This article appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of 3rd Act magazine.

BY MIKE HARMS, Fall, 2023.

Big Mike is aging artfully, and not just because he’s an artist. In the 10 years that I’ve known him, he’s been the creator and the personality behind two thriving businesses. He built each enterprise on very different canvases—a beach and a desert. Today, the man who’s “knocking on 60” has come a long way from the “introverted gay kid” whose father disowned him at 17.

A million reasons to pay it forward

I’m fortunate to have Mike Arnone, aka Big Mike, as a mentor. When I started my first gym in Seattle, Big Mike was already world-famous in the industry. “Big Mike’s Ultimate Beach Workout” in Santa Monica, Calif., was situated just steps from the Pacific Ocean. It was an unparalleled experience of natural beauty, fun music, and creative exercise circuits that Mike designed himself. Dolphin sightings were commonplace during workouts.

GQ and Details magazine wrote about Mike. His Yelp page had hundreds of five-star reviews. When I phoned Mike for advice, my Yelp page had zero reviews. Nonetheless, he talked with me for over an hour, sharing tips and offering encouragement. Over time, his guidance helped me build a thriving fitness business of my own.

Years later, I asked Mike why he was so helpful to me.

“There’s enough Aloha for everyone,” he said. “Paying things forward comes back to you in a million ways.”

I believe him. Not long ago, a young gym entrepreneur asked me for advice. I passed along some of Mike’s wisdom, which holds true today.

A new life in the desert

Mike’s life took another turn when he moved to Palm Springs with his partner, Dana. He left the ocean behind and found new inspiration—as an artist in the desert.

“The eccentric history, breathtaking architecture, and captivating natural beauty of the desert … became the backdrop for my abstract painting,” Mike writes. His art represents “a fusion of all my life experiences intertwined with the sublime modern style of my stunning desert home. Through a torrent of smudges, swirls, whips, and hatches, I reimagine the mid-century vibe, infusing it with sacred geometric worlds.”

With help from Dana, Mike started a small studio. As his reputation grew, his studio expanded. Mike has a vision that, not surprisingly, includes helping fellow artists.

“This building was pretty anonymous when I moved into it,” Mike said in an NBC interview. “I had a dream … it was about bringing more artists in and creating an arts district.”

That dream became reality when Mike started a monthly art walk. Five galleries are represented, with a sixth to come.

Another benefit of moving to Palm Springs was that Mike and Dana were able to provide Mike’s mom with her own home. Mike calls his mom “my best friend,” who taught him “never to give up on my dreams.”

Big Mike is living the values his mom instilled in him as he pays it forward to family, friends and the community.

To learn more about his work, visit or follow @BigMikeArtPS on Instagram.

Mike Harms is enjoying his third act, designing and running his dream gym in Edmonds, Wash.