to just come in here, because this part of the desert has been neglected, and a lot of people have talked bad about it, especially from the west side of the Coachella Valley in Palm Springs,” Jimenez said. “Now all of a sudden, Armando is doing murals in the city of Coachella, and we’re doing shows here, and a lot of people are starting to recognize it and wanting to do shit out here. People just want to suddenly jump on the bandwagon. … You just don’t want to let everybody in. I don’t want to work with just anybody when it comes to throwing shows or doing art. We’ve been building this local scene up.”

As a result of the Date Farmers’ increasing influence, their pieces have been seen everywhere from the Ace Gallery in Los Angeles to the most recent Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—you know it simply as Coachella. Lerma said he’s happy to have his art in these places, in part because he feels people can learn from his art.

“With Mexican art in general, I think a lot of it has to do with teaching,” Lerma said. “If you take anyone’s art at the highest level, it’s teaching you something. That’s in Egyptian art, Chinese art—and you learn from it. It’s not just art for art’s sake.

“In Mexican culture, it’s also ceremonial to teach the young people to hold to the traditions. We’re kind of like orphans culturally. My generation, my parents’ generation, my grandparents’ generation—there was no art, and it kind of stopped. They had to work and do what they had to do to survive. But the spirit is strong, and it came back. That’s how I see art and where we’re coming from.”

The Date Farmers’ piece that was on display at Coachella, “Sneaking Into the Show,” was sitting in the gallery disassembled during my visit. Lerma mentioned during an April interview with LA Weekly that the work symbolizes the disparity between Coachella, the city—low-income, working-class—and Coachella, the music festival.

Lerma told me he is not a fan of Goldenvoice, the promoter that puts on Coachella and the other gigantic festivals that happen at Indio’s Empire Polo Club.

“It’s not something that’s talked about: Even the politicians here don’t step up and say, like, ‘Hey, we’re right here!’” Lerma said of the disparity between the festival and the nearby areas. “The things Goldenvoice does, like stopping people from selling T-shirts, is something I don’t understand. As an artist, I feel the most important aspect is to be honest, and I think we’re lucky, because we can talk shit. (The piece) was about bringing people from Coachella into the festival.

“I have this cousin who’s very inspirational to me as a kid. He was a gangster, and he had the cholo tattoos back in the ’80s when no one had tattoos. He looked like a pirate back then or something. I remember looking at him back then and saying, ‘You’re never going to get a job!’ He didn’t have to worry about it, because he ended up in prison. But he was a bad-ass artist, and that’s kind of the artwork he did, that reflected his experiences and his friends and family. It inspired me how he used art to tell his own story. He passed away recently, and the piece was a nod to him, because he sort of started me off.”

Lerma is also outspoken about the bad rap Coachella gets in the media. Earlier this year, The Desert Sun published a piece titled “The Warlords of Coachella,” about the city’s gang problems. Lerma said the piece was not a fair representation.

“That’s all bullshit!” Lerma said. “It makes us look so bad when it’s on the front page. … There are gangs here, but I don’t see them as much as I did when I was a kid. There used to be a lot. I probably wouldn’t have come to a party in Coachella during that time. It’s changed, and it’s not like that anymore.

“We were at a City Council meeting, and there were some kids from Coachella Valley High School, and they took it upon themselves to do this video, asking people at their school: ‘Do you feel safe?’ ‘How do you feel about the gangs?’ Everybody was saying there were some knuckleheads, but there were mostly good kids.

“This is my community. I live here every day, and I don’t see the gangs anymore.”


The city of Coachella and the East Valley in general have not been embraced as vibrant arts communities. However, the Date Farmers are helping to change that perception.

The Crisalida Community Arts Project was designed to also help change that perception. The two year project, an effort of the McCallum Theatre, fostered connections with local artists of all types in the East Valley, and culminated in a showcase this past spring at the McCallum.

Lerma—ever territorial and opinionated—said that he was not a fan of the project, in part because he was not included in it.

“That was a bummer for me. David Gonzalez, who is from New York, came to our community, and the project was funded by the James Irvine (Foundation) through the McCallum Theatre. I don’t know what started their interest in coming out here, because they never came out here before. I’m a big influence on these young people doing art out here, and for them to just not even contact me—it was bullshit.”

Lerma was also displeased that the Coachella Valley Art Scene’s Sofia Enriquez painted a mural in Coachella as part of the Crisalida project. He said it did not sit well with him, in part because the Date Farmers were already working on another mural nearby.

“It’d be one thing if there was no mural project, but there was already something going on that we were working on,” he said. “Right now, we have 10 murals up, and we’re going to get some more up, but I was really pissed off with the Crisalida Community Arts Project.”

David Gonzalez was in Europe and unavailable for comment.

