Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Summer looms large on the horizon. Months of triple-digit temperatures take their toll, and we all look for ways to escape the heat—even if only for a brief period.

The high desert cities of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley offer some relief, with temperatures averaging about 10 degrees cooler than those in the Coachella Valley. The cities also offer an opportunity to engage with a thriving and diverse art scene.

A weekend day trip—some galleries are only open on Saturday and Sunday—can be a great way to experience (slightly) lower temperatures and see some unexpectedly sophisticated art.

These three suggestions represent just the tip of the art-scene iceberg, but are a good introduction to the treasures waiting to be discovered.

Located in the former Harley Davidson showroom on the frontage road of Highway 62, the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center provides state-of-the-art exhibition and studio space that artists in many large cities would envy. The center is the western annex of Joshua Tree’s Hi-Desert Cultural Center.

The Visual and Performing Arts Center will be celebrating its first anniversary with Perplexing Visions and Unrealities, featuring artists Matthew Couper and Pablo Romero. An opening-night reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, June 8.

The 4,500-square-foot gallery contains many technological innovations that allow for dynamic visual displays. These include movable walls, tunable spectrum lighting with full color mixing, and ultra-high-definition 4K video projection. The current exhibition makes full use of these technologies and features a mix of contemporary art and works from local school students.

Executive curator Michael McCall relocated from Los Angeles to Yucca Valley to help establish the cutting-edge gallery. He designs all the shows with the aid of a scale model of the gallery, complete with the movable walls. In addition, the center can display large-scale artworks in a lighted outdoor gallery.

“We want to be an international arts facility, but also serve the local community,” he says.

The commitment to the local population extends to the studio spaces as well. Children in the high desert can participate in a variety of mediums and have their work displayed in a gallery setting. The studios include spaces for visual arts, dance, broadcast, metal/wood—where sets are produced for the Hi-Desert Cultural Center’s theater in Joshua Tree—and a fabric studio where the costumes for the theater are designed and created.

Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, 58325 Highway 62, Yucca Valley; 760-366-3777;

The Joshua Tree Art Gallery is a small jewel-box space currently featuring works by several accomplished local artists, including poetic desert landscapes by artist Marcia Geiger. Geiger also is a board member of the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council.

JTAG began 10 years ago as a collective gallery in response to the lack of display space in the area. As members came and left, the responsibilities of running and promoting the gallery fell on current owner Frederick Fulmer. It grew into a full-time job. Fulmer—a painter who also has a studio in Venice, Calif., and has worked with acclaimed artists such as Jasper Johns and Joe Brainard—recently put the gallery up for sale. He cited his desire to get back to producing his own art. Good news: On May 15, the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council unanimously voted to purchase JTAG, and the council will start running the gallery in July.

Over the past year, Fulmer has invited some big-name artists to show at JTAG, including exhibits by Ed Moses and Ed Ruscha. He said he wanted locals to be able to see art that was otherwise only available after driving to Palm Springs or Los Angeles.

A special two-day exhibit will open with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturday, June 8. The event features three visual artists and a writer from the Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency

On Saturday, June 15, the gallery will open the JTAG EXPO 2019, a community-invitational salon-style showcase. This is one of the gallery’s largest exhibits. Fulmer said it’s a great opportunity to see diverse styles of work at affordable prices. The opening reception takes place from 6 to 8 p.m.

Joshua Tree Art Gallery, 61607 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree; 760-366-3636;

No art day in the high desert would be complete without a visit to the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture. The 10-acre site is filled with found-object sculptures by the renowned artist.

Purifoy was born into a former slave family in 1917 in Snow Hill, Ala. After serving in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II, he moved to Los Angeles to study art and earned a degree from the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in 1956. He founded and was the first director of the Watts Towers Art Center.

With six other artists, Purifoy created the groundbreaking 66 Signs of Neon traveling exhibition a year after the 1965 Watts riots. The assemblage sculptures were fashioned from two tons of debris left over from the riots and were a stinging commentary on the economic and political conditions of the time.

Purifoy moved to Joshua Tree in 1989; until his death in 2004, he created sculptures on his land that spoke to his concerns about life. The assemblages range wildly in scale and go from whimsical to macabre.

In 1999, a volunteer foundation was formed to protect and maintain the site. Purifoy had no interest in his pieces once they were completed. He famously said, “I’m not a maintenance man!”

Expect a self-guided tour with brochures available at the entrance. Occasional docent-led tours give a deeper insight into the many layered meanings of the works.

Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture, 63030 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree;

First below: "Ohlson Ruins" by Marcia Geiger. Second below: "The Kirby Express" by Noah Purifoy.

Published in Visual Arts

The Hi-Desert Cultural Center is a mere 35 miles from downtown Palm Springs. It’s a place where artists from around the world have come to express themselves while being surrounded by nature.

The center hosts a theater and a philharmonic. It’s been around since 1964. Red Skelton even performed there—and there’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of it. Therefore, you may want to consider one of the center’s most popular events, a twice-a-year evening that will return for its seventh edition on Saturday, Aug. 18.

Desert Stories is a one-night event that offers … local, high desert artists the chance to tell their stories,” said Michael McCall, the art curator for the brand-new Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, an “annex” of the Hi-Desert Cultural Center. “It’s an interesting event. I went to the one in January. The event is amazing; you’ll have 10 to 12 people doing a presentation, and it usually is a sold-out full house. Each presentation is done differently; somebody will do stand-up comedy; some of it is a musical presentation, or a visual presentation with imagery on the displayed on the wall behind the person.”

McCall has been busy; he’s also working on Desert Icons, a show at the new Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center. It’s slated to open on Aug. 25; the current, inaugural exhibition, Ground to Sky, will be on display through Aug. 11.

“The show centers around the desert in art, and how artists interpret it,” he said. “It is extending what an idea of an icon is. I wanted to do a show that is about the desert and its icons.”

McCall moved to the high desert around the start of the year after living in Los Angeles for more than 35 years, so he has a fresh take on how the desert influences art.

“It’s amazing to see the talent that comes from both the high and the low desert—to see what’s going on creatively and how people are creating here,” he said.

While McCall is a new high desert resident, he did visit the area often before his move.

“I was always looking for a place that I thought was close enough in case I needed to go back to L.A. for anything—like to see art shows, or see museums,” he said. “I started coming up here a few years ago. I really dug it, and I liked the people, so when I was offered this job, I thought it was kind of an amazing golden nugget. I have had the opportunity to build a (new center) from the foundation to the sky.”

The Hi-Desert Cultural Center developed the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center in a 15,000-square-foot building that used to be a motorcycle dealership. The space, at 58325 Twentynine Palms Highway, gave the Hi-Desert Cultural Center the chance to expand more into the visual arts.

McCall said the high desert allows artists to have experiences they can’t have elsewhere—but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks.

“The desert extremes or the weather extremes can beat the crap out of materials,” he said. “… But in the Coachella Valley you still have a lot of light pollution. We don’t have that, so you can see the night sky in a way that you’ve never seen before. It’s quite an experience.”

On Aug. 18, Desert Stories XIII will showcase some of the high desert’s best artists and storytellers. Come and see why the event usually sells out.

Desert Stories XIII, hosted by Cheryl Montelle, takes place from 6 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center, 61231 Twentynine Palms Highway, in Joshua Tree. Tickets are $32 to $40; this is an R-rated event due to adult themes and strong language. For tickets or more information, call 760-366-3777, or visit For more information on the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, visit

Published in Visual Arts