Wednesday, February 29, 2012

City may relocate pieces from local sculpture park

The City of Bellingham may decide to move iconic art from local Big Rock Garden Park  to the downtown area. The Bellingham Art Commission  proposed the relocation of “State Street Totem” by Reg Akright and “Head” by David Marshall as a way of bringing new life to the city.

As part of it's  2012 Action Plan the commission hopes to, “assess the City’s public artwork collection to assist potential relocation and regrouping of artwork”. Rearranging sculptures is a good way for to bring more art into the city with out having to purchase new pieces, said Jeni Cottrell, an Art Commission and Friends of the Big Rock Garden Park member.

“It's just like re-arranging the furniture in your house to give it a fresh look,” Cottrell said.

David Marshall's "Head" nestled in Big Rock Garden Park
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
But not everyone is in support of these proposed changes. The relocation of “Head”, one of four pieces in the park by Canadian sculptor David Marshall, drew opposition from members of the Friends of the Big Rock Garden and from sculpture donor and former park owner, George Drake.

“I think that the arts commission made a serious tactile error,” said Drake, who hopes that the piece he donated in 2001 will remain in it's original location. “They are shooting themselves in the foot.”

The Arts Commission is only an advisory board to the city, said Rae Edwards, Parks Volunteer Organizer, and even if the commission decided to move the sculptures, there would still be a long process ahead, including Bellingham Parks Board and city approval as well as funding grants to cover installation and transportation costs.

“It would be a process and there would be discussion and it is not going to happen overnight,” Edwards said. “Pieces don't just get up and move.”

Edwards also said she hopes the parks board would get the opinions of patrons and groups  such as Friends of the Big Rock Garden before it decided a course of action.

The commission is still in the discussion process of the proposal and nothing has been put on paper, said Edwards emphasizing there is a lot that will go into their decision.

Vandalism, for example, is a concern as the sculptures will be moving from a relatively protected area to the downtown streets.

“It doesn't make much sense to move a sculpture to some place where it is going to be vandalized,” Edwards said. “You don't just stick a sculpture on the needs to be a good place for the art and for people to see it.”
"State Street Totem" by Reg Akright stands in the park
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran

Cottrell said the commission has discussed moving, “State Street Totem” to State Street near Key Bank for several years. The piece is made of curb stones from the old road and has historical relevance to that location. Edwards, however, remarked that lots of other curb stone sculptures on display downtown already and that the location may not be as safe as the park is.

Drake said he is not attached to the notion of “State Street Totem” remaining in the park.

“I don't think that would be a loss to the park and it would be an addition to State Street,” said Drake. “The David Marshall piece is another story.”

Marshall's “Head” seems to have more of an identity at the park.  It is part of a collection  donated by  Drake, after an exhibition of 30 Marshall works that were on display in the lower gardens. Now nestled in a forested corner of the park, Edwards thinks it would be lost in a bigger area.

“'Head' is an intimate piece. It is meant to see up close, not far away,” Edwards said. “I think it is best in a setting where you turn a corner and see it and you can look it eye to eye so to speak, and that is the placement it has at Big Rock right now.”

Cottrell argues that there are definite benefits of moving “Head” where more people can see it.

Paths welcome visitors to the park
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
“I think it is probably healthy to do a little bit of moving things around,” Cottrell said. “[It would] get people excited that there are other pieces by the same artist up at the park [and] bring people up to the park.”

The Big Rock Garden park is secluded in the Silver Beach neighborhood on Sylvan Street. It is home to 36 permanent sculptures dispersed along winding paths of a 2.5 acre garden.

Patrons such as Edwards admire the park for it's unique nature.

“I think one thing that is really nice about Big Rock and the way it's set up is that there's is quite a few very nice pieces and you can walk around and see them,” Edwards said. “People come to enjoy the park and the sculpture because it is such a different park from other parks.”

Drake thinks it would be a shame to see the park disassembled.

“That park could be a world class tourist attraction,” Drake said.

Drake and his wife, Mary Ann, owned and maintained the park for 11 years before selling it to the city in 1981. Since then, the park has remained very dear to Drake and he still has a vested interest in its livelihood.

“I am in my 80s now and I started the park 30 years ago. I don't want to see it torn apart before I die,” Drake said.

As the discussion is on going, there is no certainty about which pieces, if any, the city will move from the park. The Bellingham Arts Commission holds public meetings on the first Tuesday of each month to discuss issues such as the fate of Big Rock Garden Park and it's sculpture collection.

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