In the Arts, a crescendo in programming

Steven Biller 0 Comments

La Quinta Arts Festival was ranked among the nation's best.
Photo courtesy La Quinta Arts Foundation

For almost 13 minutes, Marina Abramovi holds a bowl filled with milk without spilling a drop. The video artist concentrates on the bowl, remaining as still as possible, but eventually begins to shake. Sympathetic viewers watch her breathe and regain her state of calm. When her body becomes tense, milk spills, and the resounding splash interrupts the visual experience.

The Kitchen V Carrying the Milk, a recent Palm Springs Art Museum acquisition, continues the artist’s exploration of extreme conditions and physical exhaustion. “The work brilliantly weaves together the truth of the body, the rhetorical strategies of endurance, and the aesthetic language of beauty,” says Daniell Cornell, the museum’s deputy director for art and senior curator.

At the same time, the video serves as a loose metaphor for the state of mind that permeates the arts today: Institutions throughout the valley persevere to communicate an abundance of enriching experiences to desert audiences.

Through nationally acclaimed exhibitions, world-class acquisitions, and impending midvalley expansion, the museum has made great strides and has ambitious short- and long-term plans.

“We’re becoming more prominent nationally as an exhibition-organizing institution,” says Executive Director Steven Nash, who is organizing the first museum exhibition of Robert Diebenkorn’s figurative works.

Following the bumper crop of postmodern art, from Pop to Minimalism, donated or promised by local residents Donna and Cargill MacMillan Jr., the museum has received major gifts, including a Marc Chagall painting, and raised money for acquisitions, such as an Anselm Keifer painting, the Abramovi video, and a wall relief by Los Angelesbased artist Tam Van Tran.

The biggest art news to resonate throughout the Coachella Valley, however, is the museum’s satellite location expected to open late next year. In an effort to grow membership and attendance, as well as its base for fundraising, the museum signed a $1-a-year lease with the City of Palm Desert to transform the city’s visitor center into a museum extension. (The visitor center has moved to El Paseo.)

“Our board recognized that residents throughout the desert are interested in becoming more involved with the museum, but we understand that distance is an issue,” says Harold J. Meyerman, who chairs the museum’s board of trustees. “Our goal is to create an art museum that is more accessible to the greater community and to offer the equivalent quality of world-class exhibitions and programming that we have at the Palm Springs location.”

The 8,400-square-foot site will offer a schedule of exhibitions, artists in residence, and grounds to expand its sculpture collection. Nash characterizes the expansion as “absolutely crucial” to its fundraising and acquisition efforts. “The demographic is perfect,” he says. “It is one of the most heavily trafficked parts of the valley, it has good restaurants, and it’s central to [elite country clubs], where we hope to find collectors, patrons, and potential board members.”

Museum trustee and Indian Wells Mayor Ed Monarch and developer and museum patron Gerald Fogelson are co-chairing a committee to oversee fundraising; budgets for building renovations and operations; programming; and partnerships with neighboring cities, merchants, schools and universities, and arts groups. Other committee members include Meyerman, Nash, James Houston, and Harold Matzner.

“It is the perfect site in the perfect city for an expansion,” Fogelson says. “The building is magnificent, and the five-acre sculpture garden will be among the best in the country. I believe the valley will enthusiastically receive the new facility, which will further promote the arts valleywide.”

Meanwhile, museum membership has increased by about 150 in the past year (450 over the past two years), and attendance in fiscal 2009-2010 was up more than 17,000 over the previous year.

In fall 2011, the museum will mount Beg Borrow and Steal, an exhibition coming on loan from the prestigious Rubell Family Collection in Miami. “We’re the only West Coast institution with that kind of relationship [with megacollectors Don and Mera Rubell],” Nash beams, noting their collaboration on a recent exhibition of the Rubells’ collection of works by Keith Haring, which plays into his goal for the museum’s “emergence as a player in the national exchange of important exhibitions.”

McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert has long distinguished itself for staging performing arts in every style and discipline — from Broadway hits to classical, jazz, and pop music to dance and even comedy legends. Last season, more than 100,000 patrons experienced the programming variety.

This season, theater guests will enjoy the results of the summer’s interior renovations: refurbished seats, new carpet and paint throughout the building, a new lobby bar, and a new, state-of-the-art air conditioning system.

