If you want to join in the fun of the annual 11-day celebration of midcentury architecture and design known as Modernism Week, we have good news and bad news.
First, the bad: The week, taking place from Feb. 13-23, has gotten so popular that a lot of events have been sold out for weeks.
Now, the good: The week, now in its 15th year, has gotten so big that there are still tickets available for an array of tours, lectures, sales and parties—including a host of free and lower-cost events.
Lisa Vossler Smith is the executive director of Modernism Week, a nonprofit organization. Smith and her team, including more than 450 volunteers, will produce hundreds of events and activities across the Coachella Valley over those 11 February days.
“This is my seventh year (working for) Modernism Week,” Smith said. “I’ve been involved with the organization since its beginning. My husband and I volunteered for years with Modernism Week before I came on staff. … It’s near and dear to my heart, and I’m really looking forward to our 15th anniversary.”
In recent years, Modernism Week has realized impressively rapid growth in attendance levels, which has led to increases in revenue—for the organization itself, the charitable scholarships and grants it funds, the vendors at the sale events, and countless merchants throughout the Coachella Valley.
“We can tell already that it’s going to be a big year,” Smith said about the 2020 events. “Our sales have been strong, and we’re on pace with last year, when we had 152,000 attendees. So we feel really confident that we’ll have at least the same size crowd or even larger.
“Over the last seven years, our (attendance) growth has been 20-30 percent each year.”
Modernism Week events are not limited geographically to the Palm Springs city limits.
“We’re in Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Palm Desert and Indian Wells,” said Smith. “There’s midcentury-modern architecture throughout the valley that the architects were working on in the same era. We’ve had homeowners and businesses participate by conducting tours in all of those communities throughout the Coachella Valley. That’s part of our continued growth—that we’ve been able to expand into other cities outside of Palm Springs.”
The Modernism Week team estimates that about a third of all tickets are purchased by locals, so we asked Smith for tips and advice.
“I would tell people to figure out what day they’re available, and then look at our website and sort by that date to see what tickets are available for that day,” she said. “If you’re looking to go on multiple days, then try to see a little bit of everything. Try to take a house tour; take a walking tour, and learn a little bit about the history of Palm Springs. Go to a lecture, and learn about architecture and design globally. And then certainly go to a cocktail party and have a martini by a pool at an architecturally significant house. Touch on all the cornerstones of our activities, which are all related to midcentury architecture and design throughout the Palm Springs area.”
While a single ticket to some of the swankier events can run upward of a couple hundred bucks, there are many free or low-cost events and activities—although it’s important to head to the website to get tickets even for the free events.
“Free and low-cost events are something that Modernism Week is always committed to maintaining, because we really want to invite the whole community to experience Modernism Week,” Smith said. “So whether someone’s into architecture or classic cars or vintage furniture, there’s something happening for everyone.”
If you’re convinced that you want to attend an event or two, then Smith offers this additional bit of advice.
“Always, my recommendation to attendees is that (when they arrive), go to CAMP”—that’s the Modernism Week Community and Meeting Place, located at 575 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs—“and figure out what you want to do, what tickets are available, and then you can purchase them right there at our box office,” Smith said. “Also, during the event, our website home page has a link to tickets still available for that day, which will make things easier for people to find events last-minute.”
If “free” is your favorite way to go, then take note: “I love the Modernism Week Vintage Car Show, which is a free event featuring a great selection of lectures for people who are interested in learning,” Smith said. “The show attracts a large and diverse (collection) of cars. It’s really popular, and we’ve been doing it for many years.
“Also, the Modernism Yard Sale is really fun. It’s on the last day of 2020 Modernism Week. People from all over Southern California come in and have a flea market in the H3K parking lot.”
As for lower-cost events: “All of our lectures at the Annenberg Theater or at CAMP are priced between $12 and $15, and you can see close to 80 lectures scheduled throughout the week.
“People really treat (their time at Modernism Week) like they’re going to summer camp. They show up every morning at CAMP, attend some of the lectures, and then they take off on their tours in the afternoon. It really is like having a spring break for adults. And almost every day, the Dreamboats (musical group) are playing at happy hour. They’re a wonderful throwback rock ’n’ roll band that actually gets people up dancing—even though it’s only 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Finally, there is one event that Smith wanted to point out that’s important for the community as a whole.
“The Palm Springs School of Architecture event is a big deal, because Cal Poly Pomona and College of the Desert are going to collaborate to offer an undergraduate program in architecture at the new Palm Springs campus,” Smith said. “This event, which is free and open to the public at the Annenberg Theater (at the Palm Springs Art Museum at 10:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 21), is actually the public announcement about that collaboration. … The collaboration with Cal Poly Pomona will not only allow local COD students to pursue an architectural degree, but it will also bring a reciprocal program with students from Cal Poly Pomona, who will be able to use the campus in the desert as a lab for architecture. So, it’s really, really exciting.
“These kinds of programs are at the very core of why Modernism Week was founded. Locally, we’ve had such a strong group of grassroots supporters for the architecture and design community that it was everyone’s dream that someday, we would have architecture students who would graduate from the desert and then come back to work here as architects in the future.”
Modernism Week takes place from Thursday, Feb. 13, through Sunday, Feb. 23, at locations valley-wide. For more information, including a complete schedule and ticket information, visit www.modernismweek.com. Below: Modernism Week’s Community and Meeting Place (CAMP), open for free to the public, should be the first stop for anyone looking to enjoy the week for the first time. Photo by David A. Lee.