It’s been a turbulent couple of months for the Cathedral City Public Arts Commission.
The way interviews were done for potential commission members raised eyebrows. The fact that almost all of the newly seated commissioners live in the same area caused concerns. Then the commission made a major change in direction, with new commissioners pushing an aggressive slate of programs and projects that they say will bring increased artistic opportunity and expression into the daily lives of Cathedral City residents.
“You know, frankly I was rather surprised at how it all went,” returning commissioner and new co-chair Alan Carvalho said regarding the interview process. “When I was interviewed before being selected last year, it was in a closed City Council session. This time, it was done in the open, and I don’t think that they were ready for so many people to be applying.
“One of the focuses of the City Council, from what I understood, was that they were looking to give new people an opportunity to contribute to the city. Also, I know that the mayor (Stan Henry) was concerned that we keep at least one person on each of the commissions who was a veteran.”
Another factor that could have influenced this year’s selections stemmed from the ability of the City Council to appoint commissioners who lived outside of Cathedral City. That policy did not make sense to newly appointed commissioner and co-chair Simeon Den.
“I felt, ‘You guys couldn’t find enough people in Cathedral City who would volunteer their time and want to be there on the commission?’” he said. “We got the council to make a commitment that first, we should try to get Cathedral City residents on to the Public Arts Commission.”
Some people have groused about concerns that a vast majority of current commissioners live in the Cathedral Cove area of the city, a fact confirmed by Chris Parman, communications/events manager of Cathedral City, “Of the five commissioners newly appointed, four of the five candidates live in the Cathedral City Cove neighborhood. Please note that Public Arts Commission candidates are not chosen based on where they live in the city.”
To some, it is curious to note that Jim Cox, then the commission chairperson, was recommended for re-appointment to the commission after the interviews on June 6; however, when the June 10 City Council meeting took place, Cox, who is a Cove resident, was not re-appointed, while commissioner Pam Price, who lives further north in the city, was reappointed.
As far as the new co-chairpersons were concerned, the appointments came down not to geography, but the strategic direction the Public Arts Commission would take.
“The group of commissioners prior to us had a different mindset about how they thought the Public Arts Commission should be,” stated Den. “You know how there’s a group of people who consider themselves to be the experts, and kind of top-down want to dictate what should be considered good art and what should be bad art. When you’re working in the government and for the community, the approach and the philosophy needs to be different. You shouldn’t go from the top down; you go from the bottom up.”
Carvalho expanded on that theme.
“With the previous commission I was a member of, there were very few opportunities for people to feel they could come as the public and just be part of our meeting,” he said. “So I really wanted to make sure that those citizens who applied for commissioner positions and didn’t get seats felt that their contribution was wanted and needed.”
Now that the new Cathedral City Public Arts Commission has been seated, Den and Carvalho are painting a picture of a community-service-driven, geographically agnostic agenda. They passionately described plans they say will deliver real value to local citizens looking for support in their artistic endeavors, recognition of their cultural heritage, and the opportunity to experience good art in their neighborhoods.
“This commission would like to continue what was started last year and bring a sculpture that honors the Agua Caliente tribe to the corner of Landau and Ramon, where the city has built a platform for the use of Public Arts,” Carvalho stated. “The Ramon Road project was partially funded by the tribe.”
Den emphasized several efforts. “Alan Carvalho and I are doing a murals project throughout the city, and particularly in the north end, over by Vista Chino and Ramon. We’re considering local artists, and particularly Latino artists, who could create murals that would add to the cultural identity and enable young people to become part of the process. There are kids who I’ve met who grew up here and went to Cathedral City High School. I’ve contacted two of them, and one who’s been doing a murals project in Oakland and grew up here on E Street is going to paint a mural for us.”
Also high on Den’s list is the “Art Block” project, an ambitious proposal to reclaim the Boneyard property at 36600 Cathedral Canyon Drive from the city for use as a workshop and learning center.
As for high-profile events, the commission is sponsoring an exhibition at City Hall of work by well-known painter and part-time Cathedral City resident Ilona Von Ronay. Also, the Taste of Jalisco Festival is slated for downtown Cathedral City on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 13 and 14; it will feature a screening of the documentary Lalo Guerrero: The Original Chicano, musical and dance performances, a parade, food stands and a kids’ zone.
“Cathedral City has been known as the ugly stepsister of the desert cities, and we always think of it as the Cinderella, because we love it here,” Den said. “We do have such a rich history that we want to bring forward again.”