David Hatcher, chairman of the Artists Council board of directors, aims to professionalize the organization to support locally based artists.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRISTINA FRARY
Every few years, when heavy winter rains give way to thick fields of wildflowers across the Coachella Valley, an equally colorful show unfolds across the sky: millions of Painted Lady butterflies all aflutter, traveling north from Mexico during their annual migration. While passing through, many of the orange-winged creatures lay eggs, which, after a series of transformations, become butterflies themselves, completing one of the most miraculous life cycles in nature: metamorphosis.
Deserts, with their surprise superblooms and magical light, are prime spots for metamorphoses of the biological and creative kind — and what better theme for the Artists Council’s inaugural exhibition as an independent nonprofit organization than one that centers on the idea of growth and change? For more than 50 years, the group operated under the Palm Springs Art Museum, promoting Coachella Valley artists and their art through exhibitions, professional development, and community engagement. Its separation from the museum in November 2018 gave it an unexpected opportunity to grow in ways that members never thought possible, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, reborn and wings at the ready.
More than 650 people attended Metamorphosis, which took place over two-and-a-half weeks in March 2019 and showcased work from more than 70 local artists.
“It was a key moment in our beginning,” says board chairman David Hatcher. It was also their first show and sale at The Galen in Palm Desert, which they were leasing at the time from the art museum. After their second exhibition, held in November 2019 in honor of longtime supporters Jerry and Barbara Keller, drew twice the audience, they were approached by the city about taking over the space for good. Now known as the Artists Center at The Galen, the building has become the hub for all of the organization’s operations, including exhibitions, educational programming, and professional development opportunities.
“We’re an artist organization, [and] our members create art to sell,” says artist and longtime board member Barbara Gothard. “Before [the Artists Council], we couldn’t do the kind of exhibition sales that we can do here.”
Even when COVID-19 brought in-person events to a halt, the Artists Council supported its membership of more than 350 with Zoom classes and virtual shows.
Reflections 20/20, their first large-scale online exhibition, featured 89 pieces in eight galleries, using 360-degree technology to transport viewers inside a beautiful venue that, director of exhibitions Tony Radcliffe stresses, was created to display art. The space, combined with high-quality jurors and a sophisticated virtual platform, is “the combination artists are looking for,” he continues, adding that a growing number of artists who want to participate in their exhibitions is coming from farther and farther away; approximately one-quarter of members live outside the Coachella Valley.
Chris Cozen, a mixed-media artist who splits her time between Lake Erie in Ohio and Palm Desert, joined the Artists Council five years ago and became a board member during the pandemic. She’s now the director of educa tion and professional development. “I truly think there is a bit of magic creative energy in the desert that brings artists here,” she says. “The presence of an artist community is an essential draw, as well. That’s why opening the Artists Center is going to have such a profound impact.”
For Cozen, “exhibitions offer artists an amazing opportunity to get their work out in front of the world,” and members can look forward to more opportunities to exhibit in the coming year, including new programming with interactive features allowing artists to demonstrate while they show their work on the walls.
They can also expect classes, lectures, and workshops, some by way of Zoom, some hopefully in person — some even with teachers and instructors from other parts of the country whom the members would normally not have access to.
“Those are the kinds of things that the new Artists Council can do as an independent entity,” Gothard adds. “There is no place quite like it in the Coachella Valley that is totally focused on artists, not the artwork itself, but the artists as people and the artist as the creator.”
Many locals, she points out, might be unfamiliar with thriving community of artists that exists here; thus, the Artists Council has also made it part of its mission to educate the public about the creative lives of their members, and in-gallery sittings and demonstrations are only the start.
While Hatcher assures that elevating artists will always be the Artists Council’s top priority, the organization’s leaders hope to grow their new venue into a “hub of activity for the arts,” not only for their members but for the community at large.
As part of those efforts, it opens its galleries to other groups, such as the Coachella Valley Watercolor Society, to hold their events and sponsors the Georgia Fogelson Scholarship Fund for local students studying performing arts, fine art, or design. Gerald Fogelson, who chairs the advisory board, brought the program, which he runs in honor of his late wife, to the Artists Council.
Radcliffe, meanwhile, has been working with art teachers across three school districts in anticipation of the forthcoming Young Artists Exhibition, previously overseen by the Palm Springs Art Museum. Students will have the opportunity to submit pieces inspired by the theme “fantasy/reality” and see their work matted and framed, as they would in any gallery or museum. In addition to expanding the show to all area high schools, Radcliffe and his team have organized new community activities related to the event.
It also creates a link between the valley’s most prolific artists and the next generation, the young people who are creating art and finding inspiration in the same open spaces and stark contrasts, light and shadow, barren and bloom-filled hillsides as so many before them — a kaleidoscope of butterflies who will one day, no doubt thanks to support from organizations like the Artists Council, spread their wings and fly.
“Art connects people,” Radcliffe says. “Art enhances our understanding, enriches our culture, and makes communities better. The Coachella Valley has known that for a long time.”