Saturday, March 2, 2024

Daniel Gohman of The Artlands Creative

Daniel Gohman is the executive director of The Artlands Creative, a gallery and nonprofit organization based in Redlands, CA. 

When did you first recognize your passion for art? Any childhood memories you can think of?
In childhood, I wouldn’t say that I had a passion for art particularly. I did however tend to want to set myself apart from the other kids in some way. If there was an art assignment at school, I would draw things that were totally different than what the other kids were doing so that when they hung it all up in the classroom, mine would stand-out and look like it didn’t belong there. I think I just liked to entertain myself with people’s reactions to things.

When I got a little older, I got into skateboarding and from there got into the punk scene. As a teenager I went to a lot of punk rock shows, so I think the whole DIY mentality associated with that had a huge influence on me and kind of set me on a creative path. Just the idea of going your own way and making things yourself and not caring so much what other people thought about what you were doing was very appealing to me.

Was there a specific catalyst which made you choose a career in the arts?
After high school, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I went to a community college, just knowing that I wanted to do something creative with my career. I took an intro to film class and was fascinated by that and just seeing multiple arts existing within one form of art, from the cinematography, to acting and writing, to costume design, sound/music, set design (I can go on and on with that). Once I got done with my general ed, I ended up transferring to UC Riverside and majoring in Film and Visual Culture. That major was a mix of production classes with a lot of theory classes. I gravitated more towards video art and more hands-on types of classes. However, there was also a lot of psychology and study of how media and images affect us and influence us, so I think that also stuck with me and made me think about art in an entirely different way.

After college, I just tried to get a job in the media industry starting at the bottom, not being connected at all in that field. I was able to get a job at the ABC News affiliate out in Palm Desert and got to learn editing, audio, and graphics before they stuck me in the master control room for the station, working graveyard shift from 1am to 9 in the morning. I ended up doing that for about six months before leaving that as I didn’t feel like there would be opportunity to grow there.

Right after that, the 2008 financial crises hit and it was very difficult to get a good job anywhere, let alone in media. During and right after that worked at the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, CA in their digital studio, and as a volunteer counselor for an after-school program that helped to teach high school kids how to use art and creativity to make a positive difference in their community. I went on to work for Technicolor in their Digital Cinema department for three years and then for the newspaper company Gannett/USA Today Network for more than five years in advertising. Towards the end of that I realized that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing at all and felt that the time I was spending in an office wasn’t fulfilling and also not what I ever wanted to do with my career to begin with. 

So even before leaving Gannett in 2018, I started The Artlands as a pop-up gallery. I would just go to local coffee shops and businesses and ask if we could curate art shows on their walls and started putting together group shows with people I knew from the art community. There really wasn’t a platform in our area for emerging artists at that time.

What sets The Artlands apart from other galleries and arts organizations?
I think what sets The Artlands apart in many ways is the grassroots/DIY mentality that it was started with. It was started with literally no money attached to it, just hanging shows at coffee shops. From there we got the opportunity to take over the lease for the gallery space in downtown Redlands which was funded by our collective of artists just chipping in a small amount each month and sharing the rent. It was always imagined as something that was not necessarily contained to one space so we’ve continued to collaborate with other groups and do shows all over, bringing artists’ work to other locations from Redlands to Joshua Tree to Palm Springs to LA. We’ve even done a show in Austin, TX for the past two years that will be going on to its third installment this year. In 2022, we officially merged with The Coachella Valley Art Scene and created a cross-regional nonprofit. We’ve also collaborated with the Art Studios at the Coachella festival since 2022 and done crafts like collaging, screen printing, and button making in that space during the festival. We kind of roll with the opportunities that come up.

Adding to that, I’d say that we really see art as a catalyst for change and have pushed our community forward in the Inland Empire in many ways. When we started in 2018 and got the gallery in 2019, we were really one of the only ones in our area doing this kind of work. From small things like trying to make the show flyers look cool to curating the gallery space with a more diverse body of artists (not just diverse in the sense of ethnicity, sexual orientation/gender identity, and age, but adding more diversity in terms of artistic styles, mediums, and backgrounds). We’ve definitely influenced other spaces in the years since. We’ve seen other art spaces pop-up around San Bernardino and Riverside county doing similar work and some existing and larger organizations change up their programming and their image and brands as well.

We’ve also used public art as a way to push the community forward. In 2020, we partnered with our friends at Parliament Chocolate to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on the side of their building in downtown Redlands, which drew a lot of backlash, much of which came from out of town. A year later after a huge pressure campaign at the city, we were able to paint a Pride crosswalk mural in Redlands, which was groundbreaking in that it was the first asphalt art piece in Redlands history and the first piece of public art to center the LGBTQ+ community in the area. 

In 2022, we approached Omnitrans, the transit agency for the San Bernardino valley, and pitched a bus stop bench mural program. We did the first ten benches, and it was such a success that we won an award from the American Planning Association for the project. Omnitrans ultimately got a grant to do more in other cities and ended up cutting us out of the project. But either way, the fact that we were the ones that conceived of it, pitched it, and got it started and now it’s being done across a 50 mile radius is a testament to our impact beyond our little gallery space in Redlands. We’ve done our best to bring different types of public art to the community, in an area that traditionally had a lot of historical murals and things of that nature, but not a lot reflecting the culture of the people that live here now.

What do you find most pleasurable about the work that you do?
Definitely meeting and connecting with so many creative people, some of whom I was influenced by and admired before getting to work with them. Making friends with people from all over the country. When we’re working on a new project or show that I know is going to be impactful, it makes all of the challenges that come with doing this type of work worth it.

What are some of the challenges that you face?
The challenge in starting something from scratch, in an area that hasn’t historically supported these types of things is always funding. The Artlands has mainly been run by volunteers who just wanted to see something happen in our area. As a start-up nonprofit, getting on the radar of potential donors, sponsors, and grantors has been a challenge. We’ve been around for almost six years now and have evolved and accomplished quite a lot with almost no funding outside of revenue generated through our own activity and through individual projects like murals. So we’ve sustained through the quality of our programming, which is saying a lot considering the pandemic had us close our doors and we had no breaks from our landlord at that time. We started publishing books and selling Artlands merchandise online to survive that and pay our rent during that time. 

The challenge now is still funding in that most of the art grants in our area have been going to larger institutions, cities/counties, and nonprofits connected to those structures. Some of them literally recruit their employees from The Artlands. We can’t compete with the funding that they have and they like what we do, so they end up hiring the folks that work with us. So it’s a constant challenge, but I’ve learned to embrace it in many ways. By being totally grassroots, we aren’t accountable to anyone and can pretty much do whatever we want. It would be nice if we had a little bit of financial backing as we’ve made a lot of progress with zero investment so imagine the trouble we could cause if we were funded lol.

Any exciting projects coming up in the near future?
For the moment, we just have some great shows coming up so stay tuned for those. The main exciting thing is just the evolution of the organization overall. You’re going to see us promoting more music & art shows and also creating a lot more media and video content, and we’ll be doing a lot more with the publishing side as well so watch out for that.