Lerma explained that art is not as simple as some people make it out to be. He said that art needs to be taken seriously, and should not just be made in an effort to achieve fame and fortune.

“You have to be honest with yourself. I get turned off by people acting like they’re artists,” Lerma said. “… Honesty makes good art. It doesn’t come easy, and there aren’t too many art geniuses. (Date Farmers co-founder) Carlos (Ramirez) is an art genius. He’s been drawing since he was out of the womb, and he knows how to draw. It took me a long time to learn how to draw and how to paint. With social media, it’s just so fast now, and that dedication to the craft isn’t there.”

The Date Farmers’ interest in art goes beyond what one would find in a gallery. In an area that is currently going through a resurgence of the house-party-style concert, the arts collective has been also focusing on music. During New Year’s Eve in 2015, Brant Bjork performed at the studio, and local bands including Tribesmen have played there as well.

“We’ve had a lot of music shows. We had parties on Friday and Saturday during Coachella,” Lerma said. “We can have 300 people in here, and they’re all mostly locals, and it’s kind of the way to give back to the kids who can’t go to Coachella. We go all out and throw a good party, exposing them to good music and art.

“They’re all cool art-type kids. When I was a kid, you’d get beat up for being an art kid.”

Jimenez, of Tribesmen, said that the Date Farmers’ music space is a throwback to the backyard scene that is now making a comeback in the Coachella area.

“Armando has provided a safe haven for the local East Valley scene,” Jimenez said. “It’s the same kind of feel and the same kind of passion that the backyard-music shows had. No other venue in the desert has the same kind of love. That studio makes it feel like you’re at home and shit. It makes you feel like you’re playing to people who actually care about the music as opposed to playing in a bar and people who are just there to drink and party.”

The Date Farmers studio is currently dealing with a financial setback, due to the bankruptcy and questionable financial dealings of Ace Gallery founder Douglas Chrismas.

“I should really be jaded with everything I’ve gone through as an artist,” he said. “We just finished working with the Ace Gallery in Los Angeles. They showed Andy Warhol and all kinds of big names. The guy who owned it, Douglas Chrismas, is notorious for being crazy, and he rips you off. It was all part of the experience. The business of art is why you can’t take the business so seriously—but then you do (need to take it seriously), and it’s a weird balance. It’s not easy.”

Lerma explained that there’s no grant money supporting the Date Farmers.

“We make money through making and selling art,” he said. “Most people never get to live off their art and have to do something else. We’re so fortunate to be able to sell artwork. But it hasn’t been easy, and people aren’t just throwing money at us. I don’t know where the money is going to come from, but I know that I have to sell some art. We don’t have the Ace Gallery anymore, so we have to find a new gallery to sell art through.”

Lerma is clearly proud of his hometown. He said that after dealing with the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles art world, he’s happy to be home.

“After coming back here, I just want to start a garden and slow things down—slow it down as much as I can,” he said.

Published in Visual Arts

On May 14, the McCallum Theatre hosted East Valley Voices Out Loud. The show was the culmination of the two-year Crisalida Community Arts Project, led by the McCallum and storyteller David Gonzalez. Of course, readers of the Independent already knew that, because we did a big story on the project in advance of the show.

I was fortunate enough to attend the first 75 minutes of the show. (I left early because I’d committed to being at a fundraiser in Palm Springs later that night.) At times, the show was a bit rough. The talented hosts, Arturo and Erika Castellanos, talked over each other at certain points. After playing their first song, Lomeli Mariachi started a second piece, it seemed, only to be ushered off the stage by the hosts. Some of the performers were visibly nervous, shaken by being on the large McCallum stage, a place were countless legends have performed over the years.

These elements were the focus of Bruce Fessier, the veteran arts scribe for The Desert Sun, in a scathing piece published on May 17. Fessier ripped East Valley Voices Out Loud to shreds, comparing the show to a different event that was, in his eyes, far more successful.

“… The company spent just four hours rehearsing in the theater. McCallum president and CEO Mitch Gershenfeld said the project was meant to be measured by the work it did in the East Valley more than what was presented on stage. So he considers it a success,” Fessier wrote. “But the people who paid $9-$22 to see the show could only conclude that the East Valley performers Gonzalez selected were amateurish and the main reason for that was their lack of direction.”

I’ve been in journalism now for two decades, and I’ve never seen a veteran journalist miss the point of something so badly.

There’s a lot about the East Valley Voices Out Loud show that Fessier didn’t mention. Like the moment when at least half of the audience members raised their hands after being asked whether it was their first time at the McCallum. Or the look of sheer joy on some of the young performers’ faces when the audience cheered loudly. Or the fact that the showcase featured a new piece by a brand-new East Valley theater company created, in part, because of the Crisalida Community Arts Project.

