A popular piece of public art may no longer be aptly named, but its admirers, including the city’s Public Arts Commission, are hoping it will be back in the flow of things soon.
Rainmaker, a 35-foot tall structure that once featured colorful arms that bobbed up and down as they filled with water, has been bone dry and collecting debris at the corner of North Palm Canyon Drive and East Alejo Road for months.
But while the sculpture at Frances Stevens Park has gone quiet, community members and others have turned up the volume on efforts aimed at drawing attention to its plight. Allowing it to languish, they said in letters to the city delivered last month, does a disservice to residents who took pride in its creation in 2000, and passersby who found joy in its presence until it stopped functioning last fall.
“Several times during the week, I travel on Palm Canyon Drive,” wrote Charles Scruggs on Jan. 31. “I know I’m home when I see Rainmaker fountain. …The fountain is not only an iconic structure, it also brings pleasure and a sense of calm to many, especially during the current pandemic. It is sad to see a structure that Palm Springs has used in promotional literature not functioning and in such disrepair.”
The artwork was created by David Morris following a 1988 call for public art by then-Mayor Sonny Bono. At a cost of $300,000 it was decried by some but ultimately seen as helping boost efforts to revive the gateway to an underutilized part of the city that is today known as the Uptown Design District.
Its upkeep, currently estimated at $40,000 or more per year, has come under scrutiny before. In 2007 the work was nearly decommissioned, but survived the budget ax.
Morris was among a half dozen who submitted letters to the city recently calling for a Rainmaker revitalization. He acknowledged the upkeep and maintenance would come at a cost, but said it may not need a total overhaul. He urged the city to keep promises it made the last time repairs were required.
“Many years ago it was discovered that funds allocated for general maintenance of the Rainmaker were siphoned off for other projects, and as a result there was major damage to the equipment,” he wrote in a letter to Mayor Lisa Middleton. “Extensive and costly repairs were made and then assurances were given that maintenance would proceed on a regular basis.
“I don’t know what has happened, but I understand (from talking with the person now in charge of operations) that although it cannot run at the moment, the problems are not at all as severe this time; some but not all components need attention, and surfaces need refinishing. And this should not be a costly undertaking.”
Whether the water will flow once again may depend on your definition of costly. It’s estimated that plumbing and electrical work needed to get Rainmaker working, as well as rebuilding and repainting its stainless steel components, will cost roughly $95,000.
The money may be available through Measure J tax funds. More than $200,000 has been requested by the Public Arts Commission for its restoration and five years of ongoing maintenance. That request is one of nearly 60 projects currently being considered by the Measure J Oversight Commission, which is charged with recommending how to spend a portion of the 1% sales tax earmarked for community requests.
While the Public Arts Commission doesn’t have the funds to repair the sculpture, and it is not on the hook for annual maintenance costs, Chair Tracy Merrigan said contributing to its needs in some form is the right thing to do.
“We do receive a lot of complaints about it,” Merrigan told fellow Commission members. “We know Rainmaker is in state if disrepair and not working. The city isn’t sitting on it. They are actively trying to get it done.
“We’ve really put a lot of money into it. It’s a big project that maybe needs to be rethought.”