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High cost of beauty

Reynolds Yarbough walk by Craig Jacobrown’s “Rainbringer,” the first piece funded by the city’s public art program. City Hall is home to a plethora of public art, including several topiaries by Gayle Bard; Maggie Smith’s 2002 “Water Quilt” at the Aquatic Center; Mesolini Glass’s “Island Beach Glass Quilt” at Cafe Nola.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Reynolds Yarbough walk by Craig Jacobrown’s “Rainbringer,” the first piece funded by the city’s public art program. City Hall is home to a plethora of public art, including several topiaries by Gayle Bard; Maggie Smith’s 2002 “Water Quilt” at the Aquatic Center; Mesolini Glass’s “Island Beach Glass Quilt” at Cafe Nola.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Advocates for public art want to see more funding for new projects.

At the corner of Winslow Way and Madison, beneath the soles of scampering sneakers and below the radar of preoccupied passersby, art waits at a crossroads.

The crossroads has nothing to do with the art’s placement – symbolic or not – near a traffic intersection. It has everything to do with its placement in the path of the Winslow Way Streetscape, which will require the reshuffling of art and other landmarks.

For now, “Island Beach Glass Quilt” – created in 1999 by Mesolini Glass and funded by the city’s public art program – remains embedded in the sidewalk outside Cafe Nola.

As the name suggests, it boasts colorful beach glass and an array of island symbols ranging from strawberries to ferries.

“The kids really love it,” said Public Art Committee member Sue Entress, who each year leads elementary schoolers on a public art tour that includes a stop at the quilt. “The exciting part isn’t just learning about how each specific piece was made, but how each piece helps us learn about who we are as a community.”

That, supporters say, is the goal of the city’s public art program: to give physical, visible expression to island values, culture and history, and to place the resulting forms in public places, where such elements ultimately are defined.

The program began in 1989, with an ordinance requiring that 1 percent of all money spent on most capital projects be set aside to fund public art.

Now, facing a funding shortage that has stifled the program’s work, supporters are asking for more money.

Under a proposal to be heard Wednesday by the City Council, the program could receive as much as $66,000 more in funding annually. The program now receives an average of $24,000 each year, which PAC members say isn’t enough to fulfill their mission as laid out in the city’s Compre­hensive Plan.

Some don’t believe public art funding should be tied to capital spending at all; they prefer the idea of a fixed line item in the city’s budget that wouldn’t fluctuate from year to year.

Whatever the funding, public art isn’t getting any cheaper.

In 1990, artist Craig Jacobrown unveiled “Rainbringer,” the totem structure at the corner of Madison and High School Road.

The piece – the program’s first – cost $10,000. The same piece today would likely cost as much as $50,000, said public art manager Janice Shaw. Past projects on the island have cost between $5,000 and $45,000.

Prices include more than just design and construction – public outreach and insurance must be factored in, along with ongoing maintenance like cleaning and lighting.

The program costs $13,000 to run each year, leaving about $11,000 for projects. Since that’s not enough to fund permanent art, the PAC has instead focused on temporary projects, like the poetry banners that until recently hung in the ferry terminal.

“People have to understand that it’s not as easy as just making a piece,” Shaw said. “The process is very time and labor intensive – a lot goes into it.”

The selection process, which can take several months, begins with a call to artists. Some cities extend their requests nationally and internationally, but Bainbridge projects have been completed by regional artists.

Artists are made aware of the budget, the goals of the project and the space where the art will be placed.

In the case of “Rainbringer,” Shaw said the goal was to use the program’s first public art project to honor the area’s deep Native American tradition. The piece lived up to its name at the dedication ceremony.

“There was thunder and lightning,” Shaw said. “And lots of rain.”

Other recognizable pieces around town include “Arrow Bench” at Waterfront Park (Bob Lucas, 1991); “Seed Ball,” in front of Town & Country (Lucas, 1992); sidewalk treatments along High School Road (Carolyn Law, 1993); and the ceiling art at the library (Gayle Bard, 1999).

City Hall is home to a plethora of public art.

Bard’s work surrounds the building’s exterior, including several large topiaries (think big pinecones) and the “Blackberry Vines” creeping over the sign on Madison.

Art was also integrated into the building’s interior. Metal inserts (Erin Shie Palmer) can be found in the floors, while the ceiling in the Council Chambers’ adjoining conference room holds a wood sculpture by Virginia Keyser.

Equally familiar to many are the chambers’ decorative southern wall (Michele VanSlyke) and the lobby’s gate and staircase, by Phillip Baldwin.

Shaw said the incorporation of art into City Hall is an example of how modern public art is often done in collaboration with architects.

PAC members now are working with Seattle artist Lorna Jordan to generate ideas for the Streetscape, which will require the relocation of “Island Beach Glass Quilt” and “Seed Ball.”

The committee also hopes to explore public art possibilities outside of Winslow, so that residents elsewhere on the island get the opportunity to tell their story through art.

While funding is an ongoing challenge, Shaw said, familiarity – the kind that for some might lead to indifference – isn’t.

“Ideally the best public art is strong enough and compelling enough that people never get tired of it,” she said. “Look at the Fremont Troll (beneath Seattle’s Aurora Bridge) – people love it, it’s a part of that neighborhood.

“That’s the kind of art we want to deliver to the people of Bainbridge Island.”

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Art about town

Created in 1989, the city’s public art program is overseen by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council and a 12-member volunteer Public Art Commission.

Public art now receives one percent of money spent on city capital projects, though underground utilities, property acquisition and grant-funded portions of projects are excluded from the funding formula.

A proposal that would retain the exclusions but increase the allocation to two percent is scheduled to go before the City Council at its Jan. 23 meeting.

The city estimates the change would increase public art funding – which on average receives $24,000 annually – by as much as $66,000.

That would allow the program to complete more projects, particularly permanent art projects; though the city has funded several temporary exhibits, its last permanent installation came in 2002, with “Water Quilt” at the aquatic center.

– Chad Schuster

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