In Our Opinion: Offer of towering artwork should not be squandered

Oak Harbor has a once-in-a-lifetime shot at getting a bold, superlative and truly memorable sculpture that was created by an internationally renowned artist.

The executor of a public art lover’s estate offered the 37-foot metal sculpture to the city for free. A few local art lovers hope to install the “Angel de la Creatividad,” a Sebastián sculpture valued at $500,000, in the seaside Windjammer Park.

Sebastián, who was born Enrique Carbajal González, is known for giant steel or concrete abstract sculptures that stand prominently in cities all over the world. It’s difficult to overstate his skill or reputation.

A recent Smithsonian magazine story describes a massive and exhilarating exhibition of his work in San Antonio, Texas.

But in Oak Harbor, a few local curmudgeons are trying hard to find a way to say no.

They should not get their way.

Oak Harbor has an ambitious but uneven history when it comes to public art. Over and over throughout the years, city leaders, art enthusiasts and merchants have suggested that public art could inject some much-needed culture into the community, while also luring tourists to the city.

The city has a significant catalog of public art, including several amazing bronze sculptures by local artist Richard Nash that commemorate the earliest residents of Oak Harbor.

The “Autumn Leaves” sculpture on the highway, on the other hand, is art with a bland Walmart sensibility.

The city’s latest art project is a giant acorn to be made from the remnants of an ancient Garry oak tree that city leaders surreptitiously chopped down following a meeting in violation of open meetings laws. The artist even joked about including a former mayor and a chainsaw in the piece. But while a giant acorn isn’t exactly an inspired idea, creating it from local oak wood does imbue it with meaning for the community.

Plus, it’s the kind of piece that’s beloved by the kind of tourists who like to take selfies beside interesting statues or a giant ball of twine.

“Angel de la Creatividad” checks all the boxes. Its immense scale and sheer coolness will inevitably make a splash on social media and draw the pop-culture crowd. It also fits the new, modern aesthetic of Windjammer Park, which was consciously stripped by the city of all historical context with the destruction of the windmill.

“Angel de la Creatividad” is also a smart and serious work of art that invites cultural and creative interpretation.

The city administrator warned that installing it might be expensive, though the sculpture’s supporters said the estate willing to donate it has funds to help defray the costs.

The city has a fund that can only be used for art, but it will still take bravery and foresight on the part of city council members to approve a potentially costly project in the middle of a pandemic in the middle of Oak Harbor.

To paraphrase Hamilton, they should not throw away their shot.