By Jennifer Crain
When the reconstruction of Percival Landing debuted (Phase 1 was completed in 2011), I rounded the corner of Harbor House and came upon one of the project’s most charming additions. A cluster of boxy metal stands stood near the building’s entrance, with sculptures mounted on a few. As I walked the boardwalk I noticed more of the public exhibition, each sculpture labeled with the name of the piece and the artist. This is public art at its best, I thought, inviting me to look but also to continue exploring, to seek out the next piece of art. Before long I was plotting a return so I could view the winsome display again.
Stephanie Johnson, Arts & Events Program Manager with the City of Olympia, says seeing a sculpture for the first time is “like [meeting] a pen pal. Slides are really different from the real thing. You see a picture but how tall are they? What color are their eyes? So it’s really exciting.”
This was her reaction during the week of July 8-12 when she helped install a new crop of sculptures along the boardwalk.
When planning the Percival Landing renovation, the city responded to community requests that they integrate more public art and performance space by installing 25 plinths, the heavy square structures I first saw near Harbor House. The effort was dubbed the Percival Plinth Project and the structures, designed by Vashon Island artist Elizabeth Conner, “form the basis of an arts promenade along Olympia’s waterfront, hosting loaned exhibitions of sculpture and impromptu performance.” The plinths are intended, says Johnson, to display sculptures and accommodate busking or other one-person performances.
The acquisition and display of public art complies with a 1990 city ordinance that requires “one dollar per person and one percent of major City construction projects be set aside for public art.” Former City Councilmember Craig Ottavelli advocated for the loaned sculptures program, Johnson says, suggesting Olympia follow the example of Wenatchee and other cities by displaying works by Washington artists along the boardwalk. They launched the program along with completion of the landing’s first in a series of facelifts.
This is the third year the city has solicited existing works from Washington sculptors for public display. They received 27 proposals in the spring which were winnowed down by by a three-person jury, Megan Drygus and Trent Hart from the Arts Commission and Jo Gallaugher from downtown’s Matter! Gallery. They chose the twelve works that comprise this year’s exhibition. Johnson says the city has plans to display a new exhibition of loaned works of sculpture every year “for the foreseeable future.”
Johnson says Olympia integrates a public vote, a unique take on loaned sculpture programs. Each year, the public votes on which of the new sculptures the city should acquire. At the end of the year, the city purchases the winner of the People’s Choice Award and permanently relocates it. Last year, the vote went to Windstar by Olympia sculptor Ross Matteson. The piece now stands in its permanent location in Port Plaza.
“It’s really a museum without walls,” Johnson says. “The benefit of a museum in a community is that people can see artwork more than once. It becomes a part of their lives. They might visit a piece over and over and over again and as they go through their lives that piece has different meaning for them. So this is an opportunity for people to see work more than once and depending on the type of light, the time of day, whether it’s raining, whether it’s snowing, whether it’s sunny, they have different experiences with that work. It’s a great opportunity to understand art, to bond with a visual piece, to find their own connections.”
The exhibition’s official kick-off will take place July 26 at Harbor House. The event marks the beginning of the public vote, which runs through August 31. Voters can return ballots in person or through the mail to the Olympia Center or place them in voter boxes.
2013 Percival Landing Sculpture Exhibition Kick-Off
Friday, July 26
Harbor House on Percival Landing
325 Columbia St. NW
For more information, please contact Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation at (360) 753-8380.