Arts and Entertainment

Kitsap debates: Should government pay for public art? Where should it come from?

New statues in downtown Bremerton have sparked a debate about public art in Kitsap. - Jennifer Morris/Staff Photos
New statues in downtown Bremerton have sparked a debate about public art in Kitsap.
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photos

Call them colorful. Call them tongue-in-cheek. A pair of 14-foot statues at Fourth Street and Pacific Avenue in Bremerton have attracted plenty of attention since their installation last month. Nearby businesses say they’ve seen many visitors at the fish and fisherman statues; some of them take pictures with the creations, others take issue with their cost.

What’s Up asked Kitsap residents what they think of public art, and for many it begged a multifaceted debate: Art is often seen as an economic boon and a tool for revitalization that keeps cities from looking overly industrial. But should the government pay for it, and where should the art come from?

“There’s so much talent right around here, it would have been neat to use a local artist,” said Anna Hoey, a co-op artist member of Collective Visions Gallery, which sits near Bremerton’s fish and fisherman statues. Hoey thinks the statues add a nice touch to the intersection, and has seen plenty of families taking a look. But they’re not works of art, she said. At least, not to other artists.

The statues were manufactured in Mukilteo from designs drawn up in Colorado. The grant money used to pay for them could have provided a commission to a local artist during what is a slow time in the industry, but the public will enjoy the pieces all the same, Hoey said.

Bremerton resident Champion Ginn, 32, sure does. He said the $250,000 spent on the statues didn’t bother him.

“It gives the city ambience,” Ginn said. “It makes our city look like a city, not the armpit it’s been.”

The Bremerton City Council approved the expenditure for the fish and fisherman last year. Hackles rose over the price tag in light of lost jobs and sorely lacking checkbooks, souvenirs of the recession.

The statues were funded by a state grant for economic development. The money was designated for such a use, and couldn’t have been translated for roads or infrastructure projects.

Works of art sit outside Bremerton’s Police Department, at the Norm Dicks Government Center, the fairgrounds and in Evergreen Rotary Park. The Manchester Library and Port Orchard ferry terminal have been decorated by sculptures. Form and function unite for three colorfully textured pieces standing guard at the Silverdale waterfront, where they also provide a place to sit. It’s perpetually autumn in Poulsbo’s Centennial Park, where three ruddy tree statues stand. And of course there’s the honorable Viking who presides over Little Norway’s Waterfront Park.

There are several more pieces throughout the county. Some of them exist because of programs like One-Percent for the Arts, which requires capital improvement projects to include funding for works of art equal to 1 percent of the project’s total cost. Such programs are used by the state, county and several cities to assure art promotion, education and development.

But the effect of public art remains difficult to quantify, and therefore often difficult to prioritize.

Poulsbo’s Shaun Ulvila, 25, said its value is subjective.

“I would think it adds a better sense of tranquility,” he said. “It’s more of an appreciative value. It adds creativity.”

Kitty Abbott, 63, also of Poulsbo, said it can depend on the type of art. Modern or abstract pieces aren’t her preference, but a detailed statue is something she’ll stop to look at.

“It reminds me of the past. I like that,” she said. “I feel that our children need to see those types of things or they won’t be as creative.”

But when it comes to funding, she’d rather see groups dedicated to the arts write the check, and leave taxpayer monies to other issues.

Kim Bartell, who owns the Smiley’s Subs restaurant near Bremerton’s fish and fisherman, is hearing similar sentiments.

“I’m hearing that they should have spent the money elsewhere,” she said.

Tony Grossnickle, 22, of Silverdale, thinks the same.

“Art’s all well and good, but I don’t think we have the surplus,” he said. “I think we should be working on fixing the books instead.”

Art, a luxury item, shouldn’t be allowed priority over things like roads and infrastructure, he added.

“That really grinds my gears.”

What do you think about public art? Send your thoughts to WU

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