patrick sheehan palm springs

Paint the Town

Palm Springs nonprofit initiative pivots during pandemic to put art supplies in the hands of Coachella Valley students.

JIM POWERS Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

patrick sheehan palm springs
Coachellart will stage an art supplies drive for Desert Hot Springs High School students on Dec. 12 in Palm Springs.

As an artist who has worked in the non-profit arena with students for 25 years, Patrick Sheehan thought he could count on his student at home to be able to pursue the arts at her Palm Springs school. Instead, he found out just the opposite. “When my daughter entered sixth grade, she could not take art,” Sheehan recalls. “I was like, ‘What do you mean you can't take art?’”

“I reached out to the administrators, and they said, ‘We really don't have the budget for all three years. We only have the budget for seventh and eighth grade,’” Sheehan adds. “And so, it was just kind of a natural pivot back to wanting to help the arts for the kids, because I mean, I've learned firsthand how it helps with learning, socialization, and we need artists. Artists touch everything that we see in our lives, from design to fine art, to architecture, to music. So, that was the motivation.”

The result was a non-profit effort, coachellart, to put paint brushes, markers, and drawing tools into the hands of students to fill the gap where school district funding fell short. The endeavor doesn’t end there with musical instruments, ballet shoes, and equipment for other creative outlets on the agenda since Sheehan put his initiative into motion in 2019.

The coronavirus pandemic challenged Sheehan’s determination as schools closed and students were relegated to learning from home on their computers. As the school year nears a break over the holidays, Sheehan has put together an arts supplies drive set from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 12 in north Palm Springs. Joined by artist and friend Lynda Keeler, the two talked more about trying to engage students in the arts with Palm Springs Life.

What prompted the idea to shift to collecting art supplies for the kids?

Patrick: The students and I were in the middle of painting a mural at my daughter's school in March when the principal said, "Sorry, you got to go. We're shutting the school down." So we've kind of pivoted to raising funds to be a clearinghouse for art supplies for specific classrooms. For instance, most of the materials that we will hopefully get on Dec. 12 will go to Desert Hot Springs High School because they are desperate for materials. Some kids are doing art classes with online notebook paper and a pencil; they don't have any materials at home.

Once you have the supplies in hand, how do you get them to the kids?

Patrick: My daughter and I bag them up and then we do a drive-thru pickup at the school. That’s the easy part. Raising the money for materials is the challenge but people have been very generous in the Coachella Valley.

The timing seems crucial to give kids a creative outlet and a break from the pandemic guidelines.

Lynda: It just seemed like a good time to clean your art studio. So we thought, every artist has lots of materials that either they've used once and it didn't work or they thought that direction they wanted to go and they backed off. So we thought, "Well, this is a great end of year..." Not spring cleaning, but clean your art studio, your art safe, and your materials will go to these kids who really have such an important need for them.

Patrick: Some of the greatest art and music came out of hard times in our society. And a lot of kids, especially adolescent boys who don't know how to express emotions. And so art is a great relief. I know many artists, including myself and Linda who have really ramped up our painting just because we have more time at home. And with all this time, artists and kids like to be busy. Nobody likes to just have nothing to do. So with some supplies,canvases, and paint, hopefully we can get them motivated and maybe we help launch the next great artist and musician.

What aspirations do you have for coachellart?

Patrick: Before the pandemic, I wanted to do a mobile art bus. I wanted to get an old school bus and do The Partridge Family on the back and drive around the schools, so that's all changed. What I see is the need for materials and fundraising so we can hit every school in the valley.

As a member of the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission, you’ve helped initiate more public art endeavors that involve students, such as murals. Do you hope to bring that back?

Patrick: When we can do socially distanced murals, there are going to be projects like that.

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