Whole Life Magazine

June / July 2018

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Page 14 of 31

I f you've never been to Bombay Beach, CA, perched on the edge of the Salton Sea, then you've never experienced what a town that's still living, but on the verge of extinction, can feel like. Just as the sea itself has been shrinking from lack of wa- ter, so has the town. Neat pre-fab homes and small cottages share street space with abandoned, broken properties. There is one bar, the Ski Inn, with dollar bill-covered walls; a small convenience store; and an American Legion Post. And the windswept, dusty, fi sh-bone sand of the sea. The sea wasn't put there by nature, but by accident. A dam broke, a series of small resort towns touting fi shing and wa- ter skiing grew, agricultural run-off became the main water source, and now, despite legislative bills pending for funding its revitalization, the sea is in ecological danger. It's a terrible dust storm waiting to happen, and a town waiting to dissolve. But there is hope of averting that fate for the sea, and for the town. And one part of that hope is a semi-surreal and ghostly-beautiful art festival. It happens without fanfare in the spring – this year it was in mid-March, last year, April. The Bombay Beach Biennale is an art festival that doesn't so much take over the small town as it does grow from it. This se- ries of art works, per- formances, and instal- lations is both sweet and surreal. Limited to 500 attendees each year, founded by ex- periential artist and Petit Ermitage Hotel co-owner Stefan Ash- kenazy along with art- ists Tao Ruspoli, and Lily Johnson White, the festival has brought much-needed atten- tion to the plight of the sea, and brought some new energy to the town. The Biennale has constructed permanent art structures as a gift to the town. There's a drive-in theater created with a cool marquee and parked with abandoned cars – and a screen where locals can watch fi lms outside of the festival days. Here too is a once di- lapidated home that has been transformed into a permanent Opera House, a state-of-the-art performing arts space mas- terminded by artist James Ostrer, where surrealist paintings are hung as a backdrop against the sky-blue stage. There's a museum, created by underground New York-based artist Greg Haberny at a property he lived in and turned into The Hermit- age Museum over the last two years. Tours are available upon request – visitors can ask Steve at the Ski Inn. A de-facto community center, The Bombay Beach Institute of Par- ticle Physics, Meta- physics, & Interna- tional Relations, with a performance space, communal gathering spot, and home to a new community gar- den, is also a perma- nent installation. Each year, more such recy- cling takes place. "The project in Bombay Beach is highly euphoric, and very supportive to the needs of the area," Haberny says, noting that the region around the sea is already home to the art community of East Jesus in nearby Slab City, and the folk-art of Salvation Mountain. The festival, with its wide array of installation art, out- side-the-box lectures, yoga, dance, music, and individu- al artworks, has the Salton Sea and Bombay Beach as a dramatic backdrop. But more to the point, the sea, and the town have the art festival as a small lifeline, one that may help lead to a true recycling of both town and sea. To people, such as the readers here, who may not have otherwise given the area a passing thought, perhaps consider attending an art festival, and sup- porting the area's survival. Proposition 68 includes a $30 million grant to the Salton Sea Authority that includes $10 million to improve water quality at the New River, and $170 million to the state for Salton Sea Revitalization. Visit the Salton Sea Authority website to learn more about Prop. 68 on the June 5, 2018, statewide ballot: www.SaltonSeaAuthority.org For more information on the art festival, visit http://www.bom- baybeachbiennale.org Recycling a Town at the Edge of a Dusty Sea By Genie Davis creativity GHOSTLY BEAUTY Photos: Genie Davis June/July 2018 15

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