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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s now been more than seven months since an Arenas Road murals project, planned and funded by Venus Studios Art Supply owner Debra Ann Mumm, was shut down by Palm Springs police after city officials claimed the project was illegal—even though the city Public Arts Commission had endorsed the project.

It’s now been more than six months since the Palm Springs City Council, in the wake of the controversy caused by the shutdown of Mumm’s mural project, approved a much-needed mural-approval process.

However, since these two events, it’s been all quiet on the Palm Springs murals front.

Mumm still has plans for mural projects in the city, she said. In fact, she has a mockup of a mural she’s planning for the Arenas Road side of LuLu California Bistro. However, she has not yet started the daunting and expensive journey that is now the city of Palm Springs mural process.

Still, Mumm said she is happy there is finally a policy and process in place.

“They made a process where there wasn’t one,” Mumm said. “In that sense, there’s a procedure now, and that’s fantastic. Is it harder? No, because there’s nothing to compare it to previously. My feeling is that’s progress, and that’s an improvement on the situation. At least there’s a way to actually do it legally now.”

One of the reasons Mumm has not yet started the approval process is that she needs to raise the money for the mural—including almost $1,900 that would go to the city just to apply.

The procedure set forth by the city of Palm Springs includes a processing fee of $1,000, plus a notification fee of $872, which must be submitted along with detailed drawings including samples, and background information on the mural artist. Also required: a detailed site plan, photos of the proposed mural location (including neighboring properties), notice labels for all property owners within 500 feet of the proposed mural site, an agreement by the property owner, and a maintenance plan.

Mumm said she figured the process will take at least three months.

“You go before the Planning Commission first, and then the Planning Commission sends your application to the Architectural Advisory Committee to make notes. … After the Architectural Advisory Committee makes notes, then you go to the Public Arts Commission, and then after all those approvals have been met, it finally goes to City Council.”

Murals done before the approval process was enacted, such as the one at Bar, located at 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, were not grandfathered in, meaning owners will need to go through that process. In fact, it was the mural at Bar, painted in November 2013 by Fin DAC and Angelina Christina, that started a debate among Palm Springs residents and city officials about murals.

Reggie Cameron, a Bar spokesman, said via e-mail that the Funkey family, which owns Bar, is currently going through the process of getting the mural approved. “(They) are currently working on the application, but had to wait until the new Art Commission and Planning Commission came into place. … They were sworn in this September/October, so it won’t be on the agenda for some time. They have been in communication with the city regarding the mural.”

Mumm said she did not feel like the city is trying to make it overly difficult to get a mural approved.

“I don’t think the application process is meant to be a deterrent,” she said. “I think it’s meant to make sure that what does go up is of quality, and it’s something that everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinion on before rather than after.”

City Councilmember Paul Lewin cast the sole vote against the mural-approval process in May. (Ginny Foat was absent from that meeting.) He declined to speak to the Independent about the process in person or over the phone, but agreed to answer questions via email. He said he still has concerns about the process.

“I do believe that having a process for murals to be approved is a good thing, because art in public places should have a process where the public can weigh in with their opinion. I do not, however, think that we came up with a particularly good process. That is why I voted against the ordinance,” Lewin wrote.

He suggested what he believes would be a better plan.

“I would have rather seen an easier, more-streamlined process,” Lewin wrote. “I think that if we had asked the Public Arts Commission to identify five or six buildings that would be good candidates for murals, and took public comments during that process, we could have created an environment where there was far less uncertainty for proposed murals. In essence, the locations could have been pre-approved, and thus the (application fees) would be lower. All that would be debated would be the artistic merits of the piece.”

He expressed concerns that the process may be too difficult for artists and property owners.

“Nothing in life or public policy is perfect. So again, it is good that we now have a process that will allow for mural art,” he wrote. “However, I feel that the ordinance as crafted is simply too burdensome on the artists and property owners, and does not really further the cause of bringing mural art to the community.

“I hope to be proven wrong.”

Published in Local Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Editor's Note

The weekend of April 5 and 6 was going to be big for Debra Ann Mumm and local lovers of public art.

The owner of Venus Studios Art Supply had joined renowned local muralist Ryan“Motel” Campbell to launch PLANet Art Palm Springs. The project brought four renowned mural artists to downtown Palm Springs’ Arenas Road area to paint four large-scale murals.

Proper funds had been raised; the city’s Public Arts Commission had even endorsed the week long project. Everything was ready to go.

Except it wasn’t.

As the artists started to paint, the police showed up and told Mumm and Campbell that their project was not authorized—it was illegal. Police reportedly threatened arrests if the artists continued to paint.

Campbell took to Facebook and other social media to vent his frustration. He even posted a picture of the police arriving and shutting down the project.

“ART IS NOT A CRIME,” Campbell wrote.


