Robert Stearns, the executive director of ArtsOasis, passed away Wednesday, Dec. 3, after a brief illness.
There is so much to say about my dear friend and colleague. Robert (pictured to the right, in a photo from last year) graduated from the University of California at San Diego in fine arts and art history. He then began his incredible career in the arts, which started in the early ’70s in arts and cultural management with the Paula Cooper Gallery and The Kitchen in New York City. He curated exhibitions, developed education projects and served as a senior staffer at some of the country’s leading contemporary arts institutions. He was the director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, the performing arts program director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the inaugural director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. He also served as an adviser to private foundations, state arts councils and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Robert came to live in Palm Springs in 2006 with his partner, Rich. Soon thereafter, he became a member of the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission. He also served on the board of directors of the Architecture and Design Council of the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Coachella Valley Arts Alliance, and the La Quinta Arts Foundation. He was also a member of the Classical KUSC Desert Arts Advisory Council.
In 2007, the California Desert Arts Incubator and a local advisory group to the University of Southern California were considering what the desert’s creative community looked like, and what its needs were. These two groups were the genesis of ArtsOasis. Robert, along with his colleagues, began emulating efforts to expand the creative economies in metro centers such as Santa Fe, N.M., Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle and Columbus, Ohio.
It’s widely known that art, design, media and marketing generate enormous revenues in business receipts, wages and local taxes. Here in the Coachella Valley, where tourism is a leading industry, it’s crucial to foster a robust creative community and, therefore, cultural tourism. With support from the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and other stakeholders, ArtsOasis was able to perform an economic study of the creative community in the Coachella Valley. In 2012, the study revealed that this sector was worth an annual $750 million in earnings and receipts, with more than $1.5 billion in overall activity.
This study remains an incredible source of information and has spurned greater collaboration in arts, media and entertainment. Robert ensured that ArtsOasis would spearhead the promotion, advocacy and development of our unique community through evenhanded representation and collaborative work.
Together with members of the ArtsOasis Creative Council, Robert enhanced ArtsOasis’ reputation as a one-stop shop for the valley, and later extended this influence to the high desert. Through artsoasis.org, he developed a wealth of free resources for the creative community, including a calendar of events. The website became a platform for individuals and organizations to create free listings; a selection of those listings appears each month in the Coachella Valley Independent. ArtsOasis also promotes events through Facebook and recently began a partnership program to promote our award-winning community theaters.
Robert’s energy, reliability and knowledge—the latter accumulated over decades in the arts world—became the catalyst for ArtsOasis to be recognized as a primary resource in the area’s creative community. His ability to collaborate made it possible to connect organizations, businesses and artists with each other and jointly promote the creative community.
As ArtsOasis evolved under Robert’s direction, it increased its promotion and advocacy role, and began to promote cultural tourism through the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Before Robert’s passing, he was engaged with the CVB and other stakeholders in defining the future of ArtsOasis. This work will now continue in the spirit of collaborative working that epitomized Robert.
David Clinton-Reid is the acting executive director of ArtsOasis. Those wishing to remember Robert Stearns with a donation in lieu of flowers may do so by sending a memorial contribution to Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design, Edwards Harris Pavilion, 300 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264.