Land of Extremes: Imperial Valley Desert Museum awarded California Arts Council “Local Impact” grant

Mosaic lizard installed by Rainforest Art Project in the new park in Brawley. Courtesy Photo

At the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, we believe the arts are important. It is not just the staff persons who are here now. Jay von Werlhof, one of the museum’s founders, was an avid watercolor painter and was the first to promote “desert sized art” on the museum grounds.

The museum is constantly seeking opportunities to promote and expand the arts in Imperial County. This week we got some really good news.

The California Arts Council announced its plans on June 13th to award a grant to the Imperial Valley Desert Museum as part of its Local Impact program.

The Local Impact program fosters equity, access, and opportunity by providing project and partnership support for small arts organizations with operating budgets under $1 million. All projects extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations that have limited access to the arts.

The museum has prioritized a series of art initiatives aimed at being a vibrant, dynamic institution that is viewed as a vital part of our community. Our coiled-clay art program has become a signature public program reaching 3,263 youth in Imperial County this past school year. We believe that the development of engaging, active, community-based programs is the best way to develop a viable museum. We have a beautiful exhibit, acres of exterior desert, and workshop areas that offer great opportunities.

Art in the garden

The Museum has a history of using art as a way to engage and connect with the cultural of the desert. We still believe that the issues facing the desert today can be explored through art. Our goal is to create new artwork on the grounds of our museum that will demonstrate artistic excellence to our diverse community and will engage our community with current controversial issues of preserving and interpreting existing Paleolithic desert art.

The California Arts Council grant will support the completion of large mosaic sculptures with desert themes. The museum is in the process of planting and creating arid landscapes and cactus gardens as a component of our field trips. In concept, the new pieces of artwork will serve as engagement nodes, very similar to the large metal sculptures throughout the Anza-Borrego State Park.

Rainforest Art Project partnership

A key component of the California Arts Council grant is our partnership with the Rainforest Art Project, a San Diego based studio that has been supporting arts in schools and public places in Imperial County for the last several years. Rainforest also maintains a facility and public classroom in Imperial.

This past week, was the grand re-opening of the Alyce Gereaux Park in Brawley. The Rainforest Art Project unveiled several pieces of public art that were described by this paper as an “array of larger-than-life sculptures of desert treasures.”

The museum is thrilled to have their support and expertise in order to bring a level of professional art that will be reflected in our desert gardens as well. Rainforest mosaic projects can be seen in El Centro at the new skate park, downtown Imperial, and now at Alyce Gereaux Park in Brawley. Soon we will have a couple large desert animal sculptures at the museum in Ocotillo.

California Arts Council

The Imperial Valley Desert Museum is one of just 130 grantees chosen for the highly competitive program, which received applications from 203 organizations statewide. The news of these grants was featured as part of a larger announcement from the California Arts Council, which can be viewed online at the Cal Arts website

The mission of the California Arts Council, a state agency, is to advance California through the arts and creativity. The Council is committed to building public will and resources for the arts; fostering accessible arts initiatives that reflect contributions from all of California’s diverse populations; serving as a thought leader and champion for the arts; and providing effective and relevant programs and services.

Members of the California Arts Council include Chair Donn K. Harris, Vice Chair Nashormeh Lindo, Larry Baza, Phoebe Beasley, Christopher Coppola, Juan Devis, Kathleen Gallegos, Jaime Galli, Louise McGuinness, Steven Oliver, and Rosalind Wyman. Learn more at

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