Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Over the past year and a half, it has been my privilege to visit, learn about and write about a number of nonprofit organizations in the Coachella Valley dedicated to the arts.

Someone once said that life without art is like food without salt. From Palm Springs to Coachella to the high desert towns of Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree, these organizations provide safe places filled with beauty, hope, joy and inspiration to thousands of people. They enrich our communities and create a fertile nest from which fledgling artists can take their first flight.

While some of the people involved in these organizations are wealthy, most are not. Who are the donors that help provide the funds for the facilities, the teachers and the supplies? One name kept coming up during my visits. It was hard for me to miss, because we share the same name, but there is no relation: The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation of Palm Desert.

H.N. and Frances first met in Santa Barbara. “Fran” was a school teacher, and “Nor” was an accountant. They shared a positive outlook on life and the uncanny ability to turn dreams into reality.

They married in 1925. They borrowed money from a friend and took out a loan to build their first house together. The experience changed their lives: They quickly built a real estate and development company that eventually spanned Southern California. Their next success came in the banking industry, when they founded Prudential Savings and Loan. Nor died in 1988; Fran passed away in 1991.

The Bergers, despite their great wealth, never forgot where they came from. They believed that opportunity was for everyone—so they established the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, with the mission “to help people help themselves.”

Today, the foundation provides grants to charitable organizations throughout Southern California and the country, often in health care and education.

Catharine Reed is the program director of the Berger Foundation. She has been involved with the foundation since 2008 and has more than 20 years of experience with multi-million-dollar nonprofit foundations. She responded to my questions via email.

I’m aware of the recent Spotlight grant given to the CREATE Center for the Arts and your support of the Old Town Artisan Studios, as well as your sponsorship of the free Second Sundays at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Are there other art organizations in the valley that have received grants from you?

The Cabot’s Museum Foundation (free public arts programs); S.C.R.A.P. Gallery (the Student Creative Recycle Art Program); Tools for Tomorrow (after-school program that promotes arts education); Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert (overall programming, which includes hands-on arts opportunities); the Ophelia Project (a comprehensive enrichment curriculum that includes academic development and arts for personal growth of teen girls, at most middle schools in the valley); Boys and Girls Clubs—all clubs in the valley (programming includes arts); Family YMCA of the Desert (programming includes arts); Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council (programming includes arts); and All Desert Wellness Centers (a mental health center that includes art therapy).

The organizations were each funded through the Coachella Valley Spotlight grant program. The Coachella Valley Spotlight is a partnership between the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation and Gulf California Broadcasting (owners of KESQ News Channel 3 and five other broadcast properties). Nonprofit organizations are selected to receive a $25,000 grant from the Berger Foundation and media coverage during a designated month.

How does the Berger Foundation’s support of the arts tie into the mission “to help people help themselves”?

Some people may not have the ability to purchase supplies or to pay for admissions to museums, for example, but through grant-giving, we can make more of these things available to residents at little or no cost. This allows for an opportunity. It’s then up to an individual to use that opportunity to impact their own life.

What are the things you look for in an arts organization when you are deciding on grants?

No matter the type of services an organization is providing, the foundation board evaluates grant requests the same way. Primarily, we look to see if an organization is established. We don’t often fund startup organizations. It’s important to us that an organization is sustainable on its own for basic operating expenses and that it is offering programs that are serving many and impacting people’s lives. If the basic structure of an organization is in place, and we can enhance it or help the organization add a program to its existing ones, then the foundation board sees value in that.

We also invest in the people behind the organization. If the leaders of the organization have a track record of success, then we are more comfortable that the funds will be used responsibly. Grantees must report the outcome and impact of grant funding, and most grants are to be used within six months of receipt, so we expect an organization to show us fairly immediate results that they are making a difference in the community.

Were Mr. and Mrs. Berger interested in art themselves?

Mrs. Berger was a school teacher, so all aspects of education were important to her.

