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Right Royal Reception in California

Having met Doris Bucklin with Karl Schutz last year at Prestoungrange, and viewed the 29 Palms Web Site, there was no room to doubt there was something cooking in the High Desert of California over and beyond a few wall paintings. But the reception we received was truly a royal one. So much so in fact that the award winning local radio station itself claimed that 29 Palms had "hosted royalty" on its new bulletins as we drove back to LA.

The two Barons and Lady Avril were in 29 Palms to see for themselves how an Arts Tourism Community functions, truly. Not the leadership version of it from its creators in publikspeak but the grass roots teams that come together to make it all happen and to take ownership.

The original connection had come from an article about Chemainus in The Smithsonian Magazine - a high brow start for a desert strip town if ever there was one. And the intellectualism of that start has been sustained throughout, as well as the eminently Can Do practicality of more than a few US Marines from the nearby base, the largest such venue in the world we were assured.

The 29 Palms Arts Tourism Project, led by its Action Council initially chaired by a retired Marine Corps General, was and still is all about its people. By which we mean ... those who created and drove the project, and all those who have gained immense pride in their City in the High Desert. It has been through telling out the albeit brief history of the township ( now a City since 1987 ) that the pride has emerged. But something else happened too through the murals. The City's relationship with the US Marines changed. Now their families and the children on the base can see something intriguing about the nearby town. Even the Project's undying critics admit they have heightened their critical faculties and appreciation of art! Everyone has a favourite painting.

Ray, the City's top Tour Guide, plus Marcel 'Mack', the City's Mayor, were our hosts on the field visits, but then it was off to meet the Chamber of Commerce and City Council for lunch at the Mara Oasis - yes, indeed with 29 palm trees plus or minus a few, and the original waterhole in the desert area used by the local Indians and then the gold rush miners of the late 19th century.

And in the evening came the most royal of receptions at Roughley Manor, the only stone building in town and a most fabulous b&b, hosted by owners Jan and Gary, with some 30+ of the past and present teams. Mexican fish was the main course. Artists were there, musicians, the car repairer, the competitive hoteliers, the local media magnates and the Web Site designer, the key figures from the Marine Corps base and their partners. And let us not forget the school teachers and the insurance guy and family who opened the hottest Coffee House in town for their born again lifestyle. By closing time it had become a hi level, hi desert Teach In on what to do, and not to do, and why. The challenge of too much sun on west and south walls in hi desert was matched by our forthcoming challenge of the winter seas on the Firth of Forth. Nobody knew the answer, but we all loved the questions and the challenge.

Yes, true, we did also visit the nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Dolphinstoun the geologist interpreted the rocks for us all as we went as well. And the unique Joshua Tree was quite remarkable not least for its 500 year age as shown here. But that was just for R&R in the afternoon sun.

To summarise? Well that's impossible... we made friends and we shared dreams! The welcome, the pride and the kindness of 29 Palms were everywhere. The lessons shared and learned by observation which we are bringing back for our own Arts Tourism Project in Prestoungrange are too numerous to list. But pre-eminently we could see we must drive for comprehensive buy-in by the community at Prestoungrange in all its manifestations. This will involve sharing the excitement, having the differences of opinion, getting schools to assist as we go and keeping the news flowing of what it happening all the while. Folk simply but rightly love to know and discuss with one another what is happening in their town. In 29 Palms Vicki single handedly launched the Sun Runner Magazine with local news and advertising of arts events. Every new mural has been officially unveiled with fireworks and barbecues and razzmataz. The artists at the Roughley Manor teach in bluntly stated that they were themselves proud to be a small part of what the City was all about - and that coming from folk making big dollars in nearby Las Vegas painting hotel and casino walls all week.

A hard act to emulate, but as they said: "Don't even try. Do it your way". And they all agreed they want to see us hosting the 2004 or 2006 Global Festival in Scotland when they could come visit what we will by then have wrought. ( Throughout the whole proceedings, Karl Schutz was there taking praise for his support and help but saying little. Tomorrow Chemanus! )

Published Date: March 20th 2001

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