In 2008, Elizabeth Lopez, Fred Guzman, and Minerva Torres-Guzman returned to the Imperial Valley with BFAs in hand from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. "We came back home and found the art scene very limited, to say the least," recall the trio, "after settling in, it was apparent that the art scene in the Imperial Valley was lacking." While disenchanted with the realities of opportunities for artists they saw around them, they also saw potential to create new networks of collaboration and communication between artists in the Imperial County and beyond. And so under the banner of the Dali Mustache, a nod to the surrealist who envisioned desert landscapes and melting clocks that would seem quite at home in the desert landscape of Imperial County, Lopez, Guzman and Torres-Guzman founded the Imperial County Artist Collective in 2011. Their goals, as phrased by the founding members became to "Create opportunities for artists to show their work, to create awareness of the importance of the visual arts to the citizens of the Imperial Valley, to help connect artists and arts organizations in the Imperial Valley and across the border, to encourage collaboration and participation between artists and art related events in the Imperial Valley."
Over the last year, the IVAC has assembled five shows that feature local artists as well as artists from outside of the Imperial Valley. Additionally, they have begun publication of a zine that includes art submissions from the community, and features and interviews on artists and arts organizations. The IVAC has drawn great inspiration from the art scene in Mexicali, especially Mexicali Rose, an art center run by, Marco Vera. In 2010 Elizabeth Lopez, collaborated with Vera to curate the show, "Que Barrio!?!" which showcased work by Imperial Valley artists in Mexicali, and Mexicali artists in El Centro. The success of this binational effort inspired the collective to put out another call for art about the border, and write a proposal to the Imperial Valley College Art Gallery, for a show entitled, "Borderline Disorder." "We started with a show called Borderline Disorder" explains Fred Guzman, "I think that was one of our most successful shows." Borderline Disorder brought together the work of artists from all over the country in an over 50-piece showing of mostly two-dimensional works. "[The show] received a lot of positive attention with artists on both sides of border who participated." Positive attention is something the group would like to bring more of to the Imperial Valley. During the global financial crisis, the Imperial County's soaring unemployment rate and ailing economy has put the rural community in the spotlight in a mostly negative way. IVAC hopes that through interventions into community spaces, it can demonstrate to the community itself that art is a tool for representing or imagining a different reality: there is a definite alternative to the mainstream media representations of their home, and that it is blossoming within the Imperial Valley in the form of local artistic production.
Limited resources have forced the collective to become creative with their curatorial choices. A garage normally occupied by parked taxis, owned by Elizabeth Lopez' brother, now leads a double life as a gallery space for IVAC exhibitions. Johnny Cab, the name the space adopts both as a business and as an art space, has now hosted a few IVAC exhibitions, including "Goo Off: The Ultimate Homage to Tom Gilbertson!" The show featured works that used Goo Off cleaner, used commonly in graffiti and adhesive removal to transfer images from Xerox copies. "This is a technique I learned from Tom Gilbertson," explains Guzman in a youtube video that demonstrates how to do a Goo Off transfer. The show honored the Imperial Valley College Professor, Tom Gilbertson, who Lopez Guzman, and Torres-Guzman group call their mentor. Like the space in which the art was presented, the medium and technique are far from what many expect when they think of art. These Goo Off works were produced with a non-traditional material that in fact is used much of the time to efface acts of urban expression, for better or worse. The gesture of turning a cleaning product on itself and letting it become the vehicle with which a mark is made, coupled with converting the resting place of taxis into a gallery is a gesture of hope, a gesture of possibility of what the arts in the Imperial Valley could become with more support.
More recently, the Imperial Valley Artist Collective collaborated with Ivan Soto of Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program, to create "Eco Art Gallery: Earth Day 2012," an exhibition that celebrated Earth Day. To mark the occasion IVAC also produced a special edition of "The Imperial Valley Artist Collective Zine," called "The Green Zine." As an IVAC collaborator Soto says that he appreciates the exchange that could take place at an event like this. "We realized that a lot of us are making work, but sometimes I wouldn't hear about events until after...I think what we need is more communication, and to work together and support each other," said Guzman. These public events are a step toward what will become a more unified, organized and bustling art scene. For Soto, a vibrant public art forum does not seem like a far off dream: "My hope would be that one day we'd be able to have public art programs, maybe a mural project, programs that would benefit the community, and I know things don't change over night, but I think its something we can achieve."
Guzman, who is also an Art Instructor at Holtville High, also remarked, "There is a lot of talent that comes out of the [Imperial] Valley, but many of those people don't have anything to come back to yet." That "yet" is what it seems IVAC and artists groups like it are working toward in the Imperial Valley.
For more information about the Imperial Valley Artist Collective visit: www.imperialvalleyartistcollective.com