Inside the La Quinta Arts Festival

By | March 8, 2017 at 3:35 am | No comments | Art Scene, Columns, Events, Feature Stories, Week 03/09 - 03/15 2017

By Avery Wood

The 35th annual La Quinta Arts Festival took place last weekend, March 2-5, 2017 at the La Quinta Civic Center Park. The festival showcases 220 artists, some local and some that traveled internationally to display their pieces.

According to Kathleen Hughes, the events manager for the La Quinta Arts Foundation, the artists that display at the festival are chosen from over 1200 applicants by a board of reviewers that specialize in the medium. Hughes gives the example of jewelry making, saying that the board of reviewers would include people from Tiffany’s and the Gemological Institute of America. After reviewing the artists’ work, the board then interviews the applicants and can discern whether the person is, in fact, making the art themselves or buying it to resell on the basis, for example, that someone supposedly working with metal and gemstones has a manicure.

Once selected and at their destination, the La Quinta Arts Foundation and the City of La Quinta make the registration process as easy as possible for the artists. They are welcomed with pastries and refreshments as volunteers ensure that they have all of the appropriate licenses, with city workers present to distribute La Quinta business licensing on the spot.

Hughes points out that the festival would not be possible without the hospitality of their many sponsors, such as Ralphs, The La Quinta Baking Company, The Café at Shields and Bristol Farms. In fact, Bristol Farms extends that hospitality directly to the artists by providing box lunches to each of them every day so they can stay in their booths and make sales.

The artists are able to start setting up their booths the Tuesday before the festival begins on Thursday, and unsurprisingly, the first ones with large sculptures are the first to begin. Artist Jason Napier unloads a 700 pound sculpture of two eagles, featured on the back cover of the festival program on a hydraulic jack. “It just makes it really easy to get it to the customer’s house,” he says. “There are many times where the customer, they’re not sure if they really want to buy it right now, but if they can see it in place then it gives them an idea… of whether it fits or not.” The entire sculpture is cast in bronze on a stainless steel pedestal and Jason explains the dynamic pose of the eagles, saying that it’s in their nature to constantly be rebuilding their nests. “This one is completely unique to what you’ll see out there… the combination of the male and the female together,” says Danielle Napier. This particular piece will sell for $45,000, though they do have a smaller version.

Ryan T. Schmidt was also among the artists setting up, displaying huge stainless steel sculptures. Artist representative and business partner Robert describes them, saying “we have tabletop pieces to… 14 or 15 feet tall… these are indoor and outdoor pieces that can withstand the elements.” According to Robert, the process of sandblasting and polishing each piece can take hundreds of hours and the prices range from $28,000 to $375,000, with over a million dollars’ worth of art being presented at the festival.

The festival grants awards each year, such as best of show and best of category. “Those [artists] that juried highest in… each category, those are the ones going to be judged,” according to Hughes. This is different from previous years in that since the contestants for the awards are decreased, fewer judges are required, which makes the process less chaotic.

Hughes is also the person that lays out the show and assigns artists to booths. It takes her two weeks and she says “you have to have the right artist in the right space.” This work pays off, as “this show has been called the most stunning festival site in the entire nation,” according to Hughes. Steve Howlett, with the City of La Quinta, is one of the people responsible for the setting, ensuring that the plants are pristine and that all of the recent rain water is vacuumed. “It’s always on our radar… anything we do… how is that going to impact the arts festival. As the festival approaches, his team walks the grounds more and more often to ensure that the weather hasn’t affected the layout and that the festival will go smoothly.

These details that are given meticulous attention aren’t for nothing; The La Quinta Arts Festival was ranked as #1 fine arts festival in the nation by Art Fair SourceBook in 2013-2015 and #3 in 2016.

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