Panel nears Pioneer Way art decision

A miniature version of a bronze mermaid that may end up decorating Pioneer Way sits on display at one of several Arts Commission meetings held over the past few months. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
A miniature version of a bronze mermaid that may end up decorating Pioneer Way sits on display at one of several Arts Commission meetings held over the past few months.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

A meeting next week may be the public’s last opportunity to weigh in on proposed art pieces for Pioneer Way before the Oak Harbor Arts Commission makes its final decision.

The commission is set to meet Monday, April 25, at 6 p.m. at City Hall to discuss the results of a public survey and vote on which pieces it will forward to the Oak Harbor City Council for final approval. The recommendation will include at least four pieces at a total cost of up to $80,000.

Commission Chairwoman Erica Schumacher said several strong pieces have emerged out of the four-month selection process. Most prominent has been a topless bronze mermaid proposed by Oak Harbor artist Larry Marcell. The commission got a sneak peek of early survey results several weeks ago and Schumacher said it was no surprise that the mermaid was hailed as a crowd favorite.

“I think she has a lot of potential,” she said.

In November, the city council gave the green light to seek bids from artists interested in creating art works for Pioneer Way as part of the downtown improvement project. More than 15 artists submitted over 40 individual pieces and the commission has been working ever since to pare it down to a handful of finalists.

The survey, sent home with utility bills and posted online, was just one of the tools the commission used to garner public input on proposed pieces. Several public meetings and an open house were also held. But the survey results won’t necessarily determine which pieces the commission recommends, Schumacher warned.

“It can’t be, there are too many considerations,” she said.

Aesthetics, function, cost and safety; these are all factors that will weigh in on which are approved along with where they may be placed. While the locations have already been determined for the intersections of City Beach Street, Dock Street, Ireland Street, and Midway Boulevard, engineering considerations may limit where some pieces can go.

According to Cac Kamak, a senior planner with Oak Harbor’s Development Services department, two water pieces being considered are limited to just one site, Dock Street‚ due to the need for a water connection. Other locations, such as Ireland, are too small for large pieces, he said.

“There just isn’t enough room,” Kamak said.

Schumacher said the mermaid likely won’t be placed at any of the four proposed locations. The plan has been from the start to have art in the $30,000 range at City Beach and Midway to serve as gateway pieces while Ireland and Dock would be adorned with smaller $10,000 pieces.

While the mermaid is a major piece, Schumacher said it would be better suited to be a fifth piece installed at the intersection of Highway 20. The commission has wanted something there that will lure and welcome visitors to a revitalized downtown.

“What better way to do that than with something with arms,” Schumacher said.

A fifth piece is not in the Pioneer Way improvement project budget however, and would need to be paid for using commission funds.

According to Kamak, the commission could make a variety of decisions Monday evening, from recommending four pieces to numerically ranking each based on preference and feasibility. Also, nothing forces the commission to make a decision that night but Kamak said the hope is to hammer out a recommendation so the proposal can go before the city council May 17.


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