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 oldtownartisanstudios.org.