Your website states that donations to the foundation are not accepted. Is the Berger Foundation funded solely from the personal fortune of the Berger family?

The Berger Foundation was founded on the personal fortune of Mr. and Mrs. Berger, who made wise investments throughout their lifetimes. Since 1988, when Ron Auen became president of the board, the foundation has increased its value many times over through a diverse portfolio of thoughtful investments. Unlike other foundations, we have several working board members who are making investment decisions every day. That work means that the foundation is self-funded. A portion of the money made by the foundation is then distributed through grant-giving. By maintaining a solid investment portfolio, the foundation can continue to give. The foundation is responsible for its own financial health and its giving.

What would you like to see happen in the future with the arts organizations here?

For any healthy and growing community, it’s important for the arts to also grow and flourish. Having accessible arts programs available to all areas and economic sectors of the Coachella Valley is important to its overall vitality. When a lot of people are interested in the programs and services of an arts organization, then the significance and need is most clear.

What message would you like to convey to our readers about the Berger Foundation and its charitable support for those less fortunate in our communities?

The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation looks for nonprofit organizations that can build on the grant funding we can provide. We know there are many aspects to a healthy community, including health care and education, so we get tremendous satisfaction out of contributing to those building blocks that create a strong base in the area. Then, if we can enhance the community further through grants to arts, cultural, athletics and other elective activities, this creates a diverse community of people engaging in their interests, forming a healthy whole.

What also builds a strong community is each individual contributing whatever they can to continually improve the area where they live. Part of the goal of the foundation board is that by giving, others will be inspired to give and to give back. Nearly everyone can contribute in some way, whether it’s donating money or volunteering time. It all helps create a more vibrant community and helps those who are less fortunate.

For more information, visit

Published in Visual Arts

Tucked off a small side street in La Quinta Cove is a sparkling oasis of serenity and inclusiveness—dedicated to the healing power of art.

Founders Richard and Victory Grund created Old Town Artisan Studios 10 years ago as a gift to the community, and as a vehicle for them to share their passionate belief that art is for everyone. The backstory: After Victory Grund lost her parents, she fell into a deep depression. A concerned neighbor handed her a lump of clay with the instruction to “build something”—and Grund quickly realized the power of art to heal even the deepest wounds. It was a lesson she felt compelled to share with the world, and share, she has: Last year alone, Old Town Artisan Studios’ outreach program reached 21,683 people in the Coachella Valley.

Through a heavily timbered Spanish gateway sits a multilevel compound with tree-shaded courtyards, patios, fountains and historic buildings. Coletta Herbold, the studio coordinator, gave me a tour. What started as a family homestead grew to include three houses, which were later converted into restaurants. The buildings and a little more than three acres were purchased three years ago by the nonprofit Old Town Artisans Studios foundation. After a year of renovations, doors opened to the public.

Today, there are six studios in the various buildings. The topics for classes and workshops include wheel-thrown and hand-built ceramics, painting, fused and stained glass, fabrics and mixed media. The shaded patios with their fountains provide a pleasant retreat for sack lunches and are also available for events. The costs are kept low, and the popularity of the classes and workshops allows the foundation to channel tax-deductible donations toward serving the less fortunate in our valley.

In keeping with the commitment “to provide a positive art experience for all people despite age, disability or financial condition,” the Old Town Artisan Studios offers a number of programs, including youth summer day camps with a variety of artistic mediums, programs for special-needs youth and adults, outreach programs that partner with charities throughout the valley, and a new program for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

Thomas Burns is the executive director. The Chicago native has lived in California for 23 years. He founded the Carmel International Film Festival; prior to that, he founded and published the national art magazine ARTWORKS.

“The Summer Youth Camps are one of our most popular offerings. Last year, the classes sold out early,” he said. “This year, we are doubling the size. Because of this, we are able to split the camps into two age groups, 7 to 11, and 12 and up.

