CVIndependent

Fri08072020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The coronavirus has made a lot of people realize they’ve been living life with a gross underappreciation for human connection—including the ability to go to a museum and learn with others.

So … how do museums serve the public when people can’t physically connect?

We recently spoke to representatives of the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, the Coachella Valley History Museum and the Palm Springs Art Museum about how they are each handling the closure—and what attendees can expect when they finally reopen.


The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert wanted to keep reaching people during the shutdown—so it implemented a new online learning program called “Discover at Home,” which can be accessed via the museum’s website, cdmod.org.

“Not having visitors anymore, we wanted to continue being a valuable community resource for children and families, especially now during these uncertain times,” said Gregoria Rodriguez, chief programs and exhibits officer at CDMOD. “We created this series, and everything is offered completely virtually. It’s on our website and social-media platforms, and now on YouTube at CDMOD. The series offers everything from conversation starters, to story times, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) lessons, cooking—and we even brought back our toddler program. We offer toddler programs year-round at the museum, and this is the first time we are offering it at no charge to the families, as well as all of the other programs.”

The museum is posting a weekly “Conversation Starter” on Mondays. One example: If you had 1 million marshmallows, what would you build?

“They are simple questions for the families that they can talk about together, and get their creative juices flowing and ready for the rest of the programs during the week,” Rodriguez said. “The rest of the curriculum is the stuff we do normally at the museum. I’m hoping that families new to the museum or families who knew about us and have forgotten can see what we do year-round—and when we reopen our doors, will be coming in to participate in person.”

The museum’s weekly video series—a new one is uploaded every Wednesday morning—does a great job of emulating what one may learn from a day of visiting the museum.

“The videos are a collaboration of myself doing the story times; and Ashley (Whitley), our makerspace and art coordinator, doing some arts and crafts activities,” Rodriguez said. “Kory (Lloyd), our early childhood-education coordinator, does a lot of the toddler classes. We provide a walk-through video, just in case the written-out steps we provide aren’t clear enough.

“We didn’t want to provide Zoom classes right now, so as to not interfere with some families who have just started distance learning and may be having to share a computer.”

The idea of an online museum had been on the minds of some at the CDMOD prior to the outbreak, Rodriguez said.

“We’ve been getting really great feedback, and this has been something we have wanted to do anyway,” Rodriguez said. “This was really the push that we needed to go online and reach more families this way. I don’t anticipate our online presence ending at all, because I’m still not really sure how people are going to react when everything’s open. I hope they aren’t hesitant to come in, because we are amping up our sanitary procedures—but if they are, we will still have the online lessons available.

“We’re so interactive, and we really encourage hands-on play and exploration. We want to ensure that families feel safe when they come back to the museum.”

All of the programming is being offered for free—and Rodriguez said she hopes the museum can rely on families and donors to continue to preserve this community asset.

“Even though we are offering everything for free, we do appreciate donations,” Rodriguez said. “We normally rely on admissions, memberships, birthday parties, field trips, camps, etcetera. … The museum has been a part of the community for over 30 years. We have some people on our staff who were museum children, came back with their kids to visit, and are now on our staff. To see that we are so involved with people’s lives and the community—we just can’t wait to get these doors open again.”

Carol Scott, the chief executive officer/executive director of CDMOD, talked about how the closure has caused a serious financial strain.

“We have really made an effort in the last few years to bring back new life into the museum,” Scott said. “After 20 years, things can get pretty stale. Last year, our attendance was almost 85,000. The museum doesn’t have a huge donor base, so we have really worked on getting our revenue up. Our budget is about 85 percent earned revenue—attendance, memberships and people walking through the door. This (closure) is really hurtful for us, because we’re so dependent on earned revenue. We’ve been working on donations, writing grants, etcetera.”

The fact that the pandemic hit in mid-March—the height of the busy season—was especially painful, Scott said.

“Many businesses in the valley rely on the extra income that comes in during the season,” Scott said. “We lost that time, and that usually is what helps us through the slow seasons. Our two major fundraisers, which happen in March and May, could not happen. When do the locusts fly in?