“Our progress in building a financially solid foundation and a secure future for the theater has been steady and strong,” says Mitchell Gershenfeld, director of presentations and theater operations. “The McCallum has had a balanced budget for seven consecutive years, including the fiscal year that ended July 31, 2010.”

The nonprofit theater has an annual budget of $10.3 million and raised $4.1 million to make up the difference between ticket sales and operating budget.

One of the greatest success stories here is McCallum Theatre Institute, the education division, which has served 285,000 students and community members since its 1997 inception. Its programs reached 200 classrooms; delivered experiential studies, including professional artist residencies; and presented performances in schools and at McCallum as part of its Aesthetic Education Program. More than 24,000 students saw performances through McCallum’s Field Trip Series in the 2009/10 school year. The theater added a fourth performance, allowing almost 4,000 community members to enjoy some of the best local talent.

Nigel Lythgoe, the 2009 Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, took back to his show, So You Think You Can Dance, choreographer Jamel Gaines, the grandprize winner at the McCallum event.

The McCallum schedule this season includes a series of performances by The Desert Symphony, which has enlisted Gary Berkson — formerly resident conductor at Royal Swedish Ballet and Royal Swedish Opera — as its conductor and music director. Now a La Quinta resident, the Julliard School of Music graduate understands the balance he must strike to retain and grow the audience.

“You want to give them some works that they know and some that they don’t know but should,” Berkson says. “It’s important to expose the audience to something new, to challenge them. There’s so much to look forward to in each program.” He’s charged with fusing classical music with a series that includes Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Texas Tenors, the music of Michael Jackson, and Tito Puente Jr. “Different forms of music can express the same emotion,” he says, noting that a romantic song can work classically or as country, rock, reggae, or blues.

Meanwhile, OperaArts seeks to expand its audience with programming at Rancho Mirage Public Library, Miramonte Resort & Spa, Michael H. Lord Gallery, Spencer’s Restaurant, Palm Desert Civic Center Park, and Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa. “We offer the community access to fine opera, operetta, classic Broadway, dance, visual art, and other experiences that help create a happy society,” says OperaArts President Arlene Rosenthal. “And we’re very interested in education outreach in the local school districts.” OperaArts also produces “pop-up” productions, such as the recent Broadway in Indian Wells, hosted by Royale Projects.

The nonprofit La Quinta Arts Foundation provides year-round programming for students, artists, residents, and visitors to La Quinta and the rest of the Coachella Valley — and awards scholarships to college-bound visual art students. Art Fair SourceBook recently ranked the foundation’s marquee event, the annual La Quinta Arts Festival, among the nation’s top 10 art fairs.

Art Fair SourceBook is a highly respected resource for artists deciding where to show,” foundation Executive Director Christi Salamone says. “This ranking is yet another endorsement serving to attract new talent from across the nation.”

Since its 1983 inception, the foundation has sold $30 million of art at its events and awarded $910,502 in scholarships. This year, it granted $32,500 to 26 students. Foundation events (La Quinta Arts Festival, Art Under the Umbrellas, La Quinta Blues & Brews), as well as memberships and contributions, fund scholarships.

This year, the private Auen Foundation awarded LQAF a $5,000 grant to help fund cultural programs for senior citizens. Ron and Sherrie Auen started their family foundation to enhance the lives of seniors and to bridge the gap between their generation and children by supporting intergenerational programs.

In April, more than 200 artists transform the grounds of Indian Wells Tennis Garden into a village of art known as the Indian Wells Arts Festival. Local charities benefit as festival partners, and the event also raises money for art scholarships.

Coachella Valley Repertory — which offered one production in each of its first two years — this season offers two productions: a children’s musical in partnership with Palm Springs Art Museum and a Main Stage play for adults. Under the artistic direction of Ron Celona, CV Rep also has begun educational programs at its shared space with the Desert Dance Academy, as well as classes and workshops for local actors, singers, and dancers.

Script2Stage2Screen, a new performing arts project of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, launched its inaugural season in September. An ensemble of playwrights, actors, and filmmakers, the group seeks to bring original scripts from inception through readings and into production for stage and screen.

The initial production, a gay-themed comedy by co-artistic directors Michael Craft and Burt Peachy called Pink Squirrels, staged at Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre in Palm Desert. Local filmmaker Brian Delizareaux expects to premiere the film version in April 2011.

ArtsOasis, a nonprofit initiative consisting of arts leaders from a crosssection of local arts leaders, formed nearly two years ago to share resources, foster collaboration, and “nourish the creative sector and promote economic vitality.”

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