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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today

Indigenous artist Nicholas Galanin, whose powerful Never Forget artwork was the most-visited art in Palm Springs at Desert X 2021, has been named to the board of the organization.

Artist Nicholas Galanin’s work, “Never Forget,” at Desert X 2021 focused attention on lands that once were home to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Galanin, who is Tlingit and Unangax̂, has now been named to the board of Desert X. (Photo courtesy of Desert X)

Desert X has drawn more than 1.25 million to its exhibitions in the Coachella Valley and has received critical acclaim and worldwide attention for the artwork curated across the Palm Springs area.

“Indigenous perspectives and representation are needed globally within institutional and cultural organizations at all levels, and not limited to the contributions of Indigenous artists,” Galanin, who is Tlingit and Unangax̂, said in an email to Indian Country Today.

“As artists we are positioned to participate (or to refuse) when we’re invited into these spaces, not to participate in decision-making,” he said. “I accepted the invitation to serve on the board under the conditions that Desert X also add a citizen of The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to the board, because this is where we can participate in decision-making.”

He further says the importance of Indigenous representation “can’t overshadow the need for understanding and respecting protocol: that first and foremost representation must come from the people who belong to the land where an organization is based.”

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His art spelled out INDIAN LAND to tell viewers where they are and where he stands. He also used the work as a fundraiser for Land Back court cases and land purchases through book sales and online donations.

Desert X founder and president Susan Davis said Galanin brings a new perspective to the board.

“We see Galanin as an important, knowledgeable voice,” she told Indian Country Today. “He brings experience as a young visual artist; we are delighted he accepted. From the beginning of this organization, we knew we needed a Native artist on the board, and his engagement with the Agua Caliente band has become one that is also politically important as well as artistic. He made our relations with the tribe easier, as they admire his work. He will be a voice and an ear for our directors.”

Galanin is the only Native on the board, though artists at Desert X have been selected from all over the world.

“Indigenous experiences and perspectives are so diverse,” he said in the email. “It’s important we respect and celebrate our commonalities and our differences; that we contribute what we can, because disrupting and dismantling institutionalized exclusion and injustice is only the beginning. I’m always considering what we’re building up as Indigenous people and not just what needs to be torn down in order to build.”

Jarvis Crawford, a community center manager for the City of Palm Springs Parks & Recreation Department, joins three new board members for the Desert X organization. (Photo courtesy of Desert X)

Also named to the board were Jarvis Crawford, a community center manager for the City of Palm Springs Parks & Recreation Department, and Guillermo “Bill” Sanchez, chairman of the Riverside County Planning Commission, principal of Capital Building Services in Rancho Mirage and a partner at Memo Design architectural design firm.

“We are growing a formidable, diverse board that brings the resources, expertise, vision and courage we need as Desert X advances its mission to promote cultural exchange, new dialogue and understanding through art that is accessible to all,” Davis said.

Guillermo “Bill” Sanchez, chairman of the Riverside County Planning Commission, principal of Capital Building Services in Rancho Mirage and a partner at Memo Design architectural design firm, has been named to the Desert X board, officials announced in November 2021. (Photo courtesy of Desert X)

The recurring international art exhibition announced that its fourth edition in the Coachella Valley will be open to the public March 4-May 7, 2023.

The organization has also posted a documentary film made about this year’s edition, featuring Galanin and the other artists..

Desert X is funded by its board of directors and a group of individuals, foundations and sponsors.

Correction: The Desert X 2023 art exhibition will be open to the public March 4-May 7, 2023. The dates were incorrect in a previous version of the story.

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