“We’re here to serve the community; we just need to stay afloat so we can do that. We’re doing the best we can at researching how other organizations and museums are addressing the issue. Nonprofits like us have an extra burden—because we’re dependent on fundraising, and it’s a hard time to ask people for money.”

As for reopening, children’s museums face a significant challenge, as they rely on direct interaction—unlike, say, art museums.

“The reason a children’s museum exists is to provide informal learning that is away from technology,” Scott said. “You want kids to be doing things hands-on, creating and interacting with real things. That’s the value proposition of children’s museums across the country—so now we’re all having to redefine that value. The children’s museum (concept) has been around for over 100 years, and has really focused on being the alternative learning space to what goes on in the classroom. As the classroom has to redefine their delivery, we have to redefine what we’re doing.

“When museums do start to reopen, we will have to drastically change our delivery, because we are very much an active, play-learning environment. All of the new sanitary requirements will have to be adhered to strictly, as now there’s the fear of children having secondary infections. We are really looking at all of the consequences of this, both intended and unintended, and determining how to continue to be a valuable community asset.”

Scott understands that families may be hesitant to return to the physical museum at first, but said she and her staff have always made sanitation and safety a top priority.

“The beauty of a children’s museum is that it is seen as a very safe place for family play and learning, and we are working to continue that perception going,” she said. “We are very picky when it comes to cleaning the exhibits, and we are looking at other museums when they start to reopen to see what will work best.

“We will border upon being incredibly picky and cautious—as I take the job of protecting children very seriously.”


Gloria Franz, the second vice president of the Coachella Valley History Museum’s board of directors (cvhm.org), said the Indio museum—dedicated to “preserving and sharing the history of the Coachella Valley”—will not rush to reopen its doors.

“We are working on cleaning and organizing our archives and also trying to do a lighting and fans project for the blacksmith shop,” Franz said. “Most of our volunteers are seniors, so they’re on lockdown. Our one staff member comes in three days a week to check the campus, return calls, pick up the mail and pay bills.

“We’re just getting the exhibits ready for when we reopen—and we’ve decided, as a board, not to reopen until Oct. 1, because in the summer, we’re kind of quiet anyway. We’re trying to prepare for a deep cleaning prior to opening, so that everybody can be assured that we’ve cleaned as much as we can, and that we can make it as safe as we can for our guests and our volunteers.”

While the stay-at-home order has meant that the museum had to halt at least one large project, Franz said she’s hopeful the closure won’t be too damaging to the museum’s finances.

“We have a 15,000-square-foot piece of land that’s still empty on our campus that we’ve designed as a community drought-tolerant garden,” Franz said. “We also are designing an outdoor railway exhibit, and bringing in an older Southern Pacific Railroad dining car that used to come through the Coachella Valley. So as soon as things open up, we’re going to go full force back into that project so we’ll have something new to offer.

“Our annual fundraiser isn’t until November, so we’re hoping that by November, we can still have our fundraiser—because it would put a little dent in our operation if it didn’t happen.”

Franz and her team are saddened that the virus has affected events that were planned at the museum.

“We get donations just here and there—for example, we have a family that supports our rose garden, and we also have reserves for all the basic costs,” Franz said. “Because our staff is so lean, we don’t have a huge overhead, and the city has been very supportive in handling our utilities, gardeners and any major repairs, because the city actually owns the property. What hurt us was that we had been working really hard for the last five or six years to make the campus become an events venue for weddings, retirement parties, quinceañeras and everything else. We were just starting to pick up momentum on that—and we’ve had to lose all of that progress. We have some events scheduled in the fall, so we’re hoping that that’ll continue.

“We want people to know that our venue is available for private events. It’s actually a gorgeous campus—so when you have a wedding there, the photos are just spectacular. We had a teacher get married in the school house and she loved it. It was just perfect.”

While other museums have pivoted toward an online experience, Franz said such a thing would not be a fit for the Coachella Valley History Museum.

“If we did a video on the school house, it’s not the same as stepping into the building,” she said. “To me, museums allow you to experience something in a way that a photo or a video just can’t give you. I think things will return to people wanting to know the history and what has made the valley what it is—and that’s what we provide.