Today, out-of-place white paint can be found along the edges of some of the walls where the murals were intended to be—Lulu California Bistro, Eddie’s Frozen Yogurt, Clinic and StreetBar—illustrating the sudden stoppage of the project.

“I wish I could explain what exactly happened,” Mumm said. “The news articles that came out about it didn’t say a lot, because there wasn’t a lot of explanation for the actions the city took. We showed up to paint, and the police came and said they were told to cite us if we began to work.

“It came as a bit of a surprise to us. We had followed all the procedures that we had to follow for the area we were painting in. There were no permits needed for that area as far as using the sidewalk and everything like that.”

However, Palm Springs City Manager David Ready told the Independent that what Mumm and Campbell had planned was not allowed—despite the endorsement of the city’s Public Arts Commission.

“Currently, the city does not allow murals,” Ready said, adding that the Public Arts Commission lacks the authority to approve mural projects on its own. “However, the City Council had asked to create a policy that would allow murals. The Arts Commission looked at it, and the Planning Commission is currently looking at it, and the City Council will consider it on May 7.”

Mumm said she’s seen no law or ordinance prohibiting murals in Palm Springs.

“There aren’t any procedures for murals in Palm Springs,” Mumm said. “Because there are no procedures, they are taking it from the standpoint that murals aren’t allowed.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened. It was very clear about the dates we were doing this and moving forward, and that there was nothing in the city language that prevented us from doing that.”

Ready also said that property owners did not have proper permits for the murals.

“They never received a permit from the city,” Ready said. “The property owners did not receive or request any approvals.”

Mumm responded that her group did everything possible to get all the proper approvals.

"We thought we only needed use permits for the sidewalks, because all of Arenas is private, and the Arts Commission approved the project."

The confusion has cost Mumm and Campbell. The project featured out-of-town artists for whom Mumm had made accommodations; it was funded, in part, by locals to bring more arts and culture into the city of Palm Springs. (Mumm and Campbell are still raising funds, by the way.)

Mumm said she hopes a fair policy will be put in place on May 7.

“At this point, we’ve created a lot of public support,” Mumm said. “It’s clear that the city needs to move forward in making a procedure, because the public is very anxious for this project to move forward. At least we’ve created that dialogue.”

One of the artists included in the project is Los Angeles painter Saber, described by The Washington Post as one of the most respected artists in the field of murals. (The others are APEX, Jeff Soto and Chad Hasegawa.) Saber went with Mumm to the Public Arts Commission meeting after the project was halted.

“(Saber) was instrumental in helping the city of Los Angeles develop their mural policy,” Mumm said. “We brought copies of the Los Angeles city mural policy to maybe try and help them develop some kind of program.”

Mumm said the plan is to continue work once the city enacts a mural policy and approves the project.

“We’re still on board,” Mumm said. “The artists came here to paint, and they still want to paint, so we’re just going to continue to move forward. It’s just an extreme delay. … At the very least, it’s created the dialogue and created the conversation, especially after the illegal mural activity.”


“Illegal mural activity” is a reference to the mural that James Haunt painted at Stewart Fine Art, 2481 N. Palm Canyon Drive, and the mural at Bar, 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, painted by Fin DAC and Angelina Christina. There was no attempt for the creators of these murals to get city approval, according to Palm Springs city officials.

“It’s my understanding from the Public Arts Commission meeting that they’ll develop the policy, and once the policy is developed, Bar’s and James Haunt’s mural will both have to go through that procedure,” Mumm said. “They’ll make sure they’re compliant with the newly formed ordinances, and it’s clear that there will be no grandfathering of existing murals. That’s the language that I heard at the meeting. But again, the policy hasn’t been developed yet.”

Mumm said the mural issue is getting caught up in the ongoing conversation about the nature of Palm Springs—and what belongs and doesn’t belong.

“The problem with art is not everyone is going to like it,” Mumm said. “Bar has a fairly controversial mural. It’s a little bit provocative. … What we were bringing to the plate was a little more palatable publicly. I’ve heard people say about the Bar mural that it looks like a strip club. We’re trying to bring internationally recognized, quality artists and experienced muralists to the valley. I love Angelina Christina’s work, but that particular piece (at Bar) got some attention, and maybe all the neighbors aren’t happy about it. There was no public forum for them to come out and say, ‘Oh, man. You can’t do that.’ There was no approval by the Public Arts Commission, either. Everyone just wants the opportunity to weigh in on the subject.”

She also points out that murals have been great for other cities.

“It has made such a big difference for Miami,” Mumm said. “They have the Art Basel event, which draws $500 million in revenue to the Miami area in one week. I know there have been a lot of surveys done that cultural tourism is beneficial. It’s beneficial for businesses. … If you keep doing it, there’s bound to be something for everybody.”

What about people who claim that murals don’t “belong” in Palm Springs?

