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Meet me at the corner of community and creativity

Frog Rock. The mural wall near Eagledale Park. The paint rock at Bainbridge High School. Even the Dalmatian-spotted fire hydrants at Manitou Beach and Edgecombe drives.

More than unexpectedly charming island visitors as they round neighborhood curves, the presence of this type of public art on Bainbridge has helped cement the feeling that fundamentally, the island is a good place to live.

And it’s not just about aesthetics.

“The truth is in the end, public art is often more of a community project than an art project,” Laurel Wilson said.

This idea lies at the heart of Creative Grounds, a new effort developed by the city’s Public Art Program that’s designed to fund neighborhood art projects.

Creative Grounds framework was modeled on a program that Public Art Committee member Kelly Davidson was part of in Seattle. The program put funds in the hands of locals to help enhance both the form and the function of their daily shared environs.

Next month, Wilson and nearly a dozen of her Battle Point/Olympus Beach neighbors will use an award of up to $8,000 to construct a bus shelter at the northwest corner of Beach Street and Battle Point Drive.

“There were other good project proposals, but this one seemed to really follow the intentions of the project to get a community together to build something and make something happen,” said Public Art Program Manager Janice Shaw.

Wilson learned of Creative Grounds late in the spring and quickly approached her neighbors about applying for the grant.

It wasn’t so difficult to gather people for discussion since she regularly encountered neighbors at the unlit, uncovered neighborhood bus stop, where commuters endured early morning drizzle and school kids later huddled.

“It was pure need,” Wilson said of the projects inspiration. “Sometimes there are three or four kids, and sometimes there are 15 or 20, waiting in the dark. And then, oh my goodness, here’s this opportunity.”

Wilson, an architect, describes the Battle Point/Olympus Beach neighborhood as eclectic, populated by some new construction but largely by older houses that give the area an established, comfortable feeling.

She and her neighbors, including fellow architect Devin Johnson, agreed that the bus shelters design should remain fundamental to its primary purpose, fitting the needs of those waiting within it. To that end, it would feature a translucent shed roof, large boulders for seating, and a solar-powered light fixture and clock, along with native landscaping.

“What are the three things you need on a cold, dark morning on Bainbridge Island?” Shaw said. “You’d like shelter from the rain, you’d like some light, and you want to know what time is.”

To further the project’s community spirit, neighbors will handle all the construction, and future maintenance, with Wilson and Johnson acting as project leads. Johnson will co-design the clock with island metalsmith Ryan Landworth.

The end result, they hope, will be a low-maintenance structure that emphasizes function while expressing the character of the neighborhood.

“This is a very new type of project for us,” Shaw said. “It’s so grass-roots and community-based. Instead of bringing in a professional artist (from the outside), we’re unleashing the creativity in our community.”

Creative Grounds generated enough positive energy, Shaw said, that the art committee plans to offer funding for another project in 2009. It is intended to be one component of a six-year public art master plan, which the committee will invite the public to weigh in on through focus groups starting this fall and winter.

Ultimately, Shaw points out, much of the beauty of neighborhood art lies in public access, the sense that the islands ever-growing art collection truly does belong to everyone.

“That way we can provide encounters and deliver public art experiences throughout the island,” she said. “From the gateway at the north end...to the neighborhood centers and here and there in unexpected places that have high public impact, just for that wonderful sense of discovery.”

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Do it yourself

The Public Art Committee plans to offer funding for another Creative Grounds project in 2009. Interested? Find the project description and guidelines, along with the application form, on the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Web site, www.artshum.org (Programs/Services Public Art). Interested parties should direct questions to Public Art Committee Members Kelly Davidson,

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