'Bubble' art prompts meeting

These are some of the bronze sculptures one artist has proposed for outside of Olympia City Hall.  (Images courtesy of city of Olympia)
These are some of the bronze sculptures one artist has proposed for outside of Olympia City Hall. (Images courtesy of city of Olympia)

The Olympia Arts Commission will have a special meeting Monday to talk about the public outcry over a $180,000 proposal for bronze "bubble" sculptures on the new City Hall.

Olympia has received more than 50 comments about the art proposal, most of them critical. Parks Director Linda Oestreich called the response unprecedented, and she and City Manager Steve Hall called the special meeting.

"I don't know where that will lead," she said. "It doesn't make any sense to rush into something when we have a lot to consider."

Trent Hart, chairman of the arts commission, said he didn't know the details of what Monday's conversation will be about.

"I have no idea what next steps are for the commission," he said.

The commission unanimously recommended the artwork from Seattle artist Dan Webb, whose work had been chosen by an artists jury from a pool of 43 proposals. Hart said it isn't the commission's job to judge the artistic content of the proposal, just whether it meets criteria such as its durability. The commission found it met those criteria.

"I haven't voiced my opinion and I'm not about to," he said.

Webb proposes fashioning 10, 2-foot bronze sculptures meant to represent speaking bubbles like those used in comic strips, and hanging them on the outside of City Hall. A 40-inch thought bubble (such as a comic book character thinking something) would be inside.

Webb has said his City Hall art was meant to symbolize the voices of the people.

But "people just aren't getting the connection to what makes Olympia unique and the art," Oestreich said.

The Olympia City Council will have the final say on which art is chosen for City Hall. It was to decide April 14, but that appointment was pulled because of the public comments, Oestreich said.

Construction is set to begin this year on the $35.6 million City Hall, in the 600 block of Fourth Avenue East, the former site of a Safeway grocery. The building will house most city departments, now scattered in buildings around town. Completion is expected next year.

The council has approved spending $265,000 on art at the new City Hall. A city ordinance requires that 1 percent of the cost of major construction projects go for public art. The remaining art will be placed inside the new building.

Matt Batcheldor covers the city of Olympia for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-704-6869 or mbatcheldor@theolympian.com.

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