“I’m not worried that this is going to change everything permanently. I think for the next six months to a year, it’s going to be slow, even when we do reopen—but we’ll be careful. We clean all the time, and we’re planning now to have enough disinfectant to be able to wipe everything down every single time somebody comes through. We’re working to make sure that we’re prepared to clean in the best way we can for our volunteers and our guests.

“We do work on donations, so we’d love to have people become members. Join our email list and like us on Facebook, and just kind of see what’s happening. We had quite a few things lined up for the spring that didn’t happen, such as a mole-tasting which was going to connect to our exhibit about Mexican art. Everything’s online if anybody needs anything, and they can also just email the office, and we’ll get it to the right person.”


Louis Grachos, the chief executive officer and executive director of the Palm Springs Art Museum, said closing the downtown Palm Springs museum, its Palm Desert satellite location and its Architecture and Design Center was in and of itself a challenging task.

“We shut down on the 12th of March, based on the recommendations from the governor,” Grachos said. “We were literally in the middle of our season, as January, February and March are the most active periods. There was a lot happening, and it took a lot of coordination to officially close the museum and figure out how to resolve all the issues regarding staff and furloughing.”

Grachos said the museum will not rush to reopen—and instead is taking things one day at a time.

“We are keeping tabs on what the governor is advising on a daily basis,” he said. “We are trying to form a strategy as to when we do get to reopen—what will things look like? We are going to have to understand how to manage visitors, respect mask laws and social distancing, and remove any opportunity that would entice people to congregate, such as the labels and introductory panels for exhibitions.”

Grachos said it’s likely the museum will stay closed until the fall—and that he had an epiphany, of sorts, during a recent visit to the Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market.

“They have to accommodate distancing for people waiting in line,” Grachos said. “The amount of physical space and the wrap-around was pretty remarkable, and I started to envision what that could look like at our museum. It’s pretty daunting, because we’d need to have people stretched out to the sidewalk, which would require some tenting. It’s going to be a logistical challenge.

“Safety is a huge priority, and I believe that will determine when we actually get to reopen. We are hoping to reopen sometime in fall, but ‘reopening’ is going to mean something different—limited days, limited hours, etcetera. It’s our hope that the community will want to visit museums in the same way they’ll want to go to the park. The consensus between me and other colleagues, from The Broad in Los Angeles to the MoMA in New York, is that we are expecting about one-third of our usual audience when we open doors again, and it will probably be that way for the next two years.”

Grachos said the idea of how museums operate will need to be rethought completely.

“In my generation, there was a big emphasis on museums becoming cultural gathering places,” he said. “The concept was to create a social environment with experiential encounters. We’re really committed to that notion of museums being a cultural hub—and that is something that museum culture is going to have to rethink. The last 20 years have seen museums incorporating interactive designs that have enriched learning experiences. Observing distancing and the careful mediation of the number of people entering will shift museum programming.

“I won’t have a discussion with an artist and 25 people walking through the gallery anymore.”

Grachos said the Palm Springs Art Museum has been harmed by the economic collapse that has affected us all.

“The day the doors closed is the day revenue stopped coming in,” he said. “We’re relying on our traditional support base, but the stop of revenue is going to have a major impact on our museum. We are now going to have to downscale and streamline our organization, ask a smaller staff to take on more responsibilities, and rethink programming, cost-wise. We were going through a phase of being more resourceful with our permanent collection, including less tours and more investigation in growing and showcasing shows of our permanent collection. I see the Palm Springs Art Museum as being a great asset for the community in terms of exposure and education. We have to find a way to maintain a strengthened profile in the community to ride through this period.

“Those who love supporting art and culture do so on discretionary funds and confidence in the market. People who are very generous to cultural institutions are now a little more careful with their philanthropy, because of the stock market and economic impact of the virus. Frankly, we’re preparing for less support. People who support our museum also support other museums, so it’s going to make it very difficult for all museums to rely on philanthropy. The city’s funding support is also going to be challenged because of the lack of revenue. We are not going to be able to rely on the government to support us, either, outside of the Payroll Protection Plan. I’m bracing myself for a tough few years.”

