Meet Barrett Wissman, the Chairman of IMG Artists and producer of The Festival of the Desert kicking off this year in Palm Springs on March 18th, 2015. The inaugural launch event will feature a stellar lineup of some of today’s top music, dance, visual art, and theatrical artists, such as opera royalty Renée Fleming and the Paris Opera’s Music Director Phillippe Jordan. Music icon and legend Quincy Jones will curate the evening gala music program, with American and Bolshoi Ballet’s Principal Dancer, David Hallberg, serving as the artistic director of the dance program.
“I think it’s a real opportunity for southern California to have an independent arts festival that can attract people from the world to the desert,” said Mr. Wissman, Director of the Festival of the Desert, and Chairman of IMG Artists. “To have a truly independent and self-sustaining arts festival in southern California is an extraordinary accomplishment.”
Why did you decide to found this festival?
I was asked originally by Philippe Jordan to help after he had been in discussions with the Annenbergs about the idea. I like the concept as the Coachella Valley had a music festival and a film festival , but not a real and serious arts festival. I also like the size of the place (not being in a huge city).
How did you select the curators/ talent to be involved and why did you target them/ what do they each bring to the festival?
Philippe is obviously one of the finest young musicians in the world and has important positions in both Paris and Vienna, two key cultural capitals in Europe. It was by luck that he happened to buy a house in Palm Springs. The Annenberg Foundation is an important donor to the Paris Opera and they love his work.
David Hallberg is one of the most important dancers in the world today. He is also a symbol because he is not only the principal of the ABT in New York but the Bolshoi in Moscow. He is the first American to have a position like that in a company that is for all intents and purposes the national ballet company in Russia, which is the most important country in the world for the art form. He wanted to have a new role in his career, that of a curator and/or an artistic director. This is his first time doing this.
Quincy is obviously a great producer and a great composer/arranger.Over the years, however, his ability to spot young talent has been almost uncanny and this is why I asked him for help in identifying great young talent to perform at the festival.
Describe your plans for the festival (without giving away any surprises)?
Well, I want to emphasize all of the performing arts and I also want to bring in all ages to the festival. I don’t want it only to be a bastion of the older generation. In order
to accomplish this I think we need to get artists of all genres and ages to collaborate and this should be the overriding goal of the project. I don’t think it has been successfully achieved yet. For me, the future of the arts lies in arts education and building audiences. This starts when they are young, and to do this, one needs to also have things they can identify with.
Tell us what makes it unique?
I think the idea of cross collaborations between arts forms and having a great singer with a great actor or a fantastic chef with a wonderful visual artist.
What you are looking forward to most about the festival?
Well, for the launch, I am always excited to hear Renee Fleming, and to hear her perform with a wonderful and engaging musician like Philippe is a rare opportunity as conductors rarely have the time to dedicate to performing on stage as an instrumentalist. Beyond the performers and performances, the opportunity to work in a new environment and community is exciting. For me, it is exciting to see the change and development of a project from ground zero to a developed idea is very satisfying and gives one hope about the future of the arts.
What do you think makes the location being Palm Springs special?
Palm Springs has wonderful air and a spirit that is unique. One feels that immediately there. It is also neither too large nor is it too small. There is an audience already there. At the same time, it has the intimacy of a place away from the traffic and noise of everyday life in the city. One can think there and enjoy the arts.
Why do you think that doing this in California is special?
California and southern California in particular doesn’t really have an event like the one I envisage. It doesn’t belong in a big city and there are smaller and more intimate events like the festival in Ojai, which are wonderful and special, but nothing that can take ultimately take over an environment like the desert.
I think it’s a real opportunity for southern California to have an independent festival that can attract people from the world to the desert. Many events and festivals are part of existing organizations like the Hollywood Bowl but to have a truly independent and self-sustaining multi-discipline arts festival in southern California would be quite an accomplishment.