Politics & Government

Peace Arch Park exhibit denied Olympic extension

BLAINE - With thousands of tourists expected to travel through Whatcom County for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the city of Blaine had prepared to attract a number of those tourists with the Peace Arch Park's 12th Annual International Sculpture Exhibition.

But the exhibition, which normally runs from April to mid-October, has been denied an extension from the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

The United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association hoped to extend the exhibit through April of next year, so the sculptures would be on display during the Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

The request was denied based on a new policy about “public displays of political, religious or secular content” on state park property, said Eric Watilo, the commission’s Northwest region director. The commission developed the policy following a controversy about religious displays at the state Capitol last year, Watilo said. The policy, which was signed into effect on March 4, 2009, allows the commission to limit a display’s length of time on state park property.

The sculpture exhibit once operated under a special activities permit but became subject to the new policy because it is considered secular content, said Christina Alexander, founder of the United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association.

Watilo said if the commission allowed the sculpture exhibit to be displayed for a year, then other displays – such as those of religious and political natures – would have to be permitted to do the same.

“What it comes down to is reasonable length of time,” Watilo said, adding that exhibits and displays are traditionally “not what state parks are for.”

The exhibit is being taken down this week. The final day of sculpture removal is Saturday, Watilo said.

Although the exhibit won’t be on display for the Olympics, it will be allowed to run for its normal six-month period next year, Watilo said. In the meantime, the association will be able to move most of the sculptures into downtown Blaine where they will remain on display through April, Alexander said.