The Palm Springs Art Museum is boosted its online outreach via its Palm Springs Art Museum at Home offerings (www.psmuseum.org/at-home).

“That was the brainchild of our terrific curatorial team, Rochelle Steiner, and our educator, who pulled together a wonderful way to keep our audience, our community and our educators engaged,” Grachos said. “We’ve been hosting art-making workshops on Fridays, and parents have been enjoying including it as an added activity for their kids.

“We also have been having online exhibitions. We’ve focused on Stephen Willard, and our great archiving collection, and we’ve focused on the Sarkowsky sculpture park in Palm Desert. These online exhibitions have been getting a lot of good attention, and reminds our audience that we have this great resource. Rochelle is also working on spotlighting parts of our collection, which will also reveal, both locally and nationally, how varied our collection is.

“It’s been an important deal for us to stay connected to the community, and I’m very pleased to say we’ve had a great response. Sometimes a crisis helps you create a different way to keep communicating.”

Published in Visual Arts

Modernism goes beyond architecture; the movement rippled through fashion, music, literature, philosophy and so much more.

This fact is something the Palm Springs Art Museum is highlighting during Modernism Week 2018—a time when the museum has much to celebrate.

Modernism Week—“the ultimate celebration of midcentury architecture, design and culture,” so says the week’s tag line—is returning Feb. 15-25 with more than 350 events in the Coachella Valley.

Michael Hinkle is the new director of philanthropy at the Palm Springs Art Museum; until recently, he was the managing director of the PSAM Architecture and Design Center, located in the southern portion of downtown Palm Springs. Both the main museum campus and the Architecture and Design Center will host Modernism Week events.

“Modernism Week creates this whole new opportunity to touch new audiences coming into town,” Hinkle said.

The museum’s Frey House II will again be open to the public for Modernism Week. The Frey House II, located above the Palm Springs Art Museum’s main campus, is perched on the side of a boulder—and the boulder is part of the home in many ways.

“Albert Frey actually left that house and its contents to the museum when he passed away in 1998,” Hinkle said. “He left it with the intention that we’d open it to architects and students, and through our official operator during Modernism Week, it’s the only time the general public can access the Frey House II. Other than that, (access) is very limited. It’s on a private road at the end of a street behind the museum, and it’s the only time the public can see that mid-century-modern jewel.”

I asked Hinkle how the museum produces Modernism Week events that draw attention and remain fresh each year. Hinkle’s response: The museum does what the museum knows.

“The museum itself has different collecting strengths, from contemporary art, glass and Western art, to architecture and design,” he said. “Modernism and architecture are both always on our mind. Our friends and partners at Modernism Week have certainly created an incredible opportunity that draws international attention to Palm Springs. We just really look to focus on what we do: We create exhibitions that speak to architectural design enthusiasts, and programming that supports those exhibitions. We also provide lectures that speak from a scholarly point of view to parties that celebrate mid-century modernism for fun.”

This year, the museum is celebrating an architectural accomplishment of its own: the opening of the road leading from Palm Canyon Drive to the Palm Springs Art Museum’s main campus, through the downtown redevelopment project.

“The exciting thing with Modernism Week this year is that the base of operations will be right across from the (museum) in downtown Palm Springs,” Hinkle said. “There will be a lot of excitement based around the opening of the … road to the museum, and having the lectures and the programs. (Modernism Week) is going to create the opportunities to have a fun experience or take a deep dive into exhibitions and architects like Albert Frey. Sidney Williams is going to do an amazing talk about technology and nature with Albert Frey, and how he connected and used that with his design aesthetic.”

Speaking of the downtown Palm Springs redevelopment project, Hinkle said he thinks it complements Palm Springs’ architectural history.

“The designers of the downtown Palm Springs park—they, like many designers and architects working in contemporary times, look to the modernism style and aren’t looking to re-create mid-century modernism, but to honor that kind of architecture in contemporary times by utilizing some of those aesthetics, whether it’s the clean lines and faces, the indoor/outdoor (combinations) or the roofs,” he said. “Downtown allows us to bring (the modernism aesthetic) to contemporary times with that amazing hotel and that Starbucks Reserve. When they opened up that road from Palm Canyon to the museum—it’s like the museum is positioned for a rebirth of some sorts.”

