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Mon03182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

Driving north on Highway 86 one sunny fall afternoon, I almost crashed when I came across the sight of beautiful ladies and snakes hugging the walls of a market in Desert Shores.

“Shesha Sand Storm,” the mural that so surprised me, is a show-stopper. It’s monochrome, dramatic, loud and obviously the work of someone skilled and talented. It offers an urban contrast to the desert skies, yet somehow suits the backdrop of the market and surrounding area.

As it turns out, not one, but two artists created this mural: Finnbar Dac (aka FinDac) and Angelina Christina. They’re the same people who created the beautiful and controversial mural at Bar in downtown Palm Springs.

FinDac hails all the way from London, England; Angelina is from the Los Angeles area. They were traveling across the U.S., leaving their larger-than-life painted women and snakes all over the country, in places including Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Minneapolis and New York City—culminating in early December’s Art Basel, one of the largest art events in the world, in Miami Beach, Fla.

Urban areas like Minneapolis and even Palm Springs make sense for street-art-style murals. But Desert Shores? Its last Census population: 1,104. It’s in the middle of the Colorado Desert, sitting quietly alongside the Salton Sea. Desert Shores is largely populated by families, mostly lower-income. It has a laundromat, a closed bar, a couple of churches, a closed marina and a fire station. Life is quiet here. But sometimes what draws a mural artist is not mere location, but the size and availability of an empty wall.

Angelina and Fin came to Desert Shores with friend and fellow artist Craig, aka B4Flight, who has been documenting their journey. The muralists saw the sea for the first time and were intrigued.

Angelina had heard of the Salton Sea, but like most Angelinos, she had not ventured out this way. FinDac had come to Los Angeles to expand on his work. Born in Ireland and based in London, he wanted to explore the world and its empty wall spaces with his paintbrush, stencils and spray cans. He only started painting about five years ago—as an act of self-preservation. It gave him peace and a space away from whatever it was that was haunting him.

He met with Angelina, a muralist and artist based in Venice Beach, and they connected. Same vision, same ideas—including embarking on their epic road trip.

They arrived in Desert Shores and headed for the seashore. Slightly perturbed by the fish smell, ever curious about the circumstances of the sea, and on the lookout for potential wall space, they spoke with a local resident who recommended they pay the market a visit: There was a big, empty wall there.

The owner approved, so they got to work. Local residents came up, curious about their work and impressed by the scale and beauty; kids surrounded them, wanting to see their techniques. (Some of those kids had been tagging in the area and were well-versed in street art.)

The result: “Shesha Sand Storm.”


In addition to meeting with Fin and Angelina, I got in touch with Carmen Zella, whom I met at a Salton Sea-related conference. Carmen is the executive director of the Do Art Foundation, based in Los Angeles.

While Do Art did not play an official role in the Desert Shores mural, Carmen has been promoting Angelina and Fin, as well as other artists and projects that “are artistically uplifting spaces and communities’ access to art.”

Zells is well aware of the myriad issues surrounding the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea needs more positive attention, and Zella feels that bringing public art to the region will ultimately benefit the area.

I was intrigued by how it was that an L.A.-based foundation came across the Salton Sea, and why Zella felt it was important to bring public art to this location. I recently interviewed her via email.

When was the first time you came down to the sea? How did you hear about it, and what intrigued you?

Living in Los Angeles, the allure of the Salton Sea has been mystified and demystified. It’s an area of significance, and creative splendor—yet disregarded by the society at large because of its troubled waters. Artists see beauty where others do not; artists exemplify and portray beauty in areas that are largely ignored. By opening up the area for this type of investigation and exploration, wheels can start turning, and positive attention to the area can be restored.

Why public art? Why the Salton Sea?

Public art is an expression that is democratic. It is non-exclusionary, and is a form of communication that inspires thought—it provokes curiosity, but above all is a reminder that human expression and creativity is vital and should be shared with others. It’s our history and a major part of our evolutionary path. We lack waterways, and in an age of environmental crisis, making the right steps is no longer a choice—it’s a necessity to ensure our survival on this planet and way of life as we know it.

Do you have any particular locations in mind where you would like to see murals?

I love seeing murals that incorporate the surroundings and are sensitive to the architecture. Spaces that are more remote, or demand a sensitive palette, because they have exquisite qualities of decay, or abandon—when they are restored by an artist’s touch with an addition of character, love and tenderness in the way that they spend time together, it’s powerful. How the artist and the building can combine and collaborate to restore the facade into … “art” is my favorite.

Which artists are you thinking of bringing in?

I would love to move more into the Salton Sea … and the community of artists would as well. There are two classifications of artists: the ones who are born as artists who make work because their mission is to express and evolve, and those who make work because their mission is to be known and made legendary. I prefer the former, and I think that the sensitivity of the Salton Sea deserves this type of artist as well.

Do you think it might be possible to have collaboration between local artists and more well-known artists working together on these murals?

Absolutely. Involving the community is always important. Sometimes, outsiders see things that we do not; having lived in the same environment for so long, we forget. The freshness of new eyes that are speaking other languages or hearing strange sounds is a great reflection for ourselves and surroundings. Mixing this with a local culture is the best mix. Most artists need to develop collaborative relationships, so I would never pair people together in this practice, because it is a forced marriage … but there are many ways to incorporate unity. We learn from each other in observation as well as in shared experience.

What do you think the murals and public art will do for the Salton Sea?

Whenever artists move into areas, transformation begins to take shape. This area is equated to decay and environmental tragedy; artists (can) bring in new life and take what is existing and showcase its beauty.

The Do Art Foundation would love to work with local community members, (helping) owners and local artists to make a significant effort to bring the opportunity to the area in the form of a large-scale art movement. For this, we will need support, both financially and in terms of participation of businesses to house, feed and host the artists who would happily come there to share their work. In the wake of this, tourists, art-lovers and attention will be revived in this area—without any agenda other than to uplift the community. We are ready at Do Art Foundation to help connect the artists and make this happen.

Published in Visual Arts