The four founders of Desert Open Studios.

The Coachella Valley extends approximately 45 miles, and is 15 miles or so wide—yet many separate scenes exist within this fairly small area. But if there’s anything that can bring the valley together, it’s art!

Enter the Desert Open Studios, a relatively new effort to showcase, connect and empower creatives across the valley. The festivities will kick off Friday, March 4, with an opening night-party for the preview exhibition at the Coachella Valley Art Center in Indio. The studio tours themselves will take place on the following two weekends (March 12, 13, 19 and 20).

“It’s really nice, for me as an artist, to be coming together with the visual artists of the valley and creating something that supports us all,” said Desert Open Studios co-founder Kim Manfredi during a recent phone interview. “There are three nonprofit art centers involved in the tour. The main one is the Coachella Valley Art Center, and they host our sampler exhibition. They’re also home to the studios of several of the artists. The Desert Art Center, which is in Palm Springs, will be presenting demos, and then we have the CREATE Center in Palm Desert, which will have demos and also houses artists. Between the artists and the nonprofits, it’s almost like the entire art wave of the valley is coming together for these two weekends.”

Manfredi explained how Desert Open Studios came to be two years ago.

“There are four founders of Desert Open Studios: myself, Lynda Keeler, Anne Bedrick and Chris Blades,” Manfredi said. “Lynda, Anne, and I are all artists in the valley, and Chris is my husband, who’s the technical support scientist on the team. We’re all art-lovers, and really, the mission began when I moved here, and I noticed there was a little bit of a separation between the east and west valley art scenes, and I wanted to find a way to unite that.

“I come from Baltimore, where we had a strong open studio program, so I brought the concept of open studios to this region, and was completely inspired by the successes of the Highway 62 Open Studio Art Tours. We felt the valley has a vibrant art scene, and we hoped this program would offer a free opportunity for the public to get an insider look at the artists and their world.”

This year’s tour will include more than 100 artists, up from 70 artists in 2021.

“The four of us each have strengths,” Manfredi said. “Chris does the website; I do the social media and the press; Anne does everything administrative; and Lynda is sort of a marketing guru as far as networking, and she’s putting together the online map. We (recently) had a Zoom call with all of the artists, and I just felt so proud of the founders, and how each of us took a piece of this program and embodied that in a way that allows for something bigger than each of us to emerge.

Desert Hot Springs artist Bernard Hoyes.

Manfredi said open studio tours offer the public far more insight than gallery shows.

“The cool thing is that the public is invited into the artist’s workspace,” Manfredi said. “Not only are you getting to see the art, but you’re getting to see the process of the artist. You’re getting to see the brushes and the paint, and the whole entire package. There are also ceramicists, jewelry-makers and people who work with glass. You’re getting an insight or experience of what it means to be an artist. … We’re not necessarily cleaning up or tidying up for your visit, so you’re still going to be able to see the shelves of materials and the brushes. Some people are actually making work while the public comes to visit, which is super-exciting to see.”

Manfredi said her team makes sure the tours are accessible for the artists, too.

“Any artist with a studio, who is willing, is able to participate,” Manfredi said. “There’s no jurying, and we keep the fees down to around $50, and they get maps, signs and a lot of social media promotion for that money. We’re definitely not a pay-to-play kind of endeavor. There is an exhibition at the Coachella Valley Art Center, where each artist will put one piece in the show, so you can go there to plan your exhibit. (We also had) a booth at the Intersect Palm Springs art fair.”

Manfredi said she hopes the Desert Open Studios tours will allow the valley art scene to come together a bit more.

“When I got here, I realized it’s only eight minutes to Indio from my house, so why do people say things like, ‘Oh, Indio, that’s so far’?” she said. “It’s all about perception. … I went on the Highway 62 tour a couple of times, and I realized that there were visitors coming from L.A.—and the project unified the artists in a way that raised them all. I wanted to see that happen here, and I wanted to see the conversation around art be elevated, not just on a community level, but so that it could be in conversation with the contemporary art world at large.”

Manfredi wants to keep the conversation going beyond the tour weekends. That’s why there’s a section of artist interviews on the Desert Open Studios website.

“We started to ask the artists on the tour to reach out to other artists who they respect, and do a short interview, which we’re publishing on the website,” Manfredi said. “Just having a feature like that on our website has allowed or facilitated artists to reach out to one another and have conversations about art. Then we give them a vehicle with which those conversations can be shared. I’m also building a large Instagram following, and I’m publishing on Facebook as well, so we’re trying to … get these artists’ interactions out to the public.”

The Desert Open Studios tours take place Saturday and Sunday, March 12-20. For tour guides, maps and more information, visit www.desertopenstudios.com.

Indio artist Adriana-Lopez Ospina.

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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