Davida Siwisa James has a big vision-- to change the cultural landscape of Victor Valley. The Executive Director of Victor Valley Arts and Education Center (VVAEC), she founded the arts nonprofit in 2013 in order to bring a new era of professional arts and culture to the area. When only a year old, the VVAEC received a grant of $10,000 from The Community Foundation of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to implement a project that brought the arts to underserved populations - an impressive feat for a fledgling organization. In addition to such programs, Mrs. James’ biggest vision for Victor Valley is to build a state of the arts performing arts center.
Mrs. James grew up in NYC going to the Apollo Theater and Broadway shows as a child. She worked for 13 years as Assistant Director for UCLA Box Office and helped build the 1200 seat Reichhold Center for the Arts in St. Thomas, managing their programming and box office as well. It is without a doubt that her rich arts background and experience is an invaluable asset to the VVAEC and the High Desert community. I had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. James about her arts experience and vision for the organization.
Esther: You have lived in very culturally rich environments - such as NYC and LA, as well as in communities with art scarcity - like Harrisburg and the island of St. Thomas, how do you situate Victor Valley in this narrative?
Davida: Well in one way, we don’t have anything up here that would compare, which is part of the reason why I wanted to start the VVAEC. We have some small theatres and community theatre groups that are trying to do a good job to make sure there is some activity here, but I am hoping that after a lifetime in the arts, and twenty years experience working in arts management, that those experiences will help us move our nonprofit forward, in terms of galvanizing our community to see a more professional and advanced level of performing arts in the high desert.
The Joshua Tree Artist Residency program (JTHAR), started by Frederick Fulmer and his partner James Berg, draws diverse talent from all over the world to the Desert for six weeks in the summer.
The program, in it’s eighth year, invites emerging and mid-career artists from different disciplines to spend concentrated time in Joshua Tree and surrounding areas. The artists: writers, painters, performance artists, photographers and musicians work on their own specific projects, meet local residents, explore the area and exhibit their work at Joshua Tree Art Gallery (JTAG) at the end of the residency. The final show will be held on Friday, July 11th & Saturday, July 12th.
This year’s artists are Shea Hembrey, Jed Ochmanek, Andrew Malan Milward and Zoe Childerley.
Hembrey makes art focused on a singular, defined conceptual project where the idea directs his methods and media. He is known for staging an international art show with work from 100 different artists – all of whom he invented himself. He was showcased on Ted Talks in March 2011. http://www.ted.com/talks/shea_hembrey_how_i_became_100_artists
This year, Hembrey is contemplating the Universe. No small feat as he works to complete close to 20 pieces, some 6 to 8 feet tall and several - his ‘models of the Universe’ are made up of many individual pieces. This body of work will be shown in October at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York City.
“I want work that is timeless,” Hembrey says. “If you ask big questions it becomes timeless.” His work contemplates all of life. “No reason to play small,” he adds. “Play big.”
Wonder Valley is the last point of habitation east of Los Angeles before stretches of desert meet the state line. Moving away from the megalopolis, the diminishing density of population and infrastructure peters out into this landscape of sporadic shelters and characteristic “jackrabbit homesteads.”
One of the subgroups of inhabitants in Wonder Valley are those who wish to remain in Southern California, but who cannot afford to live in the Los Angeles basin. Thus Wonder Valley was a felicitous location for the issues addressed in Spectacular Subdivision, a three-day art event on affordable housing and compromised work/live spaces. Organized by Jay Lizo of Monte Vista Projects, High Desert Test Sites and UCIRA, Spectacular Subdivision invited forty artists to explore the questions: “What does housing mean to artists in relation to their practice? How have forms of domesticity and shelter shaped artists’ practices?” and “How does an artist find balance between work and living space?”