Sitting on a bench at Palm Desert Civic Center Park, E. Tyler Burton watches people around a trio of concrete columns decorated with colored plastic objects embedded in resin. She takes particular interest in this scene as the artist of the park’s latest public art installation.
“Poly Parfait” is part of Burton’s Fossils of the Future series: works, she says, “built to look like future core samples of the Earth.” She incorporates into stacks of molded concrete disks a range of found and donated plastics: toys, water bottles, food containers, and other discarded items.
“Kids will spend 20 minutes walking around it and picking out things they can identify,” Burton says.
“‘Poly Parfait’ is a play on words,” she explains. “The layers look like some sort of dessert, and ‘poly’ relates to plastic. My intention is not to be super didactic. The ‘totem poles’ are something beautiful and fun for people to look at. But they also carry a message, and I hope they facilitate a deeper conversation about preserving our environment.”
Burton began Fossils of the Future during a 2016 artist residency at Canada’s Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Other works in the series have been installed in Newport Beach and Palm Springs. Even before the end of the run for “Poly Parfait” in Palm Desert’s 2021–’22 El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition, the city’s Cultural Arts Committee recommended its purchase for the permanent public art collection. The columns, with the tallest standing 6 feet, were installed in October 2022 at a recently created pollinator garden in the northeast portion of Civic Center Park.
One might call it doubly sweet that “Poly Parfait” is the latest addition, since the first artwork to be sited in the park is titled “Desert Dessert.” That painted-steel sculpture, by Michael Anderson, marked the city’s first public art commission (1989) and attracts visitors to the southwest end of the park.
Erica Powell, who oversees the city’s public art collection and programs, says that members of the Cultural Arts Committee “are crucial in selecting the pieces we have throughout the city,” adding, “They want things that are welcoming, especially for the park.” She recalls her own son taking delight in discovering a Lego embedded in “Poly Parfait” on their first visit after its installation.
As for the concentration of works in the park, Powell says, “It encourages people to pay attention and connect with what is around them.”
Civic Center Park features baseball fields; basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts; picnic pavilions; dedicated areas for skateboarding and for dogs; an amphitheater; and a pond. As beneficial as those amenities are on their own, the presence of public art plays a prominent role in the 70-acre setting.
“It becomes more of an interactive experience and provides a stronger sense of place because of its identifying pieces,” Powell says. “Without them, it would be just another beautiful park and not as memorable.”
Palm Desert offers a virtual tour of the collection of more than 20 public artworks within Civic Center Park. For more information on the Palm Desert Public Art Program, visit palmdesertart.org.