"Common sense, for art's sake"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:55 PM
"Nudity? A crucifix discarded amongst animal waste? The American flag, fouled by blood and a vandal's torch?One wonders just what kind of imagery foes of a proposed public art ordinance are afraid they might see in Kitsap County's next government building. Indeed, such programs are fairly commonplace these days - Bainbridge Island has one, and it has thus far yielded wholly benign works - so it's hard to imagine why the county's plan would cause much of a stir. Modeled on similar 1 percent for the arts ordinances elsewhere, the proposal under consideration by county commissioners would dedicate public funds to the visual enhancement of such capital projects as new public buildings and parks. A nine-member volunteer commission would be formed, to solicit proposals and jury works for inclusion as projects come up.Yet foes have set about with a great wailing, vowing in a Monday public hearing in Port Orchard to save commissioners from great pitfalls in their pursuit of the aesthetic. Several decried the very notion that taxpayers should have to pay for art, regardless of where it might be displayed; others fell back on the bromide that one man's meat is another's poison - apparently implying that if someone, somewhere, doesn't appreciate or understand a work of art, it can have no value to anyone else.We suspect there's another agenda here, from minds that equate the phrase public art with the confrontational or profane, or who don't believe anything at all worthwhile can be done in the name of the public. It also suggests a sadly facile view of aesthetics - that art must be bland, representational or patriotic, or reflect the sensibilities of most people; that any work requiring more than a passing glance to appreciate is hopelessly pretentious and beyond the common taxpayer.Those who object to the county ordinance might take a stroll through Bainbridge Island's new city hall and consider the fruits of our own 1 percent program - for our building is filled with the dreaded public art. Some of it is straightforward and didactic (historical photos, an island timeline etched into a door), and some abstract (a suspended sculpture suggesting island land forms). Much of it is functional (an ornamental gate that cordons off the central corridor after hours, the expansive planning department counter). Some of it (and here, we defer to the reader's own taste) is quite striking.In its peculiarity, it enlivens a functional space. In its variety, it reflects the many values, visions and views of the Bainbridge community. And in its totality, it reflects good taste; even the most oddball piece is nothing those who helped pay for it need be ashamed of.Perhaps the truest beauty lies not in the art itself, but in the discussion and thought it inspires amongst those who create it, judge it, select it and view it.The 1 percent for art ordinance works fine here, and it will work fine in Kitsap County. In raising fears that public art might turn out ugly, opponents would deny the community the chance even to seek beauty. Please. We can trust our own good taste. "