Something borrowed

Kirkland keeps Puddle Jumpers, but much of its "public art" is equally vulnerable.

HEY! COME BACK with that sculpture!

It wasn't police intervention but a quick move to the wallet that helped Kirkland retain a familiar icon, the Puddle Jumpers statue in Marina Park.

Curiously, although the statue of six children at play has sat in the park since 1990, it remained the property of art collector William Ballantine. When Kirkland City Council member Joan McBride learned in early June that the sculpture was for sale, she organized a fund-raising drive, which raised $125,000 in donations. The city matched the amount and bought the Glenna Goodacre piece for $250,000 last week.

While Puddle Jumpers and numerous other sculptures on public property have become fixtures around Kirkland's center, several of the city's major "public art" installations are actually privately owned, says assistant city manager Lynn Stokesbary. "Most of the art is on loan, but there are several pieces that have been gifted to the city," he says. Much of Ballantine's sculpture collection is distributed throughout downtown Kirkland—Stokesbary estimates that the city has a dozen of his pieces on display.

It's an innovative approach. Other cities have contacted Kirkland to get details on the program, says Stokesbary. "Kirkland is certainly a leader in this regard," he says. "Smaller communities don't have the significant capital dol- lars to purchase art that is in a higher price category."

Seattleites shouldn't worry about Waiting for the Interurban disappearing anytime soon. Although the city occasionally allows private artworks to be displayed on public property, Seattle owns its permanent public artworks, says Barbara Goldstein, director of the arts commission's Public and Community Arts Program. She cites a privately owned sculpture by Mark di Suvero, temporarily placed on downtown's Harbor Steps and later purchased by a group of private donors for the Seattle Art Museum.

Free advertising helps keep art on Kirkland's streets, says Stokesbary. Gallery owners are among the "collectors" who provide work for display. Vancouver's Buschlen Mowatt Gallery provided the 11 contemporary sculptures on display in Kirkland since late January (they'll be removed at the end of this month). The owners have the right to remove their art, although the city contract for each "loaner" artwork includes notification requirements.

Financial considerations may have played a part in the near-departure of Puddle Jumpers—Ballantine is currently seeking a divorce from his wife, Mary, and may need quick cash. A Ballantine-owned Barry Flanagan bronze entitled Boxing Hare on Anvil (valued at $450,000) was removed from public display in Kirkland last year and put up for sale. Still, according to court documents, more than $800,000 worth of Ballantine-owned works remain on public display in Kirkland.

The solid market for works by Santa Fe sculptor Glenna Goodacre could also have prompted Ballantine's decision to sell. Interest in Goodacre's work jumped after recent major commissions: the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project in Washington, D.C., and the Sacagawea portrait on the new dollar coin.

The city's effort to keep the sculpture was kick-started by three major donations of $25,000 each, but it was aided by many small donations, says McBride. These ranged from a man who walked into her office at the Eastside social service agency Friends of Youth and emptied his wallet, producing $26, to coin drives by local elementary school students, which brought in about $500. A single donor filled the $18,000 gap that remained just before the Fourth of July by writing a check, she adds.

Nevertheless, despite the warm reaction to the fund drive, McBride says the city needs to examine its procedures and perhaps set up an arts commission or advisory board. The city might also investigate establishing a funding mechanism for future art purchases. "You can only go to the community once with this type of issue," she says. And there's no guarantee that Ballantine won't pull his other "public" pieces.

But this one, at least, is saved. When McBride went out to the statue before the city's old-fashioned Fourth of July parade to remove a banner calling for donations, she found a gaggle of Girl Scouts posing around the artwork. "I said, 'This statue's staying in Kirkland; we're cutting this banner down,'" she says. "So we cut it off together."

Jbush@seattleweekly.com

 
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