PALM SPRINGS ART MUSEUM

HISTORY

Located in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Art Museum features a sophisticated collection of art, much of which has been loaned or donated by the area's affluent supporters. The museum has an art collection that rivals urban metropolitan museums, and includes works from Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Robert Rauschenberg, Antony Gormley, Ansel Adams and more.

Spread over the 150,000 square feet, the museum boasts major collections of modern and contemporary art, glass, photography, architecture and design, and Native American and Western art. It has two outdoor sculpture gardens, a bistro, and a museum store that includes one-of-a-kind gifts and art-related merchandise.

Palm Springs Art Museum was founded in 1938 as the Palm Springs Desert Museum at La Plaza in downtown Palm Springs.

Natural science exhibits, Cahuilla Indian artifacts, and hiking excursions dominated the institution’s programming.

 

arrow left   Original site in La Plaza, 1938

The museum moved several times within the downtown Palm Springs area before building its first permanent structure in 1958, located on the southwest corner of Tahquitz-McCallum Way and Indian Ave. Over the years, fine art gained a greater measure of focus.

 

 arrow left Palm Springs Desert Museum first Board Members, 1958

Palm Desert Museum from the street, 1960s

Palm Springs Desert Museum exhibition, Taquitz location, 1960s

Palm Springs Desert Museum exhibition, Taquitz location, 1960s

The 1960's were a busy time for the museum. Executive Director Frederick Sleight arrived on the scene in 1965 with a vision of making the museum "the prime cultural center of the desert." Alice Sleight founded the docent program that same year. As programming grew, so did attendance.

One of the most impressive exhibitions was a 1964 show of paintings by Hans Burkhardt, a Swiss artist widely credited for bringing Abstract Expressionism from New York to Los Angeles.

 

By the late 60's it was evident the 10,000 square foot building was quickly becoming too small. In 1974, architect E. Stewart Williams was commissioned to design the current building for the museum. Further growth resulted in the construction of the Doris and Walter N. Marks Administration Building and the 1996 completion of the Steve Chase Wing and the Education Center.

 

arrow left   Museum director Frederick Sleight (left) and Walter Marks (right) review the model of the new Palm Springs Desert Museum (finished 1976).

Leonore Annenberg (with shovel) at the groundbreaking for the Museum Way building, early 1974

E. Stewart Williams on the construction site of the Palm Springs Art Museum, 1974

Aerial view of construction starting at Museum Drive, 1975

Aerial view of construction in process at Museum Drive, 1970s

Pavilion rendering by E. Stewart Williams, Date Uncertain

Palm Springs Desert Museum opening crowd, 1976

Major renovations, and even bigger donations of art, transformed the institution, which also sharpened its programming with nationally significant exhibitions. In April 2004, the Board of Trustees decided to shift the museum's focus from a multi-disciplinary museum to a world-class art museum with a vibrant theater program. 

In evaluating the current strengths and directions of the museum, it became clear that the art collections were growing and that the art audience was expanding – primarily in the areas of architecture, photography, and contemporary glass. 

A study of the area's other institutions also brought a realization that there were other established organizations providing exhibitions in the natural sciences.

One year later, in April 2005, the museum officially changed its name from Palm Springs Desert Museum to Palm Springs Art Museum to reflect its emphasis on the visual and performing arts. 

The museum remains committed to serving as an innovative community cultural center, and expanding its exhibitions, programs, and services in the visual and performing arts.

 

arrow left   Changing of the name, 2005

 

In 2012, the museum opened a satellite exhibition and education space in Palm Desert to serve the middle and easternmost side of the Coachella Valley. It features an architecturally distinctive building named The Galen that presents ongoing and temporary exhibitions of internationally important art.

School tours, artist demonstrations, curatorial lectures, art films, community days, and other learning programs are also presented in this space.

The Galen building is surrounded by the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden that features significant sculpture works surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens.

arrow left   Palm Springs Museum in Palm Desert, 2017, Photo by Lance Gerber

 

In 2011, the museum purchased the Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan building designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1960. Located in downtown Palm Springs, it was reopened as the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion in 2014.

This hub of the museum's exploration of architecture and design features related exhibitions and educational programs.

The collection also includes Frey House II, the historically significant residence in Palm Springs that architect Albert Frey designed for himself in 1963 and bequeathed to the museum upon his death in 1998.

arrow left   Palm Springs Art Museum, Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris pavilion, 2017, Photo by Lance Gerber

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Palm Springs Art Museum has 28 galleries, two sculpture gardens, four classrooms, a resource centers, an artists center, five storage vaults, a 85-seat lecture hall, a 433-seat theater, a 1,000 square-foot store, and a popular local bistro.

 

arrow left   Palm Springs Art Museum today, 2018, Photo by Lance Gerber

Situated 120 miles east of Los Angeles, the Palm Springs Art Museum is located in the Coachella Valley, which includes nine cities totaling a permanent population of more than 410,000 within its 450-square-mile area, expanding to more than 600,000 during the winter months.

Exhibitions, education programs and performing arts productions at the museum are made possible in part by admission fees, private funds, donations, memberships, and grants.

A number of active councils interface with museum efforts:

  • Annenberg Theater Council
  • Architecture and Design Council
  • Contemporary Art Council
  • Docent Council
  • Museum Associates Council
  • Museum Service Council
  • Photography Collection Council, and Western Art Council

A major fundraising arm of the Board of Trustees, the Museum Associates Council (MAC) boasts exceptional success in planning and carrying out innovative fundraising events. Each year MAC and the Board of Trustees host a gala to raise the necessary dollars for the museum's general operating budget.