After an incident of vandalism damaged the exterior of the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center this past July, the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission wanted to show the center and the surrounding neighborhood some love via a public arts project.
Local artist Tysen Knight, who helped lead that project — which involved painting artwork onto trash cans in the area and refinishing some sculptures in the park — said it also included the first painted utility box in the city.
The box features a painting of a Black woman blowing bubbles, a piece by Palm Springs artist JoAna Adams.
Knight said he hopes to see more public art used to beautify otherwise mundane items such as trash cans, benches and utility boxes in Palm Springs.
“That’s the first time we ever painted a trash can. But I think it’d be cool if we could move it downtown and paint them down there,” Knight said.
Palm Springs Public Arts Commissioner Shawnda Faveau says if she gets her way, a piece of public art will go up every day in the city.
Because trash cans in Palm Springs are enclosed in boxes, artists have four surfaces to paint on. But why would an artist want to paint a trash can? Faveau said they’re considered art themselves.
“You’re encountering art in every aspect. Our trash cans shouldn’t be different from a billboard, a table, a bench, or a canvas,” Faveau said.
It was in addition to an ongoing project painting benches in downtown Palm Springs.
Local artists including Kylie Knight, Patrick Sheehan, and Tysen Knight painted 12 benches in July after the commission awarded a grant to Main Street Palm Springs, the downtown and uptown business association. The project expanded in September and includes 40 more benches on Palm Canyon Drive.
To that end, Faveau is spearheading an effort for artists to paint a variety of objects throughout Palm Springs. And she’s getting a lot of help.
The artists submit designs which are tied into the business near each bench’s location. Upcoming plans include a floral theme in front of My Little Flower Shop and a food-related design on the bench outside Cheeky’s restaurant.
The commission receives its funding through the city’s public arts fund, which comes from developer fees including half a percent on commercial real estate and a quarter of a percent on residential real estate.
The commission also created a mini-grant program of $60,000 in which local business owners hire artists to create installations on storefront windows, sidewalks, crosswalks and patios.
Faveau is passionate about opportunities to beautify city spaces and inspire people throughout the community.
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As an example, she pointed to an old tree ring bench at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center, painted as a racetrack by local artist Patrick Sheehan.
The artist, she said, hoped to inspire children in the neighborhood to dream about being a professional race car driver.
“It opens a portal of endless opportunities,” Faveau said. “It gives the community a place to dream, expand, run, play and be in an element. We are a small community and we have a big open field out there waiting to be turned into a magnificent magical playground.”
Smiling lunch bags and boomboxes
Los Angeles artist Philip Lumbang, who goes by the moniker Philish Lunchbag, is one of the artists who painted a trash can and a bench at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center.
He normally paints a bear character with positive messages all over his hometown. His murals are on display at Catalina Liqour in Koreatown, a hallway in the children’s ward of Los Angeles County Hospital and any business willing to let him paint their walls.
The trash can he painted in Palm Springs features his signature lunch bag character along with an empty water bottle character. He also painted a bench with a DJ console and his bear character.
For Lumbang, 34, the trash cans offer a different kind of approach to how people view art and connect with it in public places.
“You’re not constricted to going into a gallery or a fine art shop where you have to prepare yourself to go into those places,” Lumbang said. “When you have art out there in the public, it’s almost like you see it by happenstance and it triggers something in you or brings some emotion. That’s more powerful than your art sitting in a gallery for only a few people to see.”
Faveau, who is also a voice actress, met Lumbang a decade ago after his bear and bunny characters started appearing in her Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles. Now, she collects his art.
“It brought me so much happiness,” Faveau said. “When I became a public arts commissioner in Palm Springs (in February), I wanted to bring that happiness and joy with me and sprinkle it throughout the city.”
While public arts projects allow artists to self-promote and show off their unique talents and style to local communities, there also provide numerous benefits to cities.
According to the nonprofit Americans for the Arts, cities gain cultural, social and economic value from public art installations. These art pieces also contribute to cultural scene, while also attracting more businesses and tourism, the nonprofit wrote in a report.
The James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center also features a bench painted as a boombox and a nearby trash can painted as an outlet by Coachella Valley artist Qwest Coast.
Favreau said when she saw the boombox, she wondered how they could make it look plugged in. So, Qwest Coast painted a plug on the concrete in front of the trash can.
“He took my idea to the next level of something I didn’t even think about,” Faveau said.
Benefits of public art
The Palm Springs Public Arts Commission oversees more than 75 public art pieces in the city’s collection, including murals, outdoor sculptures and installations at the Palm Springs Airport. Most cleaning and restoration is contracted to a third-party company called The Art Collective, but the commission has taken responsibility for the murals.
Knight said an acrylic sealant is used on the benches and trash cans, which makes them easily repairable after normal wear and tear, or if they’re vandalized with graffiti.
He recently repaired an installation at the Kimpton Rowan hotel after it was splattered with paint.
“I repaired it because the actual artist is in Santa Monica and couldn’t come to fix it. I have a color tab on all the different paints and can go out and touch them up,” Knight said.
Even during a pandemic, Faveau said she believes it’s important to create a “magical place” for tourists when they return to Palm Springs, adding projects that complement the mid-century modern atmosphere and desert landscape.
As the city struggles economically due to a lack of tourism and limited capacity in restaurants and hotels, she is optimistic that the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission will continue with planned and future projects.
“Palm Springs has a well of deep pockets and the only way we’ll run out of money is if the entire world runs out of money,” Faveau said.
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Knight added that he believes the public art projects in Palm Springs keep up the morale and spirit of the city. He’s noticed people walk by projects in progress and tell the artists “thank you.”
But for him, getting acquainted with other artists in the valley through these projects is the biggest reward.
“You know certain artists, but you don’t know everybody.” Knight said. “There’s incredible talent here. Now we have this network where we know each other.”
Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bblueskye. Support local news, subscribe to The Desert Sun.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Beautifying the mundane: Noticing more public art in Palm Springs? That’s on purpose