PalmSprings.com Spotlight: An Interview with Lisa Vossler Smith of Modernism Week

Lisa Vossler Smith and her husband Phillip K. Smith III
Lisa Vossler Smith and her husband Phillip K. Smith III

Lisa Vossler Smith is the Executive Director of Modernism Week and is passionate about promoting cultural tourism and the rich heritage of the Palm Springs desert region.  Lisa attended Indio High School and grew up in La Quinta where she began her early career training at La Quinta Hotel under the leadership of her mother, Judy Vossler. After graduating from the University of California, Irvine, Lisa pursued a career path in special event management, which eventually led to her employment at the Palm Springs Art Museum where she was most recently the Senior Director of Administration & Operations. Lisa and her husband, the artist Phillip K. Smith III, are both from the Coachella Valley and are proud to have established their business and family life in the desert.

Kate Buckley: Lisa, we first met through at a mutual friend’s dinner party years ago when you were working with the Palm Springs Art Museum. I was thrilled to learn of your appointment to Executive Director of Modernism Week—congratulations! How did you make that leap?

Lisa Vossler Smith: I was hired in April of last year…after nearly eight years of expanding upon my management and non-profit training at the museum.  I have been involved with Modernism Week since it began in 2006 and it was a very natural career progression for me.

KB: I was lucky enough to attend a few days of this year’s Modernism Week—what a fantastic experience! How big was this year’s event?

LVS: This was our biggest year to date and we are thrilled that our early estimates indicate that attendance and sales increased in 2014.  We had 187 events over an 11-day period, with nearly 60 more events than last year. We had a fantastic 11 days of Modernism Week filled with exciting events, sold out tours and programs and attendance figures exceeding our expectations.

KB: Modernism Week will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.  During the past decade, Modernism Week has expanded from a weekend to a week to 11 days all-in. Are there further plans for expansion?

Lisa Vossler Smith with Trina Turk and Chris Mobley, Modernism Week Chairman
Lisa Vossler Smith with Trina Turk and Chris Mobley, Modernism Week Chairman

LVS: Yes, the growth of Modernism Week is very encouraging as plans are already underway for our 10th Anniversary celebration in February 2015. We look forward to strategically expanding our schedule to make it possible for more residents and visitors to participate in Modernism Week activities.  We are also looking at ways to develop more programs, tours and events throughout the year in addition to our signature February festival and the Fall Season Kick-Off over the Columbus holiday weekend in October.

KB: And based on the solidly non-scientific sampling of my interactions with Modernism Week attendees, it seems you’re attracting a global clientele. Is this accurate?

LVS: Yes, we have visitors from China, Europe, Australia, and 60% of our international visitors came from Canada.   Our largest participation comes from California, Washington and Oregon, but this year we saw big numbers from New York, Chicago and Texas due to the tough winter weather in other parts of the country…and perfect 80-degree weather in Palm Springs.

KB: I understand you recently partnered with Goldenvoice (the promoters of Coachella and Stagecoach). Can you tell me more about this partnership? What does this mean for the future of Modernism Week?

LVS: Our collaboration with Goldenvoice will provide additional support to Modernism Week over the next several years through sponsorships, national and international marketing campaigns, event logistics, ticket packages, and special event production. Modernism Week will continue to operate as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, charitable organization, providing scholarships to students pursuing college educations in the fields of architecture and design and awarding grants to local and state preservation organizations for their efforts to preserve modernist architecture throughout California.  These organizations also include the smaller neighborhood HOAs that financially benefit from Modernism Week home tour ticket sales.

KB: Where do you see Palm Springs and Modernism culture in the next 5-10 years?

Lisa Vossler Smith with her mother, Judy Vossler, and Jack FitzGerald
Lisa Vossler Smith with her mother, Judy Vossler, and Jack FitzGerald

LVS: The Palm Springs region is currently experiencing tremendous growth and popularity that will help Modernism Week expand its audience and programs over the next several years.  It is exciting to think that Modernism Week may be able to develop year-round activities and expose a new generation to the rich architectural heritage of the Palm Springs area.  Ultimately, this growth contributes to the local economy in a major way as Modernism Week attendees stay in hotels, dine and shop, and hopefully return and buy homes in the area.  We plan to continue the momentum and reach further into the east valley with programs and events for the entire community.

KB: What do you love most about Palm Springs?

LVS: There is so much to love about Palm Springs, especially since I am a “hometown girl.” A few of my favorite things include: iconic midcentury modern architecture, pool parties, desert sunsets, shopping on Palm Canyon Drive, date shakes, El Paseo art galleries, Palme d’Or theater, and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival!

About Kate Buckley

Kate Buckley is a brand strategist, premium domain broker and consultant, interviewer, storyteller, visual artist, and award-winning poet & writer. She’s worked in media and marketing since 1997, holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and is the author of A Wild Region (Moon Tide Press) and Follow Me Down (Tebot Bach). A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her awards include a Gabeheart Prize and the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize. She was most recently shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. A ninth-generation Kentuckian, she’s made her home in Southern California since 1998.

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