By Ellen Paris

For the 28th year, the Indio Chamber of Commerce once again hosts one of the area’s oldest fine arts festivals. The 2014 Southwest Arts Festival® takes place at one of the Valley’s most beautiful venues, the Empire Polo Club in Indio. On January 24, 25 and 26th, over 250 artists will sell and showcase their work in the following categories of contemporary and abstract fine works of art — clay, drawing, glass, jewelry, metal works, painting, photography, sculpture, textile and other arts.

The festival’s reputation for first-class quality and professional integrity make it one of the finest in the country. As a juried show, festival attendees (over 10,000 last year) know they will see a variety of excellent artwork at the show. “Since this is a juried show, we receive hundreds of applications. Each potential artist is hand-selected through a laborious process by talented artistic jurors,” explains Joyce Donaldson, former IOM, President/CEO of the Indio Chamber who recently left the Chamber after running five very successful festivals. “That process keeps the quality high so we only feature distinctive fine art that brings people in. The bottom line is attendance, which drives sales,” adds Donaldson. This is the Chamber’s largest annual fundraiser helping support member services and community programs.

As the landscape of the Coachella Valley has changed in flora, fauna and home design styles, so has the festival’s artistic focus. When it began almost three decades ago, most of the area’s architecture, art and home furnishing accessories were pure Southwestern. “It was hard to find anything for your home that wasn’t southwestern, from a Kokopelli statue for your garden to cactus salt and pepper shakers,” recalls Suzy Walker, who moved to Palm Springs from Washington twenty-eight years ago and frequents the festival.


The festival has followed the area’s changes and evolved away from its beginnings as a mecca for southwest style art to an art show with many contemporary artists in all mediums. “We are not known for just showcasing southwest traditional art any longer. As you walk the festival, modern and contemporary art is everywhere in all price ranges,” Donaldson observes.

The name Southwest Arts Festival is now indicative of the location and not the type of art showcased. “It has been the name for the past 28 years and it has grown to a festival where the attendees know they can find contemporary artwork directly from the artists creating the art,” Donaldson adds.

Nancy Egan of San Clemente and La Quinta was selected as the 2014 Festival Poster Artist. Her oil on canvas, “MOMA Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon,” part of her Museumscape collection, is the festival’s signature poster. The poster’s contemporary look immediately illustrates the evolution. “My Museumscapes are about who is looking at a piece of art. They are younger and edgier than traditional work,” says Egan, a mechanical and industrial engineer for thirty years before turning to painting full-time. Egan’s work is shown at a number of galleries including ones in Laguna Beach, Litchfield, Connecticut, and San Juan Capistrano. “The jury deliberated for hours to select the perfect piece that is indicative of our diverse artists and depicts the vibrancy of today’s Southwest Arts Festival®,” explains Donaldson.

Whatever type of art people are looking for today, they will find it here. There are still “traditional” southwest style artists showing their work. Last year’s “People’s Choice Winner” was Arizona sculptor, Kim Seyesnam Obrzut, who has shown at the Festival for seventeen years. Obrzut, who creates Limited Edition Bronzes, was chosen in votes cast by festivalgoers over the first two days of the festival.

Many artists and attendees return year after year to this family friendly festival with its al fresco dining court and slate of entertainment. The variety of art offerings in all price ranges truly makes it a family affair where everyone can buy something.

Listen to local artist Richard Curtner, the festival’s 2012 poster artist. This is Curtner’s ninth year showing there. “Over the years I have seen how the show has made very positive steps, having something for everyone. Some art festivals only cater to a certain age group and demographic. There is art there for the serious buyers and activities for families. There is every style and medium to appeal to every personal taste. The loyalty of the patrons always amazes me.”
The festival’s evolution attracts new artists offering even more choices for festivalgoers and collectors. This is photographer, Andy Butler’s first time at Southwest. “I heard really good things from friends who are at this festival every year. I think my work fits really well here,” says Butler, who participates in art festivals in Aspen and Sausalito.

Artists whose work was once more traditionally Southwest and who have evolved with the festival see benefits. “It’s most contemporary now, just look at the poster”, observes La Quinta potter, Elliott Newton, a festival regular for eight years. “The sales from my clay pieces, which are now more contemporary, have increased as the festival has changed.”

Husband and wife team, Sheri and Ralph Meldrum of Cave Creek Arizona, create copper sculptures and will be at the festival for their eighth year in a row. “This festival is a unique combination that brings us buyers who want to establish a relationship with an artist and start collecting their work,” Meldrum says. The couple shows at between twenty to twenty-five shows annually in the western United States.

For many festivalgoers, the Southwest Arts Festival® has become a tradition. Even last year’s opening day of rain and wind didn’t keep true fans away. Snowbirds in sandals holding umbrellas were at the ribbon cutting waiting for the gates to open.

February 24, 25, 26
10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Empire Polo Club
81800 Avenue 51 & Monroe
Indio, 92201
$8.00 Adults
Children under 12 Free
Self Parking $5.00 per car
Valet Parking $8.00 per car