Make art funding fun;

The Coupeville School District’s decision to turn down $8,216 for artwork at the new high school points out a glaring deficiency in Washington’s Art on Public Places program.

While the goal of promoting public art is laudable, the program to implement it has never reflected local values. The program dates back to 1975 when the Legislature decided that one-half of one percent spent on state building projects should go toward public art to decorate the project. School buildings were included, which is why Coupeville had some money coming its way after building a new high school.

Unfortunately, the Washington State Arts Commission has control of how the art money is spent. It has developed a pre-screened public art roster of artists who local authorities must deal with to acquire art. The least expensive art piece available to Coupeville was priced at $30,000. Rather than come up with another $22,000 to purchase some generic piece of art, the school board simply decided to return the available $8,216 to the state.

Whidbey Island’s many talented artists should be aghast that this public art money was available and yet was wasted due to the convoluted process adopted by the Arts Commission. The art money should be controlled locally, not run through a bureaucracy in Olympia. No doubt the art mavens that thought up the process were unwilling to give rural areas any real authority over art selection. After all, the yokels and hayseeds who make up the non-metropolitian population wouldn’t recognize good art if it crawled up our Carhartts, right? Wrong! The truth is, it’s time to end this bias against rural areas. We know art, we know what we like, and we have the artists to create what we want right in our own backyard.

Imagine how much fun it would have been had the Coupeville School Board been able to advertise the $8,216 it had available for artwork in island newspapers. The board could have fielded proposals, aired them in public, and voted on the best idea to embellish the high school. There might have been a mural of Ebey’s Prairie, a painting of Front Street in Coupeville, or perhaps a montage of historic farm implements. The ideas are limitless, but we’ll never know because the process doesn’t allow meaningful local control over how art money is spent.

The arts program is worth saving, but the Legislature should give control of spending to the local people. If we can decide how a high school should be designed, and fund it with taxpayer supported bonds, then we can pick our own artists. Whidbey Island artists should send our 10th District legislators a message that we want some changes made when the Legislature convenes in 2009.

Scotch ferry reservation idea

In the Washington State Ferry System’s ever-busy Department of Making a Bad Situation Worse, they’ve come up with another hare-brained scheme: Allowing reservations to be made this summer for the Keystone to Port Townsend ferry route.

The ferry system is planning to allow people to make reservations up to 30 days in advance for the single, 55-car ferry now serving the route. This is barely one-third the capacity of prior summers, when two 75-car ferries of the now-defunct Steel Electric class served the route, but letting people make reservations is no solution at all.

Pity the poor ferry dock worker who has to announce to the Whidbey Island native in the 1981 Volvo wagon that he won’t be making this ferry, because the big RV from Montana pulling a boat trailer and spare car made reservations last month. The guy in the Volvo, who might have been waiting for an hour or two, could well go ballistic. And if it isn’t him, it will be someone else who has been waiting in line only to lose a place on the boat to someone who made a reservation.

Just deciding how to implement a reservation system is enough to keep a committee of ferry administrators busy for weeks when they could be doing something useful, such as painting over the rust spots on all the ferries. Whatever reservation plan they come up with will be convoluted, difficult to implement and impossible to enforce. So let’s just end it now before the reservation system makes the Keystone ferry dock the world’s largest cage fighting facility.

This summer at Keystone, ferry loading should be done on a first-come, first-served basis, which is how it’s always been done. Reservations will only cause trouble, which is the one thing the ferry system already has in plentiful supply.

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