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10 Sep 2013

Desert Arts: The Directors of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum Have Big Plans

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The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum is the home of some of our valley's earliest arts. The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum is the home of some of our valley's earliest arts.

The Coachella Valley has a rich artistic culture spanning thousands of years—long before Palm Springs became known for golf courses, swanky shopping and mid-century architecture.

The Agua Caliente Tribe of Cahuilla Indians hailed nature as a source of a spiritual presence. The earth was a most important aspect in their lives, as were the waters and the majestic mountains and skies. Much of the Agua Caliente culture originates from nature, such as the story of the Blue Frog and the traditional “bird songs” that have been passed down though the generations. Intricate basket-weaving is celebrated today in exhibitions throughout the valley—part of a treasure trove secured by the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.

To learn about and be enriched by Agua Caliente culture, there is no place better than this museum, currently situated at 219 S. Palm Canyon Drive.

I recently met with Michael Hammond, the executive director of the museum since 1999, and Steve Sharp, the director of development. Under their leadership, the museum has preserved and documented thousands of cultural treasures for the tribe.

About a decade ago, the ACCM became a part of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program; it is the first Native American museum to be part of this group. The designation allows the museum to draw from the many programs and resources offered by the Smithsonian in technology, programming and exhibitions.

The ACCM has been occupying its modest downtown Palm Springs structure for decades—and recently, Hammond and Sharp filled me in on a plan for a new museum that will exhibit the tribe’s heritage in a state-of-the-art facility with high-tech surveillance and the latest in temperature-control technology.

The plan has been in the works since 2008 for a new 110,000-square-foot facility in Palm Springs along East Tahquitz Canyon Way. The architect for this magnificent structure is JohnPaul Jones, of Jones and Jones in Seattle. The new museum will be an energy-efficient building with LEED silver certification—the way of the future.

Plans were put on ice during the economic downturn. However, now that the economy is improving, there is interest in continuing the plans—although groundbreaking dates have been announced as of yet.

This is a very important project for the entire Coachella Valley—not just for Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Tribe of Cahuilla Indians. The new structure would allow us to celebrate our valley’s original heritage and cultural traditions, and would be a source of community pride for all the world to see.

The museum's current exhibition, Where Are the Tipis?, tackles common misconceptions about Native Americans; it is on display through Sunday, Oct. 20. Hammond offers a narrative lecture with the exhibit, which is educational and enjoyable.

The museum also has an important event coming up: On Saturday, Oct. 12, is the Dinner in the Canyons. This fundraiser takes place al fresco in Andreas Canyon. Dining and entertainment will take place among the splendor of the natural preserve that is the stage for this magical night. Reservations are a must, since the 350-person event usually sells out. Tickets are $300, $235 of which is tax-deductible; get more information at www.accmuseum.org/Dinner-in-the-Canyons.

Make it a point to visit the museum in person; it’s a vital, important part of the fabric of the Coachella Valley. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, call 760-778-1079, or visit www.accmuseum.org.

Richard Almada is the CEO and president of Artistic Relations and heads up Desert Art Tours. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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