The biennial “Desert X” art installations have attracted tourism and praise by art critics, but a recent decision by its founders to partner with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for an art exhibit has drawn criticism.
Palm Desert Councilman Sabby Jonathan asked city staff to draft a letter of opposition directed at the founders of Desert X, the city participates in the exhibit and has contributed $60,000 to the project.
Councilman Jonathan said, “I have not spoken with my colleagues, I don’t know if they will agree or disagree, my intention at this point is not to cut off funding but simply to trigger discussion and thoughtful consideration of what we’re doing now and what we’re doing in the future.”
He said he respects the artwork Desert X has brought to the Coachella Valley, but he has a problem with Saudi Arabia’s record of violating human rights.
The councilman said, “It’s recognized as engaging in significant human rights violations, as well as some environmental concerns and then most recently a journalist from the Washington Post was murdered, dismembered really brutal event that the prince actually took responsibility for, the prince of Saudi Arabia.”
A spokesperson for Desert X said the exhibit in Saudi Arabia will be a one-time collaboration with the country’s art commission.
The representative for the art organization added,
“The goal is to provide a platform for artists from around the world, who share our belief that art and culture are enlightening and unifying forces that foster new perspectives and ideas and bring people and nations together.”
Meanwhile, reports from the Los Angeles Times said three of the Desert X board members have resigned over the partnership.
Councilman Jonathan said it is important to bring this issue up for discussion at the City Council meeting, especially if it uses public funds.
Jonathan said, “We have to be very careful that the organization furthers the objectives of the city and I would hope that our objectives do not include supporting a government that engages in human rights violations, I think that’s an important statement to make.”
The letter did not go up for a vote by the Palm Desert City Council, Councilman Jonathan motioned for a vote but no other council member seconded it.
The majority of the council said they needed more time to review the facts surrounding the Desert X partnership with Saudi Arabia, they said they may bring up the issue once again when they are approving the yearly budget.
Jonathan told his colleagues this was a missed opportunity.