New Art Installations on El Paseo Median Are Part of Biennial Exhibition

The biennial El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition keeps excitement alive along Palm Desert’s premier shopping and dining boulevard.

January 25, 2023
El Paseo Exhibition 2023, Palm Desert
“Treble Clef Pirouette” by John Banks.

A six-week exhibition of art on El Paseo in 1992 sparked an idea for Palm Desert’s City Council: A continually refreshed display of sculptures along the median of the town’s main shopping and dining corridor would support businesses and enhance people’s experiences there. So in 1993, the city installed seven concrete pads and lighting for monumental works.

“The City Council was so forward thinking,” says Erica Powell, the Palm Desert staff member who oversees the city’s public art collection and programs. “Mayor Dick Kelly said this would be the best money the city ever spent.”

The late mayor’s belief has proved true. The El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition has gained the attention of the artists’ community and now features a collection of 18 works that rotates every two years. A public celebration officially opens the latest exhibition on Feb. 3 p.m. at The Gardens on El Paseo (gather near the fountain at 4 p.m.), coinciding with the monthly First Fridays event on El Paseo, which features live entertainment, a classic car cruise, and an art walk highlighting the boulevard’s numerous galleries.

Powell observes that the median display complements the monthly art walk because “the sculptures fill in the gaps as you walk from gallery to gallery.”

El Paseo Exhibition 2023, Palm Desert
El Paseo Exhibition 2023, Palm Desert
El Paseo Exhibition 2023, Palm Desert

Among the 18 installations are “Swirly Girl” by Karen and Tony Barone, “Red Rover” by Pati Stajcar, and “Dione the Water Goddess” by Lynn Jaye.

“Over the years, El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition has gained attention of the artists community,” she says. “We have displayed sculptures by artists locally, nationally, and internationally.” The latter category includes Mexico, Canada, Israel, and Africa. And the number of submissions has surged, particularly over the past decade — from 54 entries for the 2013–2014 exhibition to 214 for the 2023–2024 iteration. The current roster comprises artists from California (Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Yucca Valley, Hemet, Temecula, Santa Cruz, and Healdsburg); two each from Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona; Oregon; Nevada; Massachusetts; and Michigan.

“The city relies on the artistic acumen of its Cultural Arts Committee to steer the selection process,” Powell explains. The call for entries is sent out one year prior to installation. City staff pulls out any applications that do not meet entry parameters. Then the sculptures are presented to the committee with images, noting size and materials. Artists’ names are never revealed, and only in the next round of selection are geographical demographics considered. The committee’s finalists then go before the City Council for approval.

City staff curates locations along El Paseo where each piece will be placed, taking into consideration the immediate surroundings, colors, sizes, shapes, and motifs to create a “flow.” Then comes another degree of logistics.

“It takes months of communication with artists, our contract installer, and our crane operator to organize,” Powell says. Artists are responsible for transporting their works. However, the city assumes all responsibility for installation, which takes place over two weeks and involves an on-site team that includes two city staffers, the contract installer with two employees, and the crane operator.

El Paseo Exhibition 2023, Palm Desert

“Timepiece” by Mitch Levin is made of steel, aluminum, and concrete.

The El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition stands out nationally as a rarity not only because it runs for an extended period of time, but also because the city — “from the get-go,” Powell says — decided to make the sculptures available for purchase. The City Council did not want to insert itself into transactions between the artists and collectors but wanted the works to be for sale “as an extension of the shopping experience on El Paseo,” Powell notes. As a result, all inquiries from potential buyers are directed to the artists, and the city does not take a commission; its only requirement is that works not be removed until the end of the exhibition run.

Palm Desert has benefited directly from exposure to artists for its permanent collection of public art. Over the years, the city has purchased 12 El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition pieces.

In addition to a repouring of 14 pads and an upgrade to LED lighting, new this year is a virtual tour, so you can view the exhibition from the comfort of your couch.

El Paseo Exhibition 2023, Palm Desert
El Paseo Exhibition 2023, Palm Desert

“Big Bang” by Ray Katz and “Pixelman” by Gonzalo Torres.