Museums and theaters shuttered and major events, including the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, rescheduled or canceled. The pandemic has devastated the arts, and the impact continues to ripple.
Before the shutdown, about one in five people employed in the Coachella Valley was working in the creative sector, which contributed almost $1 billion annually into the local economy.
Now, as the arts season begins, the area’s highest-ranking elected official is encouraging innovation and enterprise, saying it’s “essential to the soul of our community.”
• READ NEXT: The Desert We Want Stories Start Here.
“We need to shift from being on ‘hold’ to a more entrepreneurial spirit, ” U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz told local arts and culture leaders on Zoom call. “This virus will be around a long time. We must change our models to meet the community’s needs to feel inspired and participate. People are craving the arts like never before. It’s through the arts that we find meaning through this pandemic and hope for a better future.”
Ruiz, famously a doctor in addition to a member of Congress, encourages online and outdoor programming but also suggests, “Once you’re allowed indoors, you can do this with gloves, hand sanitizer, masks, physical distancing, and temperature checks. I’m not saying this as policy, but it can be done. It requires staff, a way of ushering flow, remodeling, and preventing people from getting close together. It’s just a matter of doing.”
Fortunately, with outdoor venues, including amphitheaters in Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage, and events such as Desert X, the exhibition of site-specific art installed across the Coachella Valley from Feb. 6 to April 11, 2021, culture junkies have many places to get their fix.
“Desert X could be the first and one the safest events,” Ruiz says of the open-to-all show that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to see how artists from around the world respond to the desert and the times. In addition to the art installations, the next iteration will feature online programs, including conversations with artists. “We can schedule visits for media to give people confidence that they can still participate safely.”
When the shutdown began, some institutions and events quickly turned to online programming, including Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs International ShortFest, McCallum Theatre, and Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, aka CVRep. Modernism Week has created a “fall preview online experience,” available beginning Oct. 15, and sees a silver lining in the situation: It’s building an international audience and ultimately will grow attendance to the live event.
"People are craving the arts like never before. It’s through the arts that we find meaning through this pandemic and hope for a better future.”
— U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz
Other venues created outdoor experiences like Palm Springs Cultural Center’s drive-in movies. Sunnylands Center & Gardens reopened its 9-acre gardens with limited hours and capacity as safety requirements; the center itself reopens Oct. 14; however, tours of the Annenberg estate remain on hold. “We retrofit the center to allow for social distancing,” says director Janice Lyle, adding visitors can see the new exhibition of optical and kinetic art by Yaacov Agam.
At least two theater companies, Dezart Performs and CVRep, are planning live outdoor productions, while other venues waited for the green light to resume indoor programming.
Palm Springs Art Museum plans a gradual reopening, beginning in November, with modified hours, timed ticketing, and safety protocols. Visitors will see the critically acclaimed exhibition Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist, which was organized by the Phoenix Art Museum and most recently installed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Additionally, two shows prematurely closed last March — Gerald Clarke: Falling Rock (main museum) and Jim Isermann. Copy. Pattern. Repeat. (Architecture and Design Center) — continue through the end of the year. The museum has also scheduled two fundraisers: Virtual Art Party (Dec. 4) and Artrageous: A Drive-in Auction (March 2021).
And, over the summer, the museum acquired and announced it will site the historic 1931 Aluminaire House at the corner of Tahquitz Canyon Way and Museum Drive, adding another modernist attraction for architecture buffs. Architectural Record listed the Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher-designed aluminum and metal prototype house as one of the world’s most important buildings of the past 125 years. (The museum also owns Frey House II, the architect’s residence until he died in 1998, as well as his archive of drawings, personal and working papers, photographs, and documents.)