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Four Pioneer art finalists make cut, plus mermaid

Members of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission discuss budget numbers following their recommendation for four works of art for the downtown area on Pioneer Way. From the left are Nora O’Connell-Balda, Fern Miller and Erica Schumacher. Not pictured are Sharon Hall, Rick Lawler, K.C. Pohtilla and Kit Christopheron.  - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Members of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission discuss budget numbers following their recommendation for four works of art for the downtown area on Pioneer Way. From the left are Nora O’Connell-Balda, Fern Miller and Erica Schumacher. Not pictured are Sharon Hall, Rick Lawler, K.C. Pohtilla and Kit Christopheron.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

A five-month endeavor to select art for a revitalized downtown came to an end Monday when the Oak Harbor Arts Commission decided on the four pieces it will recommend the city purchase.

Selected were a colored metal sculpture of a harbor seal in kelp for the corner of City Beach Street; a mechanical piece that spouts water vapor for Dock Street; three columns of stacked glass for Ireland Street; and a silver-colored metal sculpture depicting a moon supported by two waves for Midway Boulevard.

A fifth piece, a bronze mermaid, was also selected but it is to be located at the intersection of Highway 20 and Pioneer Way to serve as a gateway to downtown. Unlike the other pieces, which are to be paid for using funds identified in the Pioneer Way improvement project’s budget, the mermaid will be paid for using art commission funds.

“We did the best job we could and I’m pretty happy with the decision we made,” said chairwoman Erica Schumacher, at the end of Monday’s special meeting at City Hall.

The arts commission, a seven-member board that serves in an advisory role to the City Council, has been working on selecting the four pieces since the council’s decision in November to seek bids from artists. The bidding process resulted in more than 40 submissions by some 15 artists.

Along with holding a series of public meetings, the arts commission had a public survey mailed out with utility bills and put online in order to garner public input on which pieces should be selected. The survey results, which saw a total of 642 responses, were discussed at Monday’s meeting.

The survey included 11 total pieces, and of the public’s top four choices, only the top two were selected by the art’s commission for recommendation: the mermaid and seal in kelp sculpture. The moon on waves sculpture came in fifth, the stacked glass was rated seventh, and the mechanical water-mist piece came in at the number 10 spot.

According to Schumacher, the survey was a useful tool but was never meant to be the final decision maker. The arts commission had other practical factors to consider, such as cost and infrastructure, which in some cases determined not only what pieces could be selected but also where they could go.

“It’s not just a popularity contest,” she said in an interview afterward.

Arts commission members also agreed that the public was unable to make informed decisions on some of the pieces, such as the mechanical mist-making machine. It was depicted in the survey as a conceptual drawing, when the real appeal could only be adequately demonstrated in a video.

“That was not something the public was able to see but what really swayed us,” Arts Commission member Kit Christopheron said.

“The art is in the movement,” member Nora O’Connell-Balda agreed.

The Pioneer Way project budget identifies up to $80,000 for art. Although art commission members are optimistic the price will decrease following future discussions with artists, the four pieces selected presently total $87,000.

The most expensive pieces are the mechanical midst-making machine and moon and waves at $30,000 apiece. The stacked class has been priced at $17,000 and the seal in kelp $10,000. The mermaid is not included in the $87,000 total and came in at $22,000.

According to Schumacher, the arts commission is prepared to shoulder the cost of both the mermaid and the extra $7,000 for the four art pieces, if necessary.

“We’ll definitely be burning through our budget but it’s worth it,” she said. “This is the grand hoo-rah.”

The Pioneer Way project will change Oak Harbor for years to come and never before has the arts commission had the opportunity to have so much influence in the city’s development. It’s a chance that probably won’t come again in this lifetime, Schumacher said.

The group’s recommendation is expected to go before the city council for review May 17.

 

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