Times are tough for community-oriented arts programs.
Despite record-setting prices for art at auctions, funding for public art and education is evaporating—or has already dried up. School districts have decreased course offerings in art, music and the humanities. As a result, to some art-lovers, the future appears bleak.
Enter the CREATE Center for the Arts. A year ago, the center opened its doors in a converted thrift store on Highway 111 in Palm Desert, and the 12 months since have been marked by accomplishment, tragedy and a dogged determination to survive.
The CREATE Center’s mission statement, “to create community enrichment through the arts,” is epitomized by founder and director Debra Ann Mumm. I’m a relative newcomer to the valley arts world, and as I’ve talked to local gallery owners, artists and museum representatives, one name kept coming up: I was told, “You have to meet Debra.”
I wanted to learn more about the CREATE Center and the woman who is the driving force behind it. I decided to volunteer there for a week and see what was going on for myself.
When I met Mumm, I was immediately swept up in her enthusiasm. She has big plans—really big plans: She envisions a multistory building serving the needs of artists, performers and designers by providing education, studio space, exhibitions and event space—available to everyone in the Coachella Valley.
“I want to make something that lasts—a permanent art center, something that increases accessibility,” she said.
Mumm described herself as a creative child. She majored in film and theater. Her first job was delivering blueprints—although the company also sold some art supplies. Later, a course at College of the Desert and interactions with local artists convinced her there was a need for a local art-supply store. She opened Venus Art Supply in Palm Desert, and started some art classes as a way to sell more paint. That led to sponsoring struggling artists and providing low-cost studio space. She’s received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to the arts community over the past 25 years, and the CREATE Center is the culmination of her history and core belief that art changes lives.
The center provides workshops and weekly classes. Low-cost studio space and equipment is available. Local artists can exhibit their work in both juried and non-juried gallery shows. Free and low-cost youth programs offer art education for kids 5 years old and up.
In its first year, the CREATE Center has made a big impression—but along with the recognition has come heartache.
On my first day of volunteering, I was asked to take down the memorial exhibition of works by Susan Smith Evans, and wrap the works for storage. Susan was a popular teacher at the College of the Desert, and a prolific painter and printmaker; she was also one of the founding board members of the CREATE Center. She was killed last March in an accident at her home, within months of the center’s opening.
Her husband, Ron Evans, a ceramics teacher at College of the Desert, asked the CREATE Center to be the permanent home for his wife’s art. He died on Nov. 30.
I talked with Michele Ohanesian, an instructor at the center, about the highs and lows of the first year. Susan Smith Evans was her first art teacher in college, and Ohanesian said Smith Evans was her inspiration to become a professional artist. As for the highlights, Ohanesian said the center’s energy—including people just walking in the door to ask what was going on—was the best thing about the it.
Things happen quickly at the center—and change is constant. Two days after my last volunteer shift, I had this story all planned out when I got a text from Debra Ann Mumm: “We’re moving tomorrow.”
A new space had become available. It was less expensive—a critical consideration for a fledgling nonprofit. It also allowed the center to move its private studios into the same location as the classes and exhibitions. This, too, saved money, and would benefit both the professional artists and the students by having them in the same space.
Mumm had big plans for the space, she said. Her enthusiasm caught me. I returned the next afternoon to help pack for a couple hours.
The CREATE Center for the Arts is located at 73733 Fred Waring Drive, No. 106, in Palm Desert. The center will hold a first-anniversary celebration from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 13. For more information, call 760-834-8318, or visit www.createcenterforthearts.com.