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Thursday, 04 December 2014 10:53

Outdoor Art in the Desert

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Palm Springs Art Museu in Palm Desert PicmonkeyPalm Springs Art Museu in Palm Desert

TASTE News Service December 4, 2014 - Greater Palm Springs is a thriving center for visual arts—both inside the museums and galleries and outside. In high season, art fairs are plentiful, but you can also enjoy free public art year-round, any time you like. Thanks to plentiful Art in Public Places' programs in many cities, there are maps and tours of public art, and much to see – from murals to mosaics, fountains and sculptures.  Self-drive art tours are a great way to discover the Coachella Valley. 

In the agricultural town of Coachella, Coachella Walls was launched in April 2014. The first mural completed, by acclaimed LA artist El Mac, is a moving portrait of a farmworker, on the side of a downtown Pueblo Viejo building.  Nearby is the Casa de Trabajador by Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, founders of Coachella Walls.  Check out the multiple murals opposite Dateland Park.

Indio's public art program preserves the cultural heritage of the valley's oldest city with its nine dramatic murals, created by the Historic Mural Project.  Don't miss the History of Water in the Coachella Valley, 140' long and 15' high, painted by Don Gray.  New sculptures and artworks are regularly installed. Indio-based artist, Philip K Smith, named a 2014 “Face to Watch” by the LA Times, created the inspiring Teen Center Sculpture.

Public Art in La Quinta is as important to the city as the annual Arts Festival and seasonal Art under the Umbrellas fairs. Edie Hylton of La Quinta's Community Services recommends a self-guided walking tour, using the public art map, around the Civic Center Campus, City Hall, Library and park.  Don't miss the recent 9/11 memorial Never Forget that incorporates steel from the World Trade Center, designed by a local artist and paid for with funds raised by a local Boy Scout.  Drive to Andalusia to see the Horse & Rider – an impressive bronze sculpture, more than 20' high. 

Palm Desert was the first city in Riverside County to adopt a public art ordinance (in 1986).  Now, more than 150 public artworks grace roadsides, parks, shopping districts and buildings.  The El Paseo International Invitational brings together artworks from all over the world, displayed along the median of the popular shopping strip.  “We change them every two years; 18 new works commenced installation in November for 2015/2016,” explained Donna Schwartz of the city's Public Art Program. 

Free, guided Public Art walking tours take place from September to May, or go it alone using downloadable maps. Don't miss Civic Center Park, home to more than 20 artworks.  Some are surprising, like the Fisherman embedded in the lagoon's bank, or moving, like the impressively detailed Holocaust Memorial by Dee Clements.  The Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert is also home to the free Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden, open year-round, just off Hwy 111.  It is a delightful oasis set in four acres, with winding walkways through palm trees, desert plants, water features and rock formations, interspersed with 10 major sculptural works.  Don't miss: Dave McGary's beautiful Walks Among the Stars bronze painted sculpture of a native American Indian woman.

In Rancho Mirage on Hwy 111, don't miss the Cancer Survivors Park, next to the City Hall at Frank Sinatra Drive.  The pretty, shaded park features tiled benches, a pyramid kiosk, waterfall, a moving artwork comprising life-size sculptures representing cancer survivors and their families.  It is one of only 22 such parks in the USA . Rancho Mirage Public Library features regular exhibitions by local artists and photographers.  Cool tip: at Sunnylands, artists can enjoy painting in plein air when the Gardens are closed to the public.  Reservations required. 

Rancho Mirage residents and renowned artists Karen and Tony Barone create large-scale, colorful animal sculptures that can be seen all over the valley: at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Palm Springs Fire Station #3, Historical Society of Palm Desert, El Paseo Median, University of California Riverside/Palm Desert Center, Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert Rancho Mirage and the Rancho Mirage Public Library.

At Cathedral City's Civic Center, off Hwy 111, you'll find several artworks including the delightful Fountain of Life made of artisan-carved Mexican stone. Designer and artist Jennifer Johnson spent months applying hand- cut mosaic tiles and glass to the stone. Look closely and you'll see animals, birds and flowers.  Enjoy the leaping water displays and surrounding play area.  Actor/musician Buddy Rogers was the first to donate to the fountain; his statue stands nearby. 

Palm Springs public art collection features 60 works throughout the city.  Best known are the much-loved seated statues of Lucille Ball and Sonny Bono in downtown.  In the Uptown Design District, the water feature, Rainmaker by David Morris intrigues and entertains visitors with its tipping waterspouts.  Public Arts Coordinator Jennifer Henning said, “The latest additions are five different artist-designed bicycle racks, weaving art into the urban landscape.  Whether you're arriving at Palm Springs International airport, visiting the Convention Center, strolling through a park or downtown, you'll find artwork nearly everywhere you go.  Art maps available at the Visitors Center, Chamber of Commerce, City Hall or at

Editor's Note: Thinking of visiting the Palm Springs area? First check out the Desert listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining opportunities.

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