By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
It is often that people are concerned with the money diverted to art attached to public works projects sponsored by government. The basis providing art from legislation or policies can mandate one percent of project costs be dedicated to art deemed reflective of various ideals approved by officials.
But one particular project regarding a bridge in the Fremont Neighborhood of Seattle is puzzling as to any long term benefit to be experienced, or of any tangible substance.
The City of Seattle budged ten thousand dollars and placed a call for bids for an artist to write a work of poetry, essay, or oral history of a drawbridge.
The following represents portions of the Call for Bids:
The Fremont Bridge has four control towers with a bridge operator working out of the southeast tower. This bridge opened in 1917 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the key transportation link between the Fremont neighborhood, Queen Anne and Westlake communities. The Fremont Bridge rises for marine traffic an average of 35 times a day, making it one of the busiest bascule bridges in the world. A bascule bridge is a moveable bridge that swings upward.
The Fremont Bridge has four control towers. A bridge operator is on site every day in the southeastern tower, the only tower actively used for bridge control. The two towers on the north end of the bridge are unoccupied. The northwest tower will be used as the studio for this residency opportunity. It measures approximately 13 feet by 8 feet, has 10-foot ceilings and is furnished.
SCOPE OF WORK
As the 100th birthday of the historic Fremont Bridge approaches in 2017, a writer or poet will undertake an in-depth exploration of the historic bridge and respond to the experience with a literary work. The residency includes access to the northwest tower of the Fremont bridge. Artists cannot live in the tower, but may use the space as a studio, a platform for observing the bridge and its surroundings, or as a base from which to interact with the community. Early in the residency, the artist will be asked to meet and discuss his/her approach to the residency project with staff from the Office of Arts & Culture and SDOT. In consultation with staff, the artist will set studio hours and propose concepts for the literary project, its public presentation and documentation. The artist-in-residence will be required to carry commercial general liability insurance for the duration of the residency. The artist residency will run from June through August 2016.
Project, presentation, documentation
The residency will include an ongoing public component such as a blog or social media posts, in addition to community engagement events. The residency will culminate in a literary work and public presentation of the work produced while in residence. The writing shall represent or illuminate some aspect of the bridge and the bridge’s history, be it real or metaphorical. The artist will propose and implement public presentation(s) of the project through screening(s), speaking engagements, exhibition, or reading(s) at locations and times to be determined in consultation with staff from the Office of Arts & Culture and SDOT. Where possible, the Office of Arts & Culture staff will provide technical assistance, introductions to community resources, and other information as needed.
Following public presentation of the work, the artist will provide high-quality documentation of the project for inclusion in the Municipal Art Collection. Documentation could be in the form of a video/DVD, artist’s book, print materials, select objects created/exhibited as part of the project, or other appropriate forms of documentation.
The call is open to established professional writers living in Seattle or within 100 miles of Seattle. The Office of Arts & Culture encourages diversity in its collection. Artists whose work is well represented in the city’s collection are eligible to apply, but the artist selection panel will consider artistic diversity as one factor in the selection process. Students are not eligible to apply.
The project budget is $10,000 USD ($5,000 for residency, $5,000 for project, presentation, documentation), inclusive of all residency costs, project, presentation, documentation of the work, and applicable taxes. Payment will be made in installments based on benchmarks established by the Office of Arts & Culture in consultation with the artist.
I have to wonder what long term value the funding provides when it involves nothing more than, essentially, some pages of literature and some talking points in public meetings. The epoch of this project I have many doubts will be representative of or everlasting as a bridge nearly one hundred years old. For this reason cost becomes an aspect representing further declining long term benefit whereas the funds could have been otherwise spent wisely on a tangible medium, not something very likely to evaporate from the public mind.
In an interview with the Seattle P-I newspaper, Calandra Childers, a deputy director with the Office of Arts & Culture, said that the poet or artist selected with be expected to provide at least one piece of work that can be presented to the city. This can be in the form of spoken words, an essay, poems or other forms. One has to wonder if the selection process is more involved that the result obtained–succinctly, a lot of promises made that devolves into a rather fleeting production of perhaps several haikus or an expensive example of lip-service.
On balance those possessing as little as a cursory familiarity with literature and the multitude of historical, and revered writings can point to the fact that capable writers are equally historic as factual events or the physical art world of humanity. Much of which was at the time of creation greatly under-valued or appreciated by contemporaries only to be rediscovered later, perhaps decades or centuries. Prediction is difficult, yet can be mediated of course in having the momentum of known artists and their respective contributions.
Nevertheless with all publicly funded projects it is incumbent to spend money wisely, since the city in this case should be bestowed a fiduciary responsibility to provide the best value or service to the public from revenue received. It becomes difficult when the result of this review might be ephemeral at best.
A contrast to today’s project is the well known Fremont Troll located under the George Washington Memorial Bridge.
Though sponsored by a the Fremont Arts Council, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization rather than a government agency, it has tangibility and a higher probability of garnering fame, varied interests, and thought provoking than what could be in the end simply writings.
The costs is not just limited to the budget of ten thousand dollars. Factors also considered feature work hours, meeting expenses and numerous other sundries manifest in both the selection of the to be determined artist along with its presentation, maintenance, and auditing.
A sister project involving the University Bridge concurrently requests calls for bids for an artistic lighting project. Though unlike the Fremont Bridge project, the consulting artist is to provide a lighting schema for the bridge and constructed in the future; though there is presently no budget to pay for this. For me at least the University Bridge project has value due to tangibility and the ability to catch the eye of observers. A great example of such can be found in the decades old theme of various lighting exhibits hosted at Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.