“The camps are one week long, Monday through Friday. Mornings and afternoons are different mediums. We even had a sewing class. Girls and boys both made their own backpacks and used them. We supply all the materials and drinks and a healthy snack. It’s bring-your-own lunch on the patio.”

During my tour, I saw a special-needs class working in clay in the large studio.

“The La Quinta High School special-needs class comes here,” Burns explained. “We also have adults as well. We don’t separate them from the rest of our clients. We want everyone to be able to have the same experience.”

The Alzheimer’s program is a fairly new addition.

“When we started the Alzheimer’s program, I wanted to make sure that we included the caregivers as well,” Burns said. “People actually sign up for this through the local Alzheimer’s Association. … They wanted a variety of classes for stimulation.”

Veterans receive a deep discount on all fee-based classes and workshops. Old Town Artisan Studios’ outreach program partners with other local charities to make sure anyone who can’t afford the modest fees has access to classes.

“We have two vans that go out into the community almost every day,” Burns said. “For example, we work with the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs to bring our instructors and experience to people who can’t come to the studios here. The YMCA alone has asked us to visit 40 locations. At some of these locations, there are up to 100 kids waiting for us. We’ll make it to all of them.

“We’re here to help. If we have the demand and the funding, we’ll be there. We don’t want to turn anybody down. Whatever the demand, we’ll go.”

I asked Burns about Old Town Artisan Studios’ plans for the future.

“Over the summer, we’ll be flipping our reception and retail spaces,” he said. “In our gallery, we will be changing exhibits every two weeks. We’ll be featuring work by our instructors and also some of our students. Some of our best shows have been by our students.

“We are producing a line of dinnerware that is all handmade here on site. Along with that, we are starting an events business. Right now, when someone wants to hold an event here, they have to provide all the food and setup themselves. We want to bring in our own chef and offer organic food served on our own plates.”

Burns said other long-term plans include the addition of a community-performance space and more artists’ studios geared to professional artists.

As I was leaving, I noticed a sign next to the entry gate. It reinforced my own impression of what I had just experienced: “We believe that art is healing and has an everlasting positive impact on each of us and the world around us.”

Old Town Artisan Studios is located at 78046 Calle Barcelona, in La Quinta. For more information, call 760-777-1444, or visit

Published in Visual Arts


The Palm Springs International Film Festival

One of the largest film festivals in North America welcomes 135,000 attendees for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries. The festival is also known for its annual Black Tie Awards Gala, honoring the best achievements of the filmic year by a celebrated list of talents who, in recent years, have included Ben Affleck, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet. This 25th anniversary edition features an exciting lineup of the best of international cinema. Various times and prices from Friday, Jan. 2, through Monday, Jan. 12. 760-322-2930;

Music and More

Betty Buckley—The Vixens Of Broadway

Betty Buckley has been called “the voice of Broadway,” and is one of theater’s most respected leading ladies. She is an actress/singer whose career spans theater, film, television and concert halls around the world, and she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2012. 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17. $60 to $75. Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490;

Cabaret 88: Kevin Earley

Kevin Earley recently finished performing in Secondhand Lions in Seattle and Daddy Long Legs in Florida. A Drama Desk Award nominee for the title role in Death Takes a Holiday, his Broadway credits include Les Miserables, Thoroughly Modern Millie and A Tale of Two Cities. 6 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 13 and 14. $88. Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490;

Copa Events

Last Comic Standing star Iliza Shlesinger takes the stage at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 9 and 10. $30 to $40. Former Mouseketeer Lindsey Alley brings her blend of show tunes and comedy to the Copa at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 16 and 17. $25 to $35. American Idol and The Voice diva Frenchie Davis performs at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 18. $25 to $35. Former X-Factor finalist Jason Brock performs at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 23 and 24. $25 to $35. All shows are 21 and older, with a two-drink minimum. Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-3554;

