Modernism Week moves its hub online in February 2021.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LANCE GERBER
Over the last 15 years, Modernism Week has grown from a weekend of 14 events to an 11-day juggernaut with no fewer than 350 programs ranging from home tours to costume parties — all in the name of preserving the midcentury modern heritage that helps define the character of Greater Palm Springs.
The event’s organizers have learned how to overcome all kinds of challenges, such as wind, rain, and houses dropping off the tour schedule at the last minute. But COVID-19 presents at least two new challenges: learning the virtual world and ensuring the safety of those who’ll come to in-person events, if they’re permitted in time for Modernism Week, April 8-18, 2021.
Palm Springs Life asked Lisa Vossler Smith, executive director of Modernism Week, how her staff, consultants, and volunteers are preparing for the big event.
Tell us about the Modernism Week Fall Preview Online Experience and how the event might signal what’s to come in February?
For the fall preview, we created virtual tours, walking through some famous houses in Palm Springs and showing people the homes in great detail — different pieces of furniture or art and what’s specific to the house or the architecture. We’ve recorded them to be evergreen to bring them back in February, and we can post them on our website so people can always experience a home tour in Palm Springs.
We’ll look at the data from each of fall preview events — there were seven, including one live happy hour — to see which sold best and were favorable to those coming in. We want to create the best experience and do what will bring more people into Palm Springs.
How are you innovating to accommodate in-person events in April?
We don’t know what the status of the county or the state will be at that time. The challenge for us is to prepare everything we can. We are currently offering about 25 in-person events, including tours of Featured Homes, a garden tour, a Modernism Show & Sale that’s time-ticketed and spaced-out in one direction so people can safely go though it, and other events specifically designed to meet the requirements for social distancing and safety. For those people who do not wish to attend in-person, we will also offer an array of online programs as well. Thinking outside the box is what we do well.
You are now offering two events in February and in April. What will the February experience be like?
It was increasingly clear that we would not be able to safely offer in-person events in February, so we decided to delay those until April. In its place, we are offering an all-online Modernism Week Online Experience in February. The Online Experience will feature newly created video programs specifically for Modernism Week, modeled after events similar to programs and tours that would typically be available during Modernism Week as in-person events, including the Modernism Week Signature Home Tour Video Series. The online events will be available for on-demand streaming starting February 1, 2021 and available for viewing for the entire month. In addition to these programs, Modernism Week will offer an online auction during the February festival that will feature unique architectural experiences and specialty items not normally available to the public.
How might a home tour experience look to the visitor?
If we’re able to have people go through homes, we’ll do social distancing, put up screens to protect our volunteers, and maybe have people sign waivers. We’re looking at technology that allows people to check-in from a distance, so we wouldn’t require paper tickets. Timed entry and limited capacity are very important; we might limit the capacity to four to six people in a house at any time. Obviously, we would make changes if it’s a family that’s been isolated together for months and it’s a bigger group. We’ll expand the schedule of available times to tour so the homes have the same exposure that they had in previous years.
Will virtual programs attract new architecture and design buffs to Modernism Week?
We already have a pretty good international base. Visitors from 27 countries came in for February 2020. Having virtual programming will grow our audience a lot more because they don’t have to travel to Palm Springs to go through the Edris House. They can buy one ticket for the whole family and take their time with the experience. More people from other countries — Australia is a big one for us — will definitely take advantage.
How might Modernism Week evolve to ensure a sustainable future for itself?
Modernism Week has a goal to expand into other areas, nationally and internationally, to help other nonprofit event producers build community through preservation. We want to share our 15 years of experience in developing programs that bring people to understand what you have in a community. We’re in a position of knowing what works and what doesn’t works. We’ve become experts in all areas of programming, partnering, and ticketing.
Modernism Week has always wanted to create more of a year-round program in Palm Springs, and the pandemic has forced us into doing that going forward.
An army of 400 volunteers makes Modernism Week a success every year. What role will they play in April?
We have training programs for our volunteers to make sure we’re following state and county guidelines. We’re taking this as seriously as possible knowing that it’s more important to be responsible than profitable.