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Palm Springs Art Museum Redefines Community

Palm Springs Art Museum

The Art of Appreciation

By Kevin Perry

Culture is comforting. During the height of lockdown, we collected societal artifacts of everyday life to help us maintain a sense of normalcy. It may have been as simple as a morning walk or a call with loved ones, but for some of us, it was a newsletter from the Palm Springs Art Museum.

“We have this every-other-week newsletter, it has about 14,000 subscribers,” narrates Scott Slaven, Director of Marketing, Communications and Graphic Design. “We just wanted to keep people engaged. We didn’t want people to forget about the museum.”

With empathy coursing through his tone, Slaven adds, “Artistic stimulation is really important.”

palm springs art museum

In order to deliver said stimulation remotely, the museum got creative. “Every week, we would profile pieces from our permanent collection, usually two at a time. And then every other week, we had art activities that were inspired by a piece that is in our permanent collection… And then the activities, we have an education department at the museum and they worked with Palm Springs Unified School District to share those activities too with school kids. Cause we couldn’t have school tours, which are a big part of what we do during the school year.”

palm springs art museum

But children can’t have all the fun. For us big kids with big imaginations, Slaven serves up premium content galore. “We also decided to do what we call was insider’s view, it was videos about 10 minutes long and we’d go to an artist’s studio and interview them about their work, their process. We have a couple coming up that are going to go to prominent art collectors who live in Palm Springs and look at their personal art collection in their homes. And then, we have another one called collectors’ favorites and we invite guests into the museum to talk about four or five of their favorite pieces in our collection.”

palm springs art museum

The organization is founded on a legacy of innovation and evolution. “The museum was originally started in late 30s,” explains Slaven, “as a Natural Sciences Museum. Lot of it was about desert flora and fauna and all that kind of stuff. Then it kind of morphed into more of like Western art and things like that. It only became a fine art museum about 22 years ago, I think officially. We have a vast array of things in our permanent collection; it goes the gamut of styles.”

Diversity of thought is a mainstay of the museum. Their featured artists convey a kaleidoscope of perspectives on architecture, landscape and the human condition, all told through a decidedly desert lens. “The focus is now really on a 20th century, sort of mid-century and going forward, contemporary art.”

palm springs art museum exterior

Forward is the operative word in Slaven’s sentiment. “We have five new exhibitions that were put up during our closure that no one has seen or, well, they’re only starting to see now that they come in.”

That’s right: the museum is reopen for resplendence, and visitors’ peace of mind is the main attraction. “We try to direct traffic, our volunteers try to, so people aren’t grouping together too much. We developed an app that people can use as the QR code that’s on the wall. So if they don’t want to get close to the panels that talk about the art or talk about, give some background to the exhibition, people can just stand there and look at it on their phone in their own space.”

As transcendent as the museum’s exhibits are, Slaven shows his appreciation for the attendees. “It’s been great to have people back in and we’ve got a really interesting new installation that we just put in across the street… It’s hard to describe, but it’s actually a car standing perpendicular above a pool of liquid that looks like motor oil. It’s really interesting. And we had a live stream of the construction of it from our website. Just kind of get people excited about it.”

Enthusiasm swirls around the Palm Springs Art Museum, careening gently through the space and gliding ever upwards, reaching new levels of inspiration. “There’s an important architect, he was an icon named Albert Frey. He has a home called the Frey House II, that’s up in the hills, right behind the museum.

albert frey house II
Frey House II

It’s a really, really phenomenal, unique sort of a one bedroom house with a pool. And it’s got the most amazing views of the city. Anyway, Albert Frey, he designed that in the early sixties, but in 1931, along with a partner of his… They designed the first, what we would call prefab home ever made in America. It’s made of aluminum. It fell into disrepair and a foundation was built called the Aluminaire House Foundation. They have brought it to Palm Springs Art Museum, and we’re going to reconstruct it in our parking lot. It’s going to be a permanent part of our collection. And that will probably be built, the exterior anyway, by the fall.”

The consummate showman, Slaven is already enticing us for what’s to come, even as we reel from the organization’s current display of attractions.

“The art museum is a really important place for people interested in culture and the arts to become members, become volunteers, get involved,” concludes Slaven.

And once you behold the all the wonders of the Palm Springs Art Museum, you can’t resist engaging in its splendor.

101 Museum  Drive, Palm Springs

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Free Thursday Nights, 5 – 7 pm


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This included bubble wrapping portions of the home and having docents in every room. Department store owner Edgar Kaufmann hired architect Richard Neutra to design a desert home for his family. A decade earlier, Frank Lloyd Wright had built Fallingwater for Mr. Kaufmann. But Kaufmann, having seen Taliesin West, thought that Wright didn’t understand desert design and chose Neutra instead. The home turned out so well, that when Wright saw it, he admitted to that is was beautiful (uncharacteristic of him). The building remains the most famous in Palm Springs in terms of international recognition. The flat roof, steel frame, and glass walls embody one prominent version of Modernism by using sharp, clean, lines and contrasting them to the rugged slopes of Mt. San Jacinto as a backdrop. When photographed by Julius Shulman, the Kaufmann House became an iconic image of modern architecture. The north wing is the guest’s quarters, separated from the rest of the house. 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