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palm springs: art and culture in the desert

by Rich Rubin

Public art abounds, and the museums, galleries, and boutiques would be the envy of areas much larger and more urban.

Rich Rubin

One of the surprising attributes of this desert oasis is the fact that it is home to an amazing artistic scene. How could an artist live in an area like this and NOT want to create? Everyone knows Palm Springs as a place to chill out in the desert, a getaway to the world of pleasure, with tons of bars, great restaurants, warm weather, and an LGBT scene that’s possibly the best in the world. Fewer people, however, realize how vast an amount of art and culture spreads through the Coachella Valley. Public art abounds, and the museums, galleries, and boutiques would be the envy of areas much larger and more urban.

Once the fabled haunt of movie stars, Palm Springs has really undergone a renaissance in the past 20 years or so, fueled by gay dollars and savvy. Here’s an interesting fact: every member of Palm Springs’ City Council is LGBT. Given this fact (and an overwhelmingly large LGBT population, with estimates at about 55%), you’d naturally expect art and culture (well, I would anyway). Greater Palm Springs doesn’t disappoint. With several theaters, a diverse selection of museums, a Gay Men’s Chorus, and a slew of free public art, many who come to lie around the pool or hit the nightlife might not even realize just how much is available here.

Palm Springs Art Museum Main Entrance

Palm Springs Art Museum Main Entrance


Most of the town’s major events of the year are arts and culture related, like Modernism Week, which spreads across the Valley and celebrates this architectural movement that’s so prominent in the area, along with vintage design and culture. Held this year February 14-24, it’s a diverse collection of events and sights spreading throughout the valley. In Cathedral City, tours are available of the Cree House, a newly restored 1955 work by noted architect Albert Frey. A home tour and cocktail party celebrates famed interior designer Arthur Elrod (who also receives a star on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars). There are guided walks through four classic midcentury homes, a tasting highlighting the friendly mid-century rivalry of California and French wines, symposia, discussions, a new play based on a true-life encounter of architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, a classic car show, and a keynote address by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. This is just a small sampling of what has come to be the event of the year.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum


It overlaps with one of the most ambitious arts projects the area has undertaken: Desert X, a biennial extravaganza of public art, which this year is February 9-April 21 and covers the entire valley with site-specific artworks. This year, 15 artworks from artists around the world adorn the valley, and you can either take an organized tour or grab a map and drive yourself. There are no fences, no ropes, no ticket booths.

Modernism Week and Desert X are far from the only artistic festivals the area hosts. There’s the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January that presents almost 200 films from around the world. There’s the Coachella Valley Music Festival in April, which this year will feature a huge roster of stars. There’s also the weekly VillageFest, during which several blocks of Palm Canyon Drive are lined with artists and craftspeople that make this event a cut above the usual street fair.

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