An artist’s rendering of the Palm Springs Cultural Center drive-in screen.

In September, the Palm Springs Cultural Center will reach the six-month anniversary of being shut down—along with all other venues across the state—by COVID-19.

While the doors of the Cultural Center building will remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future, management will still have far too much going on to take much notice of the anniversary.

The Saturday Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Markets continue, as do the drive-in films that have been taking place each weekend since the start of July. The “virtual cinema” streaming-film offerings will be expanded, and the center’s annual LGBTQ film fest, Cinema Diverse, will proceed despite the pandemic. And that’s just the beginning of the Cultural Center’s plans.

Many of the Cultural Center’s offerings these days revolve around the new drive-in screen. Michael Green, the executive director of the Palm Springs Cultural Center, explained how it came to be.

“One of our board members, Ann Sheffer, wanted to do it,” Green said. “She asked me to look into it and see what it would involve, and see if we could do it, because she had seen that they were becoming popular in other areas. She wanted to provide something to the community that would enable them to get together for entertainment safely.”

The drive-in went live over the Fourth of July weekend—and Green said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the attendance.

“I really didn’t think people would come out in this heat,” he said. “But we’ve been doing really well, and lots of nights have been sellouts.”

Green said the drive-in has attracted a different audience than the Cultural Center’s traditional indie-film fare.

“It’s definitely younger. There are a lot more families, and a lot of the ticket-buyers are female,” Green said. “Our audience, historically, we always laugh and say, ‘It’s the gays and the grays.’ We historically have had an older audience, and we’ve got a huge gay following, because we feature a lot of LGBTQ films that you can’t see anywhere else. But we’ve never managed to bring families in until the drive-in.”

As the fall approaches, Green said the Cultural Center plans to expand both its in-person, outdoor events and its virtual events. He said the virtual cinema streaming offerings thus far have been limited by the technologies of film distributors.

“If you pick a movie on our website, and you go to buy tickets, it’ll take you to the distributor’s page, and you’ll buy the film through them,” Green said. “Longer-term, we’re in the process of putting together our own streaming engine that we will use first for Cinema Diverse. After that, we’ll launch our own streaming channel powered by our own engine. That’ll enable us to put films up there whether the distributor has a direct streaming link or not.”

September means it’s time for Cinema Diverse, the Cultural Center’s annual LGBTQ Film Festival. This year’s event will include a mixture of online and—thanks to the drive-in setup—in-person screenings, starting on Sept. 11 and running through the month.

“We’ll open with a drive-in feature, and we’ll launch our streaming that day. The streaming will last through the end of the month, and we’ll have drive-in features every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” Green said. “The streaming engine that we’re putting in place does allow for Q&As with filmmakers, and it allows voting. So we’ll be able to continue a tradition of letting the audience select festival favorites, and we’ll be able to bring the filmmakers to the audience.”

Beyond Cinema Diverse and the drive-in film offerings, Green said the Cultural Center plans on branching out to begin hosting live music, live theatrical offerings in partnership with Coyote StageWorks, and possibly some programming in conjunction with Palm Springs Pride. Some of those events will take place entirely outdoors, he said, while others may take place with performers inside, and the performances streamed to audiences outside.

As for allowing audiences inside the Cultural Center, Green said he and his board of directors are budgeting under the assumption that the doors will be closed until sometime in 2021.

“If we’re fortunate enough for that to not be the case, great,” he said. “But we felt like it’s going to be a long time before people are feeling safe gathering in indoor locations. … We’re hoping that next year at some point, whenever that is, there’ll be a vaccine, and there’ll be people who are ready to get back together to see films and see other things.”

While the Cultural Center’s finances have been harmed by the pandemic, Green said the nonprofit remains on solid footing.

“It’s definitely a struggle,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we own the building, so we don’t have a mortgage, but it has definitely been a real struggle to keep the fundraising going and keep trying to raise money during this whole experience. We’re fortunate because we had established our Camelot Society, which is a monthly or annual giving program. We’ve got some folks who are members of that who are giving on an ongoing basis.”

One more thing: If anyone has partnership ideas, Green would love to talk.

“One thing we’re not only open to, but trying to encourage, is to provide a place where either other nonprofits or companies that want to do something (can use) the streaming (capabilities) and the drive-in,” he said. “We’ve encouraging people to think about ways that they could do something, utilizing what we have to help the rest of the community out and other organizations out.”

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Jimmy Boegle

Jimmy Boegle is the founding editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent. He is also the executive editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review in Reno, Nev. A native of Reno, the Dodgers...