If you’ve been in downtown Palm Springs recently, you may have seen—or even sat on—one of the 10 newly painted public benches now adorning the downtown sidewalks on Palm Canyon Drive between Amado and Alejo roads.
This collection of formerly drab benches has just been re-imagined via the beautiful artwork of nine local artists who applied to the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission for the chance to participate in the Palm Springs Main Street Bench Project’s Phase 2, which concluded on Aug. 5. That talented group included Ernesto Ramirez (who painted two benches), Marconi Calindas, Shanah Chomsinsub, Zach Fleming, Michael Foss, Kylie Knight, Rich Rodriguez, Patrick Sheehan and QWestOwen.
The very next day, the commission issued another call for artists to transform 16 more benches, this time located on Palm Canyon Drive between Alejo Road and Tachevah Drive. Each artist will receive a grant of $1,000 per bench; all the required art materials, including the paint, will be provided by the commission. The deadline to submit a design for bench artwork is Saturday, Aug. 15, via pspublicarts.com.
The Main Street Bench Project is supervised by local artist Tysen Knight. In 2019, Knight was tapped by the Public Arts Commission to paint 10 benches along Palm Canyon between Arenas Road and Museum Way—and he created a series of eye-catching tributes to a variety of celebrity icons.
“I did do those first 10 benches by myself, so I think they’re sick and tired of seeing my work,” Knight said with a laugh. “When I first started this process, there were things I had to learn by trial and error. I had to figure out the proper way to paint the bench, and what the proper sealer was, because we needed to have longevity. After I finished that first round of benches, (the Public Arts Commission) asked if I would become the supervisor on the project, so I stayed to work on the second phase of benches. We had such a great turnout, and everything went so smoothly, that the PSPAC asked if I would manage another round. … Then we’ll probably move over to the airport and do some benches over there as well.”
Knight explained the process, from concept to completed bench.
“First, (the PSPAC commissioners and I) will sit down and go through all of the submissions and pick the ones that we think are super-cool,” Knight said. “Then we’ll kickstart the process again. We supply all the materials for the artists. That’s where I come into play, because I know all of the ins and outs. I’ll meet with (each artist), and we’ll get the paints from Dunn-Edwards, and go from there. I’ve got a really good relationship with Dunn-Edwards, and they sponsor a lot of my wall-mural projects, so I was able to (arrange) for the PSPAC to get the paint through Dunn-Edwards. That’s the paint I used on the first set of benches, and it’s holding up really well.
“Now, after the artist paints the bench, I’ll come back with a high-grade sealer like they would use on handrails and stuff that gets used a lot. I wanted a nice clear coat which protects the bench, for the most part. You know people will be standing on them, sitting on them and spilling ice cream on them. I mean, they’re outside public benches, so we just want people to use them and enjoy some beautiful art at the same time.”
Marconi Calindas was one of the Phase 2 artists. What challenges did he confront along the way?
“I wasn’t that challenged in creating the design,” Calindas said. “I was inspired by Palm Springs. My design is called ‘The Roadrunner.’ In that design, I incorporated the roadrunner, the windmills and the basic landscape of Palm Springs.
“As for the physical challenges—yes, it is the summer, and I wondered, ‘Why would they even have a project like this in the summer out here?’ I was there from 7 a.m. to 12 noon, and I thought that I could finish the bench in one day—but I almost passed out. I was with my husband, and he was helping me. He was holding an umbrella, and I’m so lucky that he was there, but I couldn’t take the heat. So, I continued the following day—which was my birthday. Even so, I just wanted to finish that bench so badly. People were asking me, ‘Marconi, what are you doing on your birthday?’ ‘Eating the sun,’ I told them.
“But those were really all the challenges that I had, because we had an amazing overseer for the project, Tysen Knight. He knew how to handle all of the problems, so it was really almost smooth. Without him, it would have been more challenging, definitely.”
Degree of difficulty aside, Calindas expressed appreciation for the project.
“We are so glad that the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission is doing this project, especially artists like me,” Calindas said. “Even before the pandemic, artists have always struggled to get our art out there, to get our pieces to be recognized. When the pandemic happened, it was even more challenging. So, the grants the PSPAC has been giving out for benches in this project (enabled me), first, to stay busy during this crisis, and secondly, to get my art out. Personally, I have my studio in the Backstreet Art District, and normally we would have our First Wednesday Art Walks, and I could invite friends and others to come see my art, my new creations. So I’m very thankful for Palm Springs Public Arts Commission right now—and I’m doing another project through them. It’s not a bench, but a wall or fence at the Village Pub, and I’m excited for that, too.”
Knight also expressed gratitude to the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission.
“Right now, you know, being an artist is pretty tough, because of how the economy is and the pandemic,” Knight said. “So we got a really good turnout of artists who want to be involved in this event. Now that (the Public Arts Commission) extended the project, we can give more artists the opportunity to secure some type of work. … We’re open to whatever submissions (anyone) wants to send in.”
Knight discussed what else he is doing to stay busy.
“Since the pandemic hit us in March, I had some solo wall mural projects that got put on hold,” Knight said. “But now that school is getting back into the swing of things via socially distanced learning, I’ll be mentoring through a program called BAM (Boys Arts Mentoring). That program goes throughout the Palm Springs Unified School District, and I work with six different middle schools. We’re coming up with a program where I’ll be able to teach the boys through Zoom. I’ll get 9-by-12-inch canvasses and sketch out whatever theme they come up with on the canvas. They’ll be delivered to each kid at his home. Then I’ll be doing structural painting with them online, so that we can keep our mentorship program going.
“I’m signed with the Redwood Art Group, which is one of the biggest art dealers in North America. Usually, I’d do all the different major art fairs around the country, but due to the pandemic, everything is online right now. So, I mean, life’s good, and I’m blessed. I’m able to help other people find themselves as artists, and I’m blessed enough to still be working in the midst of this current climate. So, that’s pretty good. Everyone needs to look at things positively, if you can—and I think we’ll get through this somehow. Things will get back to some type of normalcy.”
For more information, visit pspublicarts.com.