The Public Art Department's primary responsibility is the collection, placement, and maintenance of public art within the Palm Desert community. In 1986, the City of Palm Desert was the first in Riverside County to adopt a public art ordinance, requiring developers to place art as part of developments or pay a fee to the Art in Public Places fund. In addition, the ordinance also requires that public buildings participate in the program. The funds are used to purchase art for placement throughout the community. The Public Art Program creates an artistic harmony between the City's buildings, landscaping, and open spaces.
Additionally, the Public Art Department is responsible for the biennial El Paseo Exhibition. The Exhibition brings together unique works of art from local, national, and international artists for display on the median along the upscale El Paseo shopping district.
The Department also administers the Palm Desert Community Gallery, which exhibits six shows a year by local artists who work in two and three dimensions. One of the exhibitions each year is The Student Art and Essay Contest, which began in 1985, and highlights the work of Palm Desert students. Other exhibitions are cultivated through a call for artist process.
To introduce community members and visitors to the public art collection, the Public Art Docent Program offers free walking tours of the City's collection. And, each year features the annual Public Art Documentary Film Series.