A watercolor class at CREATE Center for the Arts.

About 18 months ago, I volunteered with the CREATE Center for the Arts for a week to see what it was all about.

The fledgling nonprofit was approaching its first anniversary in its inaugural home, subleasing space in a former thrift store on Highway 111 in Palm Desert. The members and students were still reeling from the sudden death of founding board member Susan Smith Evans; in fact, one of my first tasks was taking down memorial retrospective of Evans’ paintings.

Soon after, the company the CREATE Center was leasing space from closed—and the center was suddenly without a home. The future of the organization was unsure; funding and support were a constant source of anxiety.

Mumm—the center’s founder and director—announced CREATE was moving. She asked everyone involved with the center to bring their cars, trucks and dollies, because a lease for a space had been signed, and they had to move.

Mumm’s dedication to her mission—to enrich her community through the arts—coupled with her tenacity and her laser-focused vision of the future, pulled the young organization through the crisis. Today, the fruits of her labor, and that of other CREATE board members and volunteers, is evident. The transformation is astounding.

Mumm—a longtime leading figure in the local arts community, thanks to her Venus Studios Art Supply store and studio, which she closed to run CREATE—described some of the changes that have occurred since the move 18 months ago.

“We moved into a new space last January—we added more space. We now have dedicated studio spaces,” Mumm said. “There’s an art-supply store on location. We have a screen-printing studio dedicated to the memory of Susan Evans, and a printmaking studio that uses only nontoxic inks, which is unique to the valley. There’s a tech studio that is the only virtual-reality art studio in the area. You can draw or paint in virtual reality and even sculpt. You can then 3-D-print your sculpture.

“We’re developing a whole fiber program—knitting, weaving, spinning; we’re planning an exhibition for the fall. Our goal is to make tools and equipment accessible for a wide range of disciplines that might be too expensive or take up too much space for most people. We believe that sharing and collaboration bring positive results.

“Making art is a vulnerable act. Being in that state brings people together in a closer way.”

Mumm said CREATE’s expansion allows the organization to host events and private parties.

“We can do unique events that demonstrate virtual reality and 3-D printing. Groups can print T-shirts, tie-dye and engage in team-building. We can seat 80 people or do cocktails for up to 150. … And we’re just getting started.”

While the budget remains tight, CREATE’s revenues have doubled over the last year—and Mumm plans on doubling them again this year. Her long-term goal of a permanent home for the CREATE Center now seems within reach.

The center recently received a surprise spotlight grant of $10,000 from the Berger Foundation (no relation to me) to expand the summer children’s programs and do some renovations. Yet other future plans include adding woodworking and metal-crafts studios, and overhauling CREATE’s social-media program.

“We want to grow and evolve as an organization so that we can enrich and empower our community,” Mumm said.

Of course, Mumm is not alone; CREATE’s mission has been helped along by its new chief administrative officer, Robert Mann. Mann is a writer and former TV-commercial director who most recently was a healthcare administrator; he leads a coalition advocating for the support of those suffering from addiction and mental illness. He returned to the desert last April and offered to help CREATE with branding and strengthening its ties to the community. He also wants to create a filmmaking studio at the center, so he can share his passions for storytelling and bringing those stories to life through film.

Mumm’s two sons have also found a place in the organization. Brice Williamson runs the onsite Aquarius Art Supply Store. The shop specializes in art supplies not usually found in regular art-supply stores or big-box craft stores.

“We carry fine high-end art supplies but try to remain accessible for everyone,” he said. “There are less-expensive items for students—and we offer a discount to all students, either high school or college, and also have discounts for CREATE Center members.

“As much as possible, we carry American-made products. I think that’s important. We have watercolors from Daniel Smith in Seattle. Our oil paint comes from Gamblin in Oregon. Our Golden Acrylics come with a terrific online support system. Our canvases are all from American-grown cotton from a company called Fredrix.”

Brice Williamson compared creating art to creating a meal.

“I cook. That’s my creative outlet,” he said. “It’s hard to cook without the right ingredients. This may be a tiny space, but I can order nearly anything for our customers.”

Mumm’s other son, Brady Williamson, runs the tech studio. The 3-D printer is capable of printing objects up to the size of an average shoe box. He said all the materials used are plant-based and contain no harmful chemicals. Objects can be printed in any color, including wood tones, stone colorations or metal colorations. The settings are variable and require some learning and practice.

Brady Williamson also demonstrated the much-more-intuitive virtual-reality program. With the click of a button, you are transported out of the desert and into another realm—like floating in deep space, with planets, stars, galaxies and nebulas stretching endlessly in every direction. Then the real fun begins: With controls in both hands, you can select colors, brush strokes and special effects—to draw or paint your own universe. The results can be photographed or made into short videos; they can also be created on the 3-D printer.

CREATE has come an amazingly long way since its existence-jeopardizing upheaval a year and a half ago.

“We’re a young organization, and we started with nothing,” she said. Nothing, that is, except for a vision, persistence, a lot of hard work—and an overriding passion for art.

Create Center for the Arts is located at 73733 Fred Waring Drive, Suite 100, in Palm Desert. For more information, call 760-834-8318, or visit createcenterforthearts.org.