Valley artist networking event fills local art studio in El Centro and encourages collaboration – The Desert Review | Region & Cash

IMPERIAL VALLEY — Artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians and more came together to share ideas as local art studio Unwind and Design Creative Studio, Imperial Valley Public Arts and other staff brought together locals focused on creating and supporting art in Imperial County.

Unwind and Design Creative Studio – an all-arts studio established in El Centro since October 2021 and also known as “The Den” by locals – hosted an Artist Meet & Greet in conjunction with IV Public Arts on July 20 -Event at the studio near downtown El Centro, where the Imperial Valley arts community was invited not only to hear presentations from local art studios and film collaborators, but also invited to network with each other in hopes of future collaborations, organizers said .

Araceli Mangione, founder and director of IV Public Arts, also known as Imperial Valley Murals – the project behind the ‘Greeting from Brawley’ mural on Main Street – said the purpose of the Artist Meet & Greet 2022 event was to “clearerly how big the arts community is here in the valley” and to encourage artist networking and collaboration on future projects “to expand the arts like a family of artists and expand the arts scene in the valley in general”.

Mangione – a Brawley native who lives in San Diego and teaches art at Calipatria State Prison and Imperial Valley College – said the idea behind IV Public Arts is to “support and empower urban artists as they seek out public spaces that may be available to them,” according to their website, which connects local towns with artists to beautify the city through murals.

“A lot of artists work alone and try to make it on our own … a lot of us feel alone in a way,” she said. “Our struggle is an individual struggle, but it really isn’t, because we all have the same struggle: We wonder how best to bring out artworks and how (wonder) how other people do it.”

“We are all like-minded people,” Mangione said at the event. “We’re all into art and we all have that expressive attitude and creativity that some of us are dying to bring out, but maybe some of us are afraid of how our art will be judged or we’re subverting our own art.”

“Today’s event was a gathering of artists who came together with a single purpose – to bring artist together with artist – and that’s what I’m basing my studio on,” said Kimberly Alfaro Massey, co-founder of Unwind and Design Art Studio.

“Our goal is to create positive experiences for people in how they view art,” Massey said.

Mangione said the event’s presenters – including Mangione and local muralist James Amadon for IV Public Arts, Charla Teeters-Stewart for Imperial Valley Alive Magazine and the Imperial County Film Commission, and Debi Smerdon of Brawley-based DS Arts Studio & Gallery – showcased success stories of local artists and presented resources for the gathered artists to be encouraged to further pursue their artistic passions and also reap the benefits of collaborating with local art studios and projects.

“In our field, too many of us are exploited for our creative practice (and) I think we should be held in higher esteem,” Mangione said.

“Let’s lure these artists out of their caves or whatever and get more people to socialize, to walk the streets, to get more people to stop and look at public art,” she said.

Seating in Unwind and Design’s main art space was full to standing, with about 35 locals gathering for the presentations and later networking.

Mangione said the event’s icebreaker in some ways helped the artists break out of their shells. Those gathered were encouraged to draw a mini self-portrait on an index card and to write an interesting fact about themselves before trading cards with a stranger or two, encouraging networking.

At the same time, Unwind and Design hosted its weekly Open Mic Night in the adjacent space, where local musicians, comedians, poets and more were encouraged to share their art.

“I feel like people feel a little bolder and more supported because they’re among their own people,” Mangione said. “They were willing to talk a little more about what they need and are looking for without embarrassment.”

“I see a lot of connections being made already… and that’s going to expand more and more and more,” Mangione said.

“This was a big step for multiple artists to come together to give artists the opportunity to connect with the connections that we have,” Massey said.

“I want this space to be open to anyone who feels intimidated by any form of art,” she said of her studio. “Art is nothing to be afraid of.”

“It’s a beautiful medium,” Massey said. “Art is generally a beautiful form of expression.”

For more information on Imperial Valley Public Arts and their public art projects, visit online or email Araceli Mangione at

For more information on various art class offerings, mariachi classes for children at local schools this fall or open mic nights, contact Kimberly Alfaro Massey at or by phone at 760-498-6692. The Creative Arts Studio for relaxing and creating is located at 455 W. Main Street in El Centro.

DS Arts Studio & Gallery is located at 180C North Plaza Street in Brawley. For North End art offerings visit or contact DS Arts Studio by phone at 760-554-2193.

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