Collective Soul // Enriching the Cityscape With Public Art

By Connie Bye

Look down, look up, look around. You—yes, you—own more than 20 pieces of beautiful, sometimes breathtaking, sometimes whimsical art. Together they make up Bainbridge Island’s public art collection, supported by a special city fund.

The pieces range from Rain bringer, a painted woodcarving installed in 1990 near the High School Road traffic circle, to Tribute Baskets, a quartet of metal sculptures dedicated in 2016 at Waypoint Park.

In the years between, the Public Art Program has commissioned artists to create a cloud mural for the library ceiling; a beach-glass “quilt” and other sidewalk inlays around town; and a security gate, countertop, outdoor sculptures and more for City Hall, among others.

“It’s an opportunity for the city to recognize the arts community and the role and impact that art and culture play on Bainbridge Island,” said Anne Smart, executive director of Arts & Humanities Bainbridge, which oversees the program. In all, taxpayers have invested more than $500,000 on it, she said.

The Tribute Baskets are a “great example of how public art can enrich a space,” said Carl Sussman, chairman of the eight-member volunteer Public Art Committee. “Art has to embody and codify our values, or it’s not doing its job.”

Indeed, artist Christine Clark found inspiration in the island’s cultural roots. She based the interiors of her four large sculptures on traditional Suquamish, Filipino, Japanese and Scandinavian basket designs.

The exteriors represent the present and future, a reminder of “the potential in all of us,” said Clark, a professor at Oregon College of Art and Craft, in an email interview. Clark hopes her sculptures encourage people to dig into island history.

“We tend to forget what was before us, and if my work can be even a little reminder of who the people on the island were, it sparks other questions, some of which might be investigated.” Looking to the future, the Public Art Committee hopes to shake the island up a bit with a project called Something New.

It’s a temporary public art concept that, Sussman said, has succeeded in Palm Desert, Whidbey Island and around 100 other communities nationwide. When the idea was still forming, the committee sought input at a public meeting last spring and rode the ferries to solicit comments from passengers, he said.

Based on those results, the committee will establish three spots to display art for 12 months or so at a time. The goal: To highlight more artists’ work at a relatively low cost. The preferred sites are Waterfront Plaza at the south end of Madison Avenue; Waterfront Park, east of the Central Green; and Winslow Way at Town & Country Market, Smart said.

“If people love it, if it’s really fun, we might do three more,” she said. “The first ones would be in the Winslow corridor, but people say they’re also interested in something at the high school, Rolling Bay or in Lynwood.”

The committee plans to unveil the first temporary art in the spring. With Something New, the city first will build concrete display bases at an estimated total cost of $15,000. Then the Public Art Program will set aside about $13,000 a year for temporary art.

Artists will retain ownership of their work and can sell it when the public-display term is up. The Public Art Committee also could recommend that the city buy a piece to add to the permanent collection, Sussman said.