Hinkle said it’s exciting that Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley honor modernism—while also embracing new architecture and technology.

“The 20th century made a deep impact on art and architecture, and we are lucky in Palm Springs that we recognize that,” he said. “… There’s so much preservation and (so many) efforts to protect and honor the tradition of modernism, but we also have to realize that we’re in the 21st century now, and connecting those dots from modernism to now—it really allows us in Palm Springs to have the best of both worlds.”

For more information about Modernism Week, visit www.modernismweek.com.

Published in Visual Arts

The building that is now the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion, was built in 1961, and was recently designated a Class 1 historic building.

E. Stewart Williams, the architect who designed the historic structure that was initially the Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan, is recognized as a leading force in what has become known as the desert modern style. Therefore, it’s perfect that the recently renovated building’s inaugural exhibition, An Eloquent Modernist, E. Stewart Williams, Architect, celebrates both the building and the architect’s work here in the desert.

In other words, the building in and of itself is a work of art.

Built on the southeast corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Baristo Road, the exterior retains its initial character and demure presence. However, the building—raised a bit above the street level—makes a statement. Minimal desertscaping and floor-to ceiling-windows make the building inviting from the outside.

The inside no longer holds the guts of traditional banks. Gone are the spaces for tellers, bank managers and customer tables. Instead, visitors are met by a 13,000-square-foot open space that will feature different architecture and design exhibitions, and will house staff offices and storage facilities for the museum’s growing collection. There is also space to develop meeting areas. The pavilion contains a bit of whimsy: The bank vault is now the museum store.

The elegant sparseness of new exhibition space creates great versatility; the use of partitions can create intimate areas. This strategic use of partitions makes the E. Stewart Williams exhibit work. The curator, by dedicating each viewing area to one or two of Williams’ buildings, affords the visitor insights into the architect’s aesthetic and design process.

Williams’ architectural drawings are frequently paired with Julius Shulman’s dramatic black-and-white photographs of realized buildings. The combination creates “a-ha!” moments.

As might be expected, Williams’ architectural drawings, renderings and photographs of the former Santa Fe Savings and Loan (including one shown below) occupy the first display area. They’re meticulous in their detail.

Further south on Palm Canyon Drive, Williams also designed the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan. Now called Chase Bank, this structure retains the same architectural sensibility as the Santa Fe Savings and Loan building. Designs and images of this structure are presented within a separate partitioned alcove. Like the new pavilion, the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan building sits above street level. Both buildings also have metal façades in front of their floor-to-ceiling windows.

There are also differences. In the design drawings and photographs, the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan appears significantly taller than the Santa Fe Savings and Loan structure. Instead of appearing heavy, the building, even on paper, appears to float above the street.

Another exhibit space shows designs for the Frank Sinatra house, built in the late 1940s. Designed by Williams, with his father and brother, it was the first private residence Williams built in here in the desert. Images and designs for this low-lying residence appear to be predictors of other desert mid-century projects, both residential and commercial.

In another area of the exhibit, Williams’ expanded vision into city planning is shown. Drawings for the Palm Springs Art Museum, built in 1958 and expanded in 1962, retain a Williams commercial-building trademark: a structure, behind which are floor-to-ceiling glass walls. With the museum project, the architect’s vision expanded beyond the museum: With the mountains as the backdrop, Williams’ drawings call for an expansive open plaza in front of the museum.

Williams and his colleagues also completed extensive drawings for a revitalized downtown area. Plans for the project were filed with the city, but the project never came to be.

Two other well-known projects that Williams completed in the desert are documented in the exhibit: the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway’s mountaintop building, and Temple Isaiah.

An Eloquent Modernist, E. Stewart Williams, Architect, will be on display through Sunday, Feb. 22, at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion, at 300 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. The pavilion is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m., Thursday. Admission is $5 general, with discounts and various free-admission days. For more information, call 760-423-5260, or visit www.psmuseum.org/architecture-design-center.

Below: E. Stewart Williams, Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan, 1961, photograph by Julius Shulman, 1962 © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

Published in Visual Arts