The USO Variety Show

The USO has been entertaining troops worldwide in times of peace and war for more 70 years. Now, the Bob Hope USO needs you to laugh, enjoy and have some fun remembering the good ol’ times. Join us for a live nostalgic tribute to Bob Hope and his band of Hollywood celebs; enjoy free tours of the museum pre- or post-show time. 2 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 22. $55 to $75. Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs. 760-778-6262;

Special Events

Dance for Life Palm Springs

A showcase of spectacular performances by renowned dance companies, all joining forces to help those in need. Now in its fourth year in Palm Springs, this event celebrates the art of dance to benefit AIDS Assistance Program. 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16. $95 performance; $200 with VIP reception. Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-8481;

Gourmet Food Truck Event

Try food trucks for lunch featuring burgers, barbecue, tacos, California cuisine, sushi and dessert. Outdoor seating is available, or bring a blanket. Dabble in the local farmers’ market; listen to music provided by The Coachella Valley Art Scene; enjoy a beer garden with some of the best craft beers from La Quinta Brewing Company and Coachella Valley Brewing Company. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Free. Cathedral City Civic Center Plaza, 68700 Avenue Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral City.

Hearts for Art Gala

Don’t miss the red carpet, celebrity sightings, cabaret show, exciting live and silent auctions, Hollywood glitz and glamour galore, and fun, fun, fun. Your attendance supports the nonprofit Old Town Artisan Studio’s mission to bring clay and glass art experiences to the underserved. 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17. $150. La Quinta Resort and Club, 49499 Eisenhower Drive, La Quinta. 760-777-1444;

Looking for Lost Ophir

This lecture by author/historian Nick Clapp is part of the Old School House Lecture Series, which started in 1999 and is run in partnership with the Twentynine Palms Historical Society. 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 9. $5 at the door. Old Schoolhouse Museum, 6760 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms. 760-367-5535.

Visual Arts

Art Under the Umbrellas

The event presents a diverse collection of 80 talented artists exhibiting their original creations along Old Town La Quinta’s picturesque Main Street. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10 and 17. Free. Old Town La Quinta, Main Street, La Quinta. 760-564-1244;

Desert Art Festival

This event features numerous artists presenting their original work in all mediums of two- and three-dimensional fine art, including paintings in acrylic, oils and watercolors, photography, etchings, sculpture in clay, glass, metal, stone and wood. Each artist will be present to meet with the public and discuss their work. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 17 and 18. Free. Frances Stevens Park, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 818-813-4478;

A Grand Adventure: American Art in the West

The epic 19th-century landscape paintings of Yosemite and Yellowstone by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran introduced the American public to the grandeur of the West. By the turn of the century, a new genre of Western art had developed. A Grand Adventurebrings together 40 significant classic and traditional artworks from private collections. The artworks span nearly 100 years, dating from the latter half of the 19th century through the early decades of the 20th century. The exhibit closes Sunday, Jan. 4. Included with regular admission prices. Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, 72567 Highway 111, Palm Desert. 760-346-5600;

Southwest Arts Festival

This festival sponsored by the Indio Chamber of Commerce, the City of Indio and the Indio Visitors Bureau features traditional, contemporary and abstract fine works of art by more than 250 acclaimed artists, and is celebrating its 29th year. The festival includes clay, drawing, glass, jewelry, metal works, painting, photography, sculpture and textile. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 25. $9 general; $8 seniors; $12 three-day pass; free children 14 and younger. Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51, Indio. 760-347-0676;

Town Square Art Affaire

The Town Square Art Affaire will feature numerous artists presenting their original work in all mediums of two- and three-dimensional fine art. Each artist will be present, and all work is available for purchase. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 10 and 11. Free. Cathedral City Town Square, 8700 Avenida Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral City. 818-813-4478;

Submit your free arts listings at The listings presented above were all posted on the ArtsOasis calendar, and formatted/edited by Coachella Valley Independent staff. The Independent recommends calling to confirm all events information presented here.

Published in Local Fun