Instead, Fessier sneered that the show was not compelling “even though its producer-director-curator, New Yorker David Gonzalez, spent two years searching for talent and staging over 300 workshops and writing eight books with a $600,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation.”

Perhaps if Fessier had covered the works of the Crisalida Community Arts Project before attending the show, he would have gotten the point: East Valley Voices Out Loud, while rough around the edges, was a triumphant showcase of art and artists from an oft-ignored, disadvantaged part of the valley we call home. The Crisalida Community Arts Project was meant to develop stronger community ties—and East Valley Voices Out Loud proved that the project was a rousing success.

The fact that Fessier missed all of this is baffling—and appalling.

Published in Editor's Note

The McCallum Theatre, the venue, is well-known for top-notch Broadway musicals, concerts by world-class musicians, and a wide variety of other arts programming.

However, the McCallum Theatre, the institution, does much more than host shows. The McCallum has an education wing, the McCallum Theatre Institute, that has served hundreds of thousands of locals over the years—and through its Crisalida Community Arts Project, the McCallum has spent the last two-plus years seeking out the artistic voices of the Eastern Coachella Valley.

Some of the results of that search will be presented on Saturday, May 14, at the McCallum in a showcase titled East Valley Voices Out Loud, which will feature singers, rappers, poets, storytellers, musicians, actors, playwrights and visual artists—all from the Eastern Coachella Valley.

Jeffrey Norman, the director of communications and public affairs at the McCallum Theatre, said the Crisalida Community Arts Project came to be thanks to inspiration from McCallum president/CEO Mitch Gershenfeld, and funding from the James Irvine Foundation.

“Mitch Gershenfeld got this idea in his head,” Norman said. “We knew that the James Irvine Foundation had funds available, but that they wouldn’t be necessarily for the conventional presentations that the McCallum does.”

The McCallum asked David Gonzalez—a professional storyteller, poet, playwright and musician who is a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department—to spearhead the effort. The McCallum had worked with Gonzalez before, Norman said.

“David Gonzalez had appeared through the McCallum Theatre Institute several times and visited classrooms throughout the valley as part of our education program. He just seemed like the guy we could partner with,” Norman said.

The grant from the James Irvine Foundation is the largest ever received by the McCallum.

“I have a history of grant-writing, and Mitch, David and I were all going to be in New York at the same time,” Norman said. “We sat at some restaurant and just kind of riffed on this for a couple of hours. I went home and wrote the grant application. We submitted it, and they asked us to change a couple of things. It’s a very competitive grant, and we got it.”

Art’s role in building community is an important topic to Norman. Before arriving at the McCallum, he was the vice president for public affairs at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J., a city that was victimized by riots in 1967.

“We built a $187 million theater in downtown Newark. It was very important to us that this performing-arts center be built, because so many things were promised to Newark after the riots that never came to fruition,” Norman said. “My boss had a professor (back in 1967), and the professor said, ‘It’s going to be 30 years before anything happens.’ We opened 30 years later, on Oct. 18, 1997. It was important that we build a place that appealed to the Mozart and Beethoven crowd, but also to the residents of the community. As it turned out, at our best, we had an audience that was 28 percent other than Caucasian, which is unheard of in the arts. … We did a lot of stuff in the Newark schools and the urban schools throughout the state. This kind of stuff, about making the arts available to disparate communities, is my passion.”


When Gonzalez arrived in the Coachella Valley and began work on the Crisalida Community Arts Project, he immediately started finding talent.

“It seems like every rock I picked up, there was a creative voice,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve met so many fabulously talented people in visual arts, music, poetry and the theater arts. It’s just been a wonderful experience for me to make so many artistic friends and collaborators.”

Gonzalez said some widely held perceptions of the East Valley—an area which includes some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the state—are not accurate.

“It’s certainly not a monolith, and there’s certainly a lot of diversity in the population out there,” Gonzalez said. “Some families I’ve met have been in that valley and on the land for a couple hundred years. There are some of the pioneer families, who are the old Mexican families that go way back before there was even big agriculture. There are also families who just arrived a year or two ago.

“There’s also a lot of diversity when it comes to economic status. Some of those towns have a healthy middle class, and even in the places where there is lower income, there’s so much dignity. If you go to Mecca, the median income is less than standard, but the quality of life is good: The streets are clean, and there’s so much community spirit—but there are some problems. I think there’s a misconception about the monolithic, uneducated poverty out there, and it’s simply not true.”

Both Norman and Gonzalez said it was not always easy to gain trust in the East Valley.

“The first year was about relationship-building,” Norman. “We expected some skepticism. I think a lot of people have promised a lot of things to the east side of the valley and have walked away.”

