Palm Springs’ Church of St. Paul in the Desert wants to help tell the Coachella Valley’s story.
Working with the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission, the Church of St. Paul and artist Bernard Hoyes have begun work on a community mural, “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters.”
On a recent visit to the in-progress mural—on the church’s wall facing the alleyway behind Trina Turk—Hoyes was finishing up after a group of children from BRAFF (Building Resilience in African-American Families) had done some painting with him. Hoyes said he welcomes people to come and share ideas.
“I’ll just enlarge and re-realize it,” Hoyes said, pointing to a wagon wheel some of the kids had painted. “I’ll just make it more realistic as a wagon wheel so it can be recognized. They suggested things, and I’ll make them come alive in a way that makes them a part of what I’m doing with the mural.”
The Rev. Andrew Green, the rector of St. Paul in the Desert, at 125 W. El Alameda, agreed with the community vision.
“This is one of the elements that makes it a community mural,” Green said. “The vision is adjusting and changing as different people participate.”
Hoyes said he wants the mural to acknowledge the cultural history of the Coachella Valley and its different ethnicities.
“I’ve been living in the desert permanently now for about five years,” Hoyes said. “I’ve been coming here for about 30 years, with my studio in Desert Hot Springs. Since I’ve been out here, I’ve been involved in the community, and I’ve seen the development of Palm Springs from year to year, and I wanted to do something that was an exposé of the development. What are the important elements of the development? One of those things was water. … Water is a nutriment, or in some parts of the Bible, a sacrament, and it’s an important part of the mural. There are different ethnicities from one side to the other side, and we have Esther Williams (who was a Palm Springs resident) in all her glory making water a kind of iconic element during the ’40s and ’50s as entertainment.”
Green said he’s had a mural in mind for the church for about two years.
“Originally, it was on a different wall,” he said. “I was talking with the people from the Palm Springs Art Commission. … They had an exhibit of young people’s art for a Martin Luther King celebration. When we were setting up for that … two people from the Arts Commission came and said, ‘Are you still serious about doing a mural?’ There were two artists who came and checked it out, saying that this wall was better than the other one we had in mind.
“The designs (artists) were submitting went to my church’s board, and they selected this design. But one of the ideas for it was that a mural is a very participatory kind of art. It invites people to get involved in the production end, but it also invites people to get involved at the viewing end. … People will find this to be a sacred space for them and their own spirituality. It would be an offering of our church to our community.”
Hoyes said he’s enjoying painting the mural.
“There’s a level of satisfaction with being involved, especially with the church,” Hoyes said. “My art speaks to religious and spiritual enlightenment and continuity. I made a name for myself as an artist with spiritual works. Most of the work has been derivative of African religious retention. I was raised in a backyard church in Jamaica, and it has stayed with me. I’m kind of versed in the Bible, and I’ve studied other religions. The commonality that is existent—I understand it, and I can inform with the symbols and make an informed statement about spirituality.”
Since the city of Palm Springs temporarily banned murals before creating a new murals ordinance—mandating a rather restrictive and expensive approvals process—back in 2014, few new murals have gone up. But that may change soon, Green said.
“Palm Springs has had a change of heart in murals,” he said. “The existing mural code was designed to make it hard to do murals. But the Public Arts Commission and the City Council have changed and want to encourage murals—but encourage murals going through a planning process with the Arts Commission in advance. For example, the Arts Commission … said, ‘If you do this and set this up, we’ll approve this, and we’ll take care of paying the city fees.’ … We waited four months to get the process accomplished before (Hoyes) put a brush to the wall so that it was completely appropriate with the city. I did not find anything they asked for onerous or creatively muzzling; the process just takes time.
“Some of the code said for this mural to receive the benefit of the fees, about $1,500 being reimbursed, it would have to be up for at least two years.”
Green said he hopes the mural inspires people to look into the church and to find meaning.
“Far too much, what we do with church is aimed at supporting the building and the institution as a corporation or a facility. What I’m interested in is seeing the church as engaged and embedded in the community,” he said. “I hope that does bring people here. It might bring them here for 12-step groups; it might bring them here for lunch when Well in the Desert is serving lunch on Wednesday—or all different types of things. If it brought them to church, I’d love it.”