Becky Kurtz, Executive Director Desert Forum, Inc. – Behind the Curtain Desert Town Hall
By Janet Newcomb
She has had a backstage view of the many of the world’s most powerful and provocative personalities for 25 years.
Becky Kurtz is the executive director of Desert Forum, Inc., the nonprofit that produces Desert Town Hall, the desert’s premier lecture series. She’s the lady behind the curtain.
This is the 25th season of Desert Town Hall, bringing well-known speakers ranging from award-winning commentators like Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Paul Krugman, to world leaders such as Presidents George Bush 41 and 43, and three former Israeli prime ministers: Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres.
In 2017 the sold-out series will present Astronaut Scott Kelly (January 16), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (February 24), CNN’s Paul Begala alongside FOX’s Tucker Carlson (March 9), and bestselling author Michael Lewis (March 27).
Desert Town Hall has brought 106 personalities from the world stage to its stage in Indian Wells. Becky has met every one. She has never missed an event.
“Desert Town Hall caught my attention with the first speaker in 1993, Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner. I was invited as a guest to that first event. The next morning, I called to volunteer and have never missed a speaker.” She joined the staff as marketing director in 2008, and was named executive director in 2013.
“I’m proud of what we do,” she says. “Thanks to the board of directors, sponsors, volunteers, and longtime supporters, we offer a cultural experience in our small community that is unmatched even in large metropolitan areas.”
An integral part of the event is Youth Town Hall. It’s a remarkable opportunity for high school students to meet the speakers before the main event. Twenty-two area high schools choose 150 students to attend each of the four events. They meet with the speaker early in the evening for conversation and serious, and often challenging, Q&As. The students stay for dinner and the speaker presentation, a special evening that the students will always remember.
“I’m often asked how we choose our speakers,” she says. The yearlong process begins when she works with speakers bureaus across the country to find the most interesting and engaging storytellers. Next, event subscribers are asked to offer the names of speakers they want to hear. Finally, a Speaker Selection Committee comprised of board members reviews the list of vetted speakers and makes offers with dates available from the venue. “It’s a complicated process that everyone enjoys immensely,” she adds. “We have a firm policy of not inviting anyone who is in political office or campaigning for one. When they leave office, however, like last year’s David Petraeus, they rise to the top of our list of most desired speakers.” With the outgoing Obama administration, she predicts, there will be a number of sought-after names.
Who has been her favorite speaker in 25 years? “That’s always a tough one. For sheer adventure and storytelling, it has to be last year’s Nando Parrado, who survived in the frozen Andes Mountains after his rugby team’s plane crashed”.
“For the privilege of meeting larger-than-life personalities who are no longer with us, I remember British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Pakistan’s slain leader Benazir Bhutto; a true gentleman I will never forget is Tony Snow, journalist and White House press secretary for George W. Bush”.
“For the panic we experienced to get him on the stage, it’s FOX’s Bill O’Reilly. His plane was delayed on the tarmac in Los Angeles. When he arrived in the desert, he was stuck in the traffic of folks arriving to see him. He got out of his car and walked to the front door! That was harrowing and fun.”
Desert Town Hall takes place in the Esmeralda Ballroom of the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa. This series is supported by a number of philanthropic sponsors and foundations along with ticket sales; your tax-free donations are always welcome. For additional information, please call Executive Director Becky Kurtz at 760.610.2852 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.