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Costs rise for Oak Harbor's art ideas

Members of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission looks at possible art proposals for SE Pioneer Way Tuesday evening. Replacing two earlier selected finalists, the group decided on a basalt column of salmon and an unknown piece by Whidbey artist Georgia Gerber. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Members of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission looks at possible art proposals for SE Pioneer Way Tuesday evening. Replacing two earlier selected finalists, the group decided on a basalt column of salmon and an unknown piece by Whidbey artist Georgia Gerber.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Not counting the bronze mermaid planned for the intersection of Highway 20, public artwork on SE Pioneer Way is now expected to run $23,500 over budget.

The Oak Harbor Arts Commission, which serves in an advisory capacity to the city council, met Monday to come up with new recommendations for downtown art. Last month, it selected four finalists but since  then one of the artists withdrew and another doubled his price.

Pinched for time, the arts commission was able to come to a decision Tuesday evening, but the recommendation that will be forwarded to the city council for its May 17 meeting is even more over budget than their first proposal.

The cost of art is now totaled at $103,500. That does not include the cost of the mermaid, a fifth piece, priced at $22,000. Added together, the total comes out to $125,500.

Late last year, the arts commission was tasked with picking just four artworks to decorate key intersections along Pioneer Way. Their budget, which is a line item in the street’s original $8.35-million budget, is capped at $80,000.

Rather than choosing inferior pieces, the group decided that Pioneer art was so important that it was willing to spend the extra money from their own coffers.

“We’ll kill our budget but this is it,” arts commission member Kit Christopheron said.

All arts commission expenditures are subject to the approval of the city council however, and this could be a stumbling block. The city council may also take issue with another one of the recommendations made Tuesday evening.

Faced with having too quickly selected two new pieces, the arts commission chose one piece previously discounted, a basalt column with salmon swimming up it. It’s been modified slightly, which reduced its cost, and will be surrounded by stone seats to create a courtyard on Dock Street.

The other recommendation does not actually include a piece at all, but proposes to hire well-known Whidbey bronze artist Georgia Gerber at a cost of $30,000. Gerber, who is perhaps best known for her bronze pig at Pike Street Market in Seattle, has work all over the country.

“It’s almost like a right of passage for any Northwest city to have a Gerber piece,” chairwoman Erica Schumacher said.

Gerber was contacted late last week and, although she didn’t have enough time to submit an actual proposal, she did guarantee she could do a piece for $30,000.

Possibilities discussed Tuesday evening include a crab, seal and sea otter. The idea is to make it interactive, something people could sit on or touch. It will be located on Ireland Street.

Arts commission members expressed confidence that they could work with her to come up with an appropriate fit for the intersection at Dock Street.

Oak Harbor Development Services Director Steve Powers warned the arts commission that city council members may take issue with the decision. All the other pieces selected went through significant public vetting, from open houses to a survey.

“There could be some questions by the council whether this should be included at this stage in the process,” Powers said.

Arts commission members said the sudden loss of two finalists put them in a difficult situation and that they hoped the city council would be understanding.

Another proposal was also presented Tuesday. Pioneer Way merchant Jason Berg, the owner of the Shred Shed music store, offered to build a “weeping oak tree” for $15,000. Constructed out of steel, it would have weeped water.

The idea garnered support from some commission members but was ultimately dismissed due to Berg’s lack of experience with such projects and because it didn’t fit in with the project’s water-based theme.

Community Events, April 2014

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