“I grew up here, and I was born in Indio,” Mumm said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes to Palm Springs from the time when I was a teenager. … I see extreme value in preserving our history, and there’s a lot of significant architecture here. … But the new generation, there’s not a lot to attract them or newer businesses to the area. There’s a lot of clinging to the past, and there’s a certain part of that past that’s important. I’m a big fan and have a lot of respect for what Palm Springs stands for. I think this just adds to it. We’re not taking away from anything that is Palm Springs, but adding something new and creating a new dynamic that can be more than one-dimensional for Palm Springs. It doesn’t have to be just one thing.”

“Forever Marilyn,” the Seward Johnson statue that spent about two years at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Way and Palm Canyon Drive, was the subject of a debate over whether or not it was tasteful—or even art.

“I wasn’t a fan,” Mumm said. “But I’m a fan of what the statue did for the community. Everybody took pictures with the Marilyn. I’m a local, and I don’t like the Marilyn statue, but I have to admit: I have pictures of her on my cell phone.”

When asked whether murals are a good fit for the city, city manager Ready wouldn’t comment specifically, but he did say the city has noticed the potential.

“I think that’s why the City Council requested that we bring forth a policy on murals,” Ready said, “because they recognize murals could certainly have a place in Palm Springs.”

Mumm said that murals are also a good source of graffiti prevention.

“We’ve been invited to bring our program to Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Indio, and even Indian Wells is even interested in looking at some murals,” Mumm said. “They realize the potential for what we’re offering. It is a graffiti deterrent.

“I know if (someone) went up and tagged on a Saber mural, (the tagger) wouldn’t last long,” she said, laughing. “There is a lot of respect even in that culture for significant work like that. You do not tag on a mural unless you’re an idiot, and your whole community around you knows you’re an idiot.”

Published in Local Issues

Thursday, Nov. 21, was a big day for local artist Elena Bulatova: She celebrated the opening of her second gallery, this one in downtown Palm Springs, with a ribbon-cutting featuring Mayor Steve Pougnet.

The celebration continues from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13, when Elena Bulatova Fine Art will hold a reception to celebrate the opening.

I first met Elena Bulatova at her Backstreet Art District gallery, at 2652 S. Cherokee Way. I was impressed by her work, her international lifestyle and her world-class education. The first gallery has been a success for Bulatova; she’s now in her third season in Palm Springs. Not bad for a relatively new arrival in the desert.

Bulatova credited her parents for exposing her to various art museums during their travels. She honed her skills with seven years in art school; she painted, danced and even played the violin in the chamber orchestra at Moscow State University. She then came to the United States to study economics at Yale.

“To be a successful artist, it is not just knowing how to paint,” she told me during an email conversation. “Running the galleries is separate business that includes managing people, client relations, marketing, social media, contacts with press, accounting, financial planning, etc. Success doesn’t come overnight, and many years of studies … helped me to grow in my career as an artist.”

Her art is bright and vivid, often featuring perfect compositions. While she works mostly with primary colors, she also has a series of muted, darker mixed-media works with an iridescent metallic quality. The new Palm Canyon Drive gallery boasts new hand-blown glass pieces, adding a dramatic element to the high ceilings and open space in this unique building across from the Hyatt.

The new gallery will also show carved paintings on panel and bronze sculptures by Delos Van Earl; Larry Weitz’s abstract paintings; and “screw art” by Efraim Mashiah. Starting in January, the gallery will also host monthly exhibitions.

I asked her who was collecting her art.

“My paintings can be found in many private collections, locally in California and all over U.S., but we see a lot of international tourists coming from different countries to Palm Springs,” she said via email. “I shipped paintings to Canada, Mexico, Australia and Europe.”

Why did this woman who grew up in Russia choose the desert as the place to make and sell her art? Why not a place like, say, Miami? (In fact, she’s taking part in the Red Dot Art Fair in Miami right now, in conjunction with Miami Beach’s world-famous Art Basel show.)

“I think the desert art scene has a lot of potential,” she told me, later adding that Miami has too many distractions compared to the relative serenity of the desert. “Palm Springs is very close to Los Angeles, and there are a lot of people visiting. Miami once became a hub for contemporary artists with the coming of Art Basel to the city, which grew in 10 years and attracted numerous satellite fairs and artists to relocate there. We (have) the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair, and its third season is coming. There are already a lot of creative people here—and more coming.”

Bulatova said she opened the second gallery because of the growth in the art industry and because of the potential of Palm Springs. She found the new location, took a month to remodel it, and presto: The new gallery came to be.

There is no doubt in my mind that the new gallery will bring much success to Bulatova—and allow more people to experience her wonderful art.

Elena Bulatova Fine Art’s new downtown Palm Springs location is located at 232 N. Palm Canyon Drive. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays during Palm Springs VillageFest. An opening reception will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 13. For more information, call 760-600-0417, or visit www.ElenaBulatovaFineArt.com.

Published in Visual Arts