Palm Springs Art Museum

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Palm Springs Art Museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum, formerly the Palm Springs Desert Museum, in Palm Springs, California LCCN2013631275.tif
Front entrance on Museum Drive in Palm Springs
Established1938 (as the Desert Museum)
Location101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
72-567 Highway 111, Palm Desert, CA 92260
Coordinates33°49′27″N 116°33′00″W / 33.82417°N 116.55000°W / 33.82417; -116.55000Coordinates: 33°49′27″N 116°33′00″W / 33.82417°N 116.55000°W / 33.82417; -116.55000
TypeArt and performing arts
Collection size≈ 24,000 objects
DirectorAdam Lerner
Public transit accessSunLine Transit Agency
Palm Springs: Routes 111, 14, 24, 30, 32
Palm Desert: Routes 111, 32, 50

The Palm Springs Art Museum (formerly the Palm Springs Desert Museum) was founded in 1938, and is a regional art, natural science and performing arts institution for Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, in Riverside County, California, United States.


Desert Museum years[edit]

The Palm Springs Desert Museum was first housed in 1938 in a small room in La Plaza Arcade on Palm Canyon Drive near 'downtown' Palm Springs. The museum focused on the Colorado Desert natural environment and the original local Native Americans, such as the Cahuilla people. On the edge of the present-day business district, the arcade was a gathering place for residents. Soon the growing museum found temporary new quarters in a section of the town's library. During World War II it was operated by biologist T. D. A. Cockerell. It then expanded in 1947 into a section of a converted wartime hospital. Folk singer and marine biologist Sam Hinton served as director from 1942 to 1944. The Desert Museum had evolved to reflect the community's growing interest in its natural science and American Indian collections and programs. In 1952 the desert wildlife reserve habitat natural 'open air natural history museum' and botanical garden was added, and the name for all was the Palm Springs Desert Museum.

Art museum[edit]

The Desert Museum started to transition to an art museum in 1953 when desert landscape paintings by Carl Eytel were donated by Cornelia White, Isabel Chase, and Earl Coffman.[1] A new modern 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) structure was built for the Art Museum component in downtown Palm Springs in 1958, and in 1962 it expanded for an auditorium and new galleries to house contemporary art exhibitions. Frederick Sleight – anthropologist[2] and executive director[3] – is credited with guiding the transformation.[4]

Renowned local architect E. Stewart Williams designed another new 75,000-square-foot (7,000 m2) building only a few blocks away, in the Modernist architectural style, for the third and present location of the growing museum. It continues as an architecturally dramatic and innovative Art Museum and Annenberg Theater in downtown Palm Springs, at 101 Museum Drive just west of North Palm Canyon Drive at the base of Mt. San Jacinto. When the art museum was established, the desert wildlife reserve museum component became an independent public institution as the Living Desert Museum, now the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The Williams-designed building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

By 2003, the museum found itself in financial difficulty, still constrained by the debt incurred during its 1990s expansion phase. In that year, retired banker Harold J. Meyerman joined the museum board; he became its chairman in 2006 and served until his death in 2015. Under Meyerman, the museum pursued financial stability through steps such as increasing its endowment from $6 million to $15.5 million (and projected to hit $24 million in the near future); reducing staff; and raising fees for local groups using the museum's facilities.[5][6][7]

Museum scope[edit]

Palm Springs Art Museum, 2021

Emphases of the Palm Springs Art Museum developed into three areas:

Educational programs related to each of the three disciplines were planned, and the new Palm Springs Desert Museum opened to the public in January 1976. The museum expanded again in 1982 with the addition of the Denney Western American Art Wing, the museum was renamed the Palm Springs Art Museum, and classic American western art was added to the collection's fine art emphasis.

