January marks the start of the “high season” of activity at the world-famous Empire Polo Club—and before the huge music events arrive in April, the grounds will host the 34th edition of the Southwest Arts Festival, and its sumptuous display of works created by roughly 250 talented artists, from Thursday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 26.
Josh Bonner is the president and CEO of the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (GCVCC), the host organization of this valley tradition. He explained how artists get selected to participate.
“Artists from across the country will put in their applications to be at the show,” Bonner said. “As part of that process, they submit multiple pictures of their artwork. Also, they will submit a photo of the display they use at shows, so we can see what it would look like if they were at our art show. That all goes before our panel of judges. … Primarily, the jury pool is made up of artists, because we want (applicants) to be judged by their peers.”
The number of applications is much larger than the allotted number of spots, in part because the Southwest Arts Festival is viewed as an artist-friendly show.
“Art shows operate in two different ways,” Bonner said. “One way is (organizers) charge a very large upfront fee, like $700-$800, for the artist to come out. Then (the artists) keep all of their sales. We charge a much lower upfront fee of $350, and then they pay a small percentage commission on their sales. We do it that way, because, in our opinion, it helps the artist. If the artist comes out and has a great show, then he or she has a great show. But if they come out and they don’t have a great show for some reason, at least they’re not out that huge upfront investment.”
A lot of selling indeed goes on—Bonner said last year’s sales exceeded $1 million—and those sales do a lot of good for local nonprofits.
“The GCVCC is an interesting organization, because we are not like other chambers,” Bonner said. “We’re sort of an umbrella chamber. The GCVCC puts the festival on, but underneath us, you have the chambers of commerce from Indio, Coachella and La Quinta (among other cities), and the Desert Advertising Federation, which is an association of marketing professionals. All of those nonprofit entities benefit from the show.
“In addition, we’ll also designate two or three other local nonprofits who will benefit from a portion of the proceeds. In the past, we’ve had proceeds that benefited the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and ABC Recovery Center.”
Bonner said the 12,000 to 15,000 festival-goers can enjoy a variety of experiences.
“One thing we realized is that when you come to an art show with some 250 artists, it takes time for you to get through all those artists. People are normally on the grounds for a few hours; they don’t just show up for five minutes,” Bonner said. “So, because of that, we work with the Empire Polo Club, and every year, they help out with food and beverage. They bring in different culinary experiences. … There are several different restaurants there that people can choose from to eat lunch, or a snack, while they’re at the event. There are bars with drinks available throughout the venue as well.
“We have interactive art displays. We’ll have an area where kids can paint, and sometimes, we’ll have (hands-on experiences with) glass-blowing or metalwork. Or we’ll have live canvas painting going on, so that people can see the artistic process taking place. On top of all of that, we have live music as well. At every point during each day, we’ll have some type of live performance music going on.”
Bonner said attendees will get exposed to a lot of art with which they’re unfamiliar.
“I get asked a lot: ‘Hey, do you have famous artists?’” Bonner said with a laugh. “My answer is always, ‘No.’ But I think that’s also the allure of art festivals and to the people who like to go to them: They get to discover new art, unique art. It’s not the Picassos who everyone knows about, but these are really talented local artists from around the country who come to show their wares, and you get to see things you’ve never seen before. That, to me, is the allure of the Southwest Art Festival.
“We have a local artist, Richard Curtner, who operates out of Cathedral City. He does these wonderful collages where he takes like different newspaper (clippings), and he’ll manipulate them to form this beautiful picture. … It is fine art, and these are extremely talented artists, but the beauty and allure of it is that these are artists that you probably have never heard of before.”
The Southwest Arts Festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 23-26, at the Empire Polo Club, 81800 51st Ave., in Indio. Tickets, which are good for all four days, are $15; or $13 for seniors. For tickets or more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/the-southwest-arts-festival-indio-2020-tickets-76332928845.