Fortunately, Gonzalez was up to the task.

“I think this is a common story: When an arts institution that’s seen … in a way as elitist tries a new hand in being a community partner, there’s a lot of suspicion and doubt,” Gonzalez said. “My job was to go and meet folks and listen to folks, because nothing communicates a willingness to partner better than listening to the concerns and interests, as well as seeing what’s there instead of telling people what they need. The grant was written in such a way where we could use the first eight to 10 months to go out and meet folks and see what was there.”

Gonzalez said not everybody he encountered was willing to participate in the Crisalida Community Arts Project.

“Because the grant is only a two-year grant, I couldn’t spend too much time trying to convince them that they should,” he said. “We did partner up with some wonderful community organizations like the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, the Indio Teen Center, the Indio Senior Center, the (Coachella Valley History) Museum, and Pueblo Unido.”


One example of the talent Gonzalez (right in photo to the right) found is Francisco Rodriguez (left).

“Francisco Rodriguez has a degree in creative writing and poetry from UC Riverside,” Gonzalez said. “He’s from Mecca, and he’s a brilliant young man. I’ve hired him to do a series of interviews with community elders and in some of the housing projects. He did one poem with Leonardo Espinosa (center), who worked for 40-plus years as a farm worker and was quite active in the farm-worker strikes back in the day with Cesar Chavez and others. Francisco brought his listening ear to Leonardo’s house, and Leonardo told him, in two installments, part of his life story. Francisco memorialized it into a poem, and that will be presented at our event.”

Rodriguez said he was delighted to take part in the Crisalida Community Arts Project.

“It was really beautiful and really nice to be able to hear the voices of the valley,” Rodriguez said. “… Being able to hear different people’s stories, experiences, things they’ve been through, and even things they’re going through right now that are good or bad—it’s part of life, and to see them being passionate and moving on, it’s really refreshing.”

Rodriguez said even he didn’t realize how much talent could be found in the East Valley.

“I’ve lived here in the valley just about all my life,” Rodriguez said. “When I met David Gonzalez and became part of the Crisalida Community Arts Project, I was able to meet different people, and it wasn’t as isolated as I thought it was. There are so many artists here, so many writers, and so many musicians. It was really refreshing to discover that part of the valley and to see how things tend to be a little obscure—but you see and get to know they exist, too.”

Gonzalez said he played a role in developing a theater group.

“Something we noticed in the East Valley was the interest in developing theater,” Gonzalez said. “I collaborated with Carlos Garcia, a retired drama teacher from Desert Mirage High School, to create the East Valley Repertory Company, which is bilingual theater, and its focus is to encourage people in the theater arts from the East Valley to participate in community theater. We’ve had a number of successful events, such as a 10-minute play festival (first photo below), which was very well-attended. We published seven 10-minute plays in a book.”

Gonzalez said the East Valley Voices Out Loud event should be fantastic.

“It’s going to be a really thrilling event, because you’re going to hear, see and come and touch a very wide variety of artists in the East Valley,” he said, “everything from hip-hop artists to a brand-new band of seniors who sing bolero with themes of social justice and how they see their communities. There are also going to be singer-songwriters and documentary videos, and it’s going to be a kaleidoscopic night where you can experience a lot of artists who are vibrant in the East Valley.”

Gonzalez said the Crisalida Community Arts Project has had numerous positive effects—both at the McCallum and in the East Valley.

“The McCallum is, along with a couple of other institutions in the valley, the premier cultural beacon,” Gonzalez said. “Its credibility, its pool of talent and its brain trust are a tremendous resource for the broader community. I’ve watched the staff of the McCallum grow in their interest in the community, and it’s been a thrill to see the leadership and the board get behind a new initiative that brings the McCallum out into the community, so it’s appreciated and understood in a way it hadn’t been before.”

Gonzalez said the Crisalida Community Arts Project proved the arts can make a positive difference in the East Valley.

“Art is a critical component to a healthy society,” Gonzalez said. “Art connects us through dialogue around intellectual challenges and beauty. There’s a tremendous vitality and aliveness in the East Valley, and they have enjoyed traditions for a very long time. The influence of this grant has been to support the impulses that were already there and bring them to greater fruition. There have been a couple of instances where this was a first-time experience for people. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily saving lives, but it’s giving people the opportunity to see themselves as creative people and contributors to the creative dialogue in their community.”

East Valley Voices Out Loud will take place at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 14, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $9 to $22. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Below: A scene from Tacos, Teardrops and Tequila, a 10-minute play festival produced by East Valley Repertory Company and the Crisalida Community Arts Project; Arturo Castellanos will be performing as part of the East Valley Voices Out Loud show at the McCallum.

Published in Local Fun