Olympia City Council discusses merits of public art funding

The Olympia City Council pondered Tuesday night the best way to spend $180,000 on public art.

The money came from construction of the current City Hall building, which cost $23 million for construction and opened in March 2011 at Fourth Avenue and Cherry Street. A city ordinance requires that 1 percent of major city construction projects be set aside for public art.

The city has already spent about $40,000 from the 1 percent allotment on interior art for the City Hall. The Arts Commission recommended Tuesday that the city split the remaining $180,000 that was generated from the City Hall construction project. The commission wants to use $80,000 for public art at City Hall, and $100,000 to replenish the Municipal Art Fund for other public art projects. The art projects have not yet been determined.

The city’s Finance Committee made the same recommendation Sept. 10. However, at that meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones voted against the recommendation.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Jones said he supports the arts in Olympia, but said the current allotment is too much to spend on City Hall.

“I feel as though we have a pot of dollars dedicated to art that should be placed out in the community rather than be tied to City Hall,” Jones said. “We’re sending the wrong message if we’re enhancing a city government facility rather than the community. I think there is a better use of the funds.”

The council agreed to delay the decision and to discuss how the money can be used in other parts of the community. Arts commissioner Trent Hart told the council that he doubts the commission will change its recommendation and said “no new stones will be turned over.” Hart also told the council that the $180,000 is an unusually large amount of money, and that the budget for most “1 percent rule” purchases is about $30,000.

Also Tuesday, the council unanimously approved the purchase of a sculpture that won the People’s Choice Award in the annual Percival Plinth Project. The winning sculpture was “Illuminated One” by Leo E. Osborne of Anacortes. The bronze sculpture depicts a cormorant on top of a pillar.

The city will pay $8,000 for the sculpture, which will be displayed for one year at City Hall before being moved to another Olympia location.

“Illuminated One” received 481 votes this summer. The runner-up was “Origami #3 Totem” by Lacey artist Ken Hall.

The council also discussed the impact of septic systems on the region’s water supply. Thurston County cities and the LOTT Alliance have been working since 2011 to better understand challenges with septic systems within urban growth areas. Olympia City Councilman Steve Langer, who is chairman of the LOTT Alliance Board of Directors, will participate in a discussion on the topic — and potential next steps — at the board’s annual retreat Saturday.