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Public art project 'Coachella Walls' unites muralists

Arts and CultureArtArtistsCoachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

Some of the most colorful art at Coachella this year will be on view outside the music and arts festival.

An ambitious public mural project, the first “Coachella Walls,” is underway in downtown Coachella's Pueblo Viejo District. The project, which brings together about a dozen muralists and contemporary artists internationally, has no formal connection to the concurrent, Goldenvoice-produced Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, happening this and next weekends. 

Billed as an “arts driven community revitalization project,” “Coachella Walls” was organized by the Coachella-based Date Farmers Art Studios, a.k.a., the artists Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, who grew up in the area and now show their work at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles.

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“Coachella Walls,” which is funded by the city of Coachella’s public arts fund, was curated by Medvin Sobio, director of L.A.’s Academy of Street Art and art director of the street art supply retailer Mid-City Arts Gallery & 33third Los Angeles.

Sobio has more than a little experience curating urban art projects. He was co-curator in 2011 of a similar urban mural effort in Miami, “Wynwood Walls,” spearheaded by developer Tony Goldman. Former Museum of Contemporary Art Director Jeffrey Deitch co-curated “Wynwood Walls” with Goldman before taking his post at the museum in 2010.

Sobio says that in addition to stimulating foot traffic to the area, the “Coachella Walls” project is meant to raise awareness for the larger Eastern Coachella Valley and is dedicated “to the anonymous farm worker.”

“There are a lot of farmers working in bad conditions in certain parts of the Eastern Valley,” he says. “It’s a poor city, a forgotten city. We want to shed some light on that. We want to recognize the farmers and  the city of Coachella and the Eastern Valley, because they have something to say -- that they exist.” 

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Among the dozen or so artists who will be painting murals are the Date Farmers, the Mexican artist Saner, Brazil’s Nunca, Liqen from Spain, as well as L.A. artists Vyal Reyes and El Mac.

“I grew up in this town,” Lerma says. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, and to time it with Coachella so people at the festival have a reason to come here. Carlos and I were part of 'Wynwood Walls' in 2011 and we met Med [Sobio] there – and it all came together now, the timing was right.”

The $25,000 given to the project by the city of Coachella covers the artists’ travel costs, accommodations, food and art supplies; the artists are volunteering their time and efforts.

El Mac kicked off the mural-painting – taking place on the exteriors of local businesses with permission from building owners -- on March 31, Cesar Chavez Day. Now completed, El Mac’s mural depicts an anonymous farm worker.

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Sobio says El Mac’s mural has attracted the attention of local farm workers. “They sit and stare at it because it’s like looking in a mirror,” he says.

“We’ve really been able to reach out to the community with this,” Lerma adds. “Young kids stop by and talk about art, some people are reminded of family members when looking at the murals or they’re amazed at the technical skill. It sparks a lot of conversations.”

As of Thursday, three more murals were underway: one by the Date Farmers depicting two farm workers marching by a car, one by Nunca, and one by Cambodian American artist Andrew Hem, who lives in L.A. Hem’s piece depicts break dancers inspired by kids he met in his father’s Cambodian village. 

In addition to the mural effort, the Date Farmers have organized a group show at their studio, on view through April 27, featuring works by participating “Coachella Walls” artists. Sobio also launched a virtual photo exhibition online, showcasing images he and Lerma shot chronicling “the culture of the city of Coachella,” he says.

“The idea was to show people, hey, this city exists and there’s a lot of culture and history here,” says Sobio. “When people hear about the Coachella Valley, they only think about Palm Springs or the festival in Indio. Hopefully, that changes here.”

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