Art and natural science[edit]

Today the permanent collection consists of more than 24,000 objects. 12,000 objects include fine art, fine art photography, photographic archives, Native American art, Mesoamerican art and artifacts from other cultures. The natural science collections are categorized in geology, biology and archaeology. 12,000 specimens include ceramics, lithics, tools, weapons, minerals, fossils, rocks, casts of fossils, herbaria, mounted invertebrates, preserved amphibians and reptiles, study skins and whole mounts of birds and mammals.

Notable artists[edit]

Noted landscape artists with works displayed or curated by the museum include:[1]

Performing arts[edit]

The intimate 437-seat Annenberg Theater presents internationally known performers and concert artists in music, dance and theater.

New growth and accreditation[edit]

Palm Springs Art Museum, 2021

The museum received accreditation[8] from the American Association of Museums (now known as the American Alliance of Museums) in 1982.

The museum building had originally been designed with the possibility of adding a third level. The need for more exhibition space and educational facilities was recognized by the Board of Trustees, noting increased population and tourism in the Coachella Valley, in addition to the museum's growing collections. An expansion project was initiated with a gift of $1.5 million seed money and 132 works of art from the personal collection of designer and art collector Steve Chase.

The Steve Chase Art Wing and Education Center, also designed by E. Stewart Williams, opened in November 1996. The expansion included 25,000 additional square feet of art galleries, a mezzanine, a sculpture terrace, four classrooms, two art storage vaults and a 90-seat lecture hall. The entire Palm Springs Museum complex now encompasses 124,435 square feet (11,560.4 m2), with additional exhibition space in Palm Desert as of March 2012.

Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert[edit]

On March 15, 2012, the museum opened a satellite facility in the nearby community of Palm Desert.[9] The inaugural exhibition was "Rodin to Now", a survey of modern sculpture from the groundbreaking French artist's work, which arguably began the modern epoch in sculpture, through to immediately contemporary works. Contemporary artists whose works have been displayed at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert include Tracey Emin, Anthony Gormley, Lino Tagliapietra, Klaus Moje, Richard Marquis, Karen LaMonte and Jennifer Steinkamp.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Desert Landscape". Palm Springs Art Museum. Retrieved March 24, 2016.
  2. ^ Pricer, Jamie Lee (June 23, 2009). "Meet the man who brought the valley the Palm Springs Art Museum". Retrieved April 1, 2012.
  3. ^ "About Us: History". Palm Springs Art Museum. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
  4. ^ A Golden Palm Star in front of the Palm Springs museum, part of the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, was dedicated to Sleight in 2000. Palm Springs Walk of Stars: By Date Dedicated Archived 2012-12-08 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ David Colker, "Harold Meyerman, ex-banker who aided Palm Springs museum, dies at 76", Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2015.
  6. ^ Alex Altman, "Some local nonprofits succeeding despite recession offer hope, lessons for a beleaguered sector", The Public Record (Palm Desert, CA), May 26, 2009.
  7. ^ "Harold Meyerman", Artforum, January 28, 2015.
  8. ^ ""American Alliance of Museums Accredited Institutions as of July 2012"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-24. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  9. ^, "Palm Springs Art Museum Opens in Palm Desert", March 15, 2012
  10. ^ Klein, Lee (March 15, 2012). "The State of Sculpture at Palm Springs Art Museum", NY Arts.

Further reading[edit]

  • Askey, Ruth (December 1976 – January 1977). "New museum – old environment". Art Gallery. XIX (2): 88–91. (Abstract: Includes interviews with director Frederick W. Sleight and architect E. Stewart Williams on the recently completed museum.)
  • Young, Patricia Mastick (1983). Desert Dream Fulfilled: The History of the Palm Springs Desert Museum. Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Desert Museum. p. 80. LCCN 83080384. OCLC 19266381. LCC QH541.5.D4 Y68 1983
  • Williams, E. Stewart (1979). Palm Springs Desert Museum. Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Desert Museum. p. 120. OCLC 7442716.
  • Palm Springs Desert Museum Women's Committee (1988). Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1938-1988. Palm Springs, CA: The Committee. p. 224. OCLC 19223136.

External links[edit]