Seattle To Pay $10,000.00 For Artist To Write Poems, Etc. Describing Bridge

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.



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.

henry-david-thoreauOn 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.

Fremont TrollA 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 City of Seattle
The Seattle P-I

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.

18 thoughts on “Seattle To Pay $10,000.00 For Artist To Write Poems, Etc. Describing Bridge”

  1. This is NOT vitally important – that money could help several homeless families or any food bank in the city – this is waste

  2. Have you ever gotten a credit card bill in your twenties and been gobsmacked? All those individual expenses seemed small – a bit here and a bit there. But it all adds up.

    Some kid in his 20s gets a white board and starts making a list. Let’s give out free bike helmets to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status right in front of a bike shop! (actually happened in CA. A lot of middle class people got free helmets and the bike shop saw a hit in helmet sales that affected them for a year.) Let’s do this neat idea and wouldn’t it be great if we did that? And you know? Poets really should make more money. Let’s pay 100 times the going rate for a single poem (and how do they choose the lucky poet?) and let’s create a residency for the poet, too!

    Have you ever heard about a really crucial program being underfunded? Not having enough money for social services for the poor? Medicaid running out of money? Social Security running out of money? Well…it’s our fault because we keep wasting money and then we bemoan the fact that we don’t have enough money for the really important issues. That’s why CA has some of the worst potholed roads in the entire nation, similar to a Third World country in some areas – so bad they actually damage vehicles…but we’re spending $65 billion on a vacation train to San Francisco that will be really pretty and half empty. And it will require taxpayer subsidies forever .

    People want to blame those who do not want higher taxes for various underfunded projects. But if we stopped wasting money on stuff that is not vitally important then we wouldn’t have to keep hitting taxpayers up for more money. That greed for more and more taxes is what prompted Prop 13 in CA, to keep property taxes from doubling annually and driving the elderly out of their homes and businesses to close up.

  3. It’s just so easy to spend other people’s money. Fiscal conservatives, like me, try to associate every dollar spent with the people who paid it – little old ladies, kids just starting out paying taxes, and everyone in between.

    The Fremont Troll grasping the VW not only supported the arts, it created a landmark and tourist attraction that had a tangible benefit to the community.

    Supporting poets is a great idea. Is this the best way to do it? I think they could have gotten a poem for less than $10,000. Individual poems rarely earn very much, and are typically published as anthologies. And why would you need a residency? You could hike to different promontories and get a tour of the tower without taking up a residency for $5,000.

    How many blankets for the homeless could $10,000 buy? After school programs for at risk kids? Plant some native plants or redesign water runoff? When you spend $10,000 in one place, you do not have it to spend in another.

    Typical of government, it appears that we over pay for a contract that under delivers. They’re basically paying 100 times the going rate for a single poem.

  4. Nick

    What’s up? You have not been posting recently, as much as before, including your signature pogo stick saturation. Also your recent posts, this one especially, are indicative of a serious dilution regarding thought and focus. I hope all is well with you and yours and that your only distraction is the upcoming Super Bowl. I miss your better posts, someone with which to argue.

  5. The more you read thoughts of “progressive” socialists, the more you realize they want to “progress” back to the 19th century, w/ choo choo trains and no technology.

  6. There are many forms of art. Literature is one of them. It should not be excluded as a form of community art. A 100-year old bridge of this sort seems a great subject. Kudos to Seattle for recognizing the literary artist.

  7. A bridge is there to get people and animals from one side of a water pool or river to another. It is not for people to rape and pillage as in The Chain of Rocks Bridge case. That happened in Saint Louis back in 1991. One of the perps who is on death row for raping and killing two girls and throwing their male cousin off the bridge with them is getting a new trial soon.
    The Saint Louis area will not spend money for poetry about the “Kerry sisters” or the bridge.

    Seattle is taking it a bridge too far. It is only a darn bridge. Dumb schmucks are going to pay a poet who don’t know it in order to help show it.

  8. It is a great idea, perhaps underfunded. Simply because one cannot see an object and that object will not be there visibly to remind the public that their community is ‘artistic’ should not be the determining factor when handing out grants. Literature is a fast disappearing art form in the world and especially in the US. The public is so spliced with electronic gadgets, they rarely if ever observe what is going on around them. Does art have to shout out its presence or can it be there to be discovered with a little effort.

    Not too long ago when people walked down a street they shared that street with others. A greeting be it a ‘good day’ or simple eye contact was the norm. Today people are a million miles away and one is lucky to not get bumped by someone carrying on a conversation, typically unnecessary, with someone who is not sharing the street. This disappearing social activity includes an understanding of our immediate environs, people, history, or general place. There is a certain rudeness in someone yapping away on a cell phone while they maneuver their way through our shared spaces. Our communities are wanting for a cohesion that has given way to the technological separation of people from people and people from their environment.

    This $10,000 is a paltry sum to attempt to document the bridge. A bridge is an example of community, compressed into one moment of passage from one district to another and in this case between Seattle and the rest of the world. I could think of no better way to support the arts, document an area, and perhaps refocus some on literature.

  9. Darren Smith misses the point in “Seattle To Pay $10,000.00 For Artist To Write Poems, Etc. Describing Bridge.”
    Government sponsorship of art is always instrinsically corrupt in its selection of some art over other art, some artists over other artists. The NEA and the state cultural councils will likely not fund rare poets or artists who stand up on their hind legs and actually criticize the art bureaucrats of the NEA and those state cultural councils, which tend to be deeply entwined with state chambers of commerce.
    Safe art is what they’ll promote. Period. But is safe art the best art? Are sculptures of trolls really examples of great art? In fact, who determines what great art is or isn’t? Academics, who toe the line and ladder climb, tend to be the deciders. Do such people make the best decisions? Methinks not! Is State art the best art? Methinks not!
    Smith notes, “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.” Indeed, but what might those ideals be? Who might those faceless “officials” be? Clearly, art critical of “officials” would not constitute one of those ideals. And if PC is the ideology of the “officials,” as it tends to be today, then art critical of PC would not be one of those ideals either.
    The designated poet or artist will somehow have to bend, bow, and speak niceties to a staff of art bureaucrats in accord with their plan: “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…”
    Still missing the point, Smith mentions that a sculpture would be far better than words, citing the Fremont Troll sculpture under the George Washington Memorial Bridge, noting “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.”
    To cite a famous politician, “what difference does it make?” Non-profit arts council or State arts council? No difference! Such councils, non-profit or other, tend inevitably to be operated by groupthink bureaucrats with thin skin. Poets and artists who feed off of public art monies will never grasp that point. It is not in their interest to grasp it. Now, why would a sculpture of a troll be worthy of non-profit or state funding? Safe. Safe. Safe. That’s why!
    G. Tod Slone, Ed.
    The American Dissident

  10. Knowing the community, the Masonic building there, connections of area people to secret societies, as well as criminal activities, and a nearby storage area burglary I had — I would avoid the area at all costs. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the contract awarded to someone with connections to people involved or connected to a local secret society or local criminal activities.

  11. In my seventh year
    I give full ear.

    To words of wisdom
    From dead deer.
    I see a bridge that far beyond
    What words can say or might respond.

    If that bridge would sink today.
    The folks below would kneel and pray.
    I wish I may, I wish I might ..
    Blow that bridge with dynamite.

    But now I lay me down to sleep.
    That bridge ain’t worth a bit of peep.
    All Seattle pays for me.
    To write some words of sympathy.

    Fifty dollars makes em pay.
    For tons of bull shit every day.

  12. Correction its’ ten dollars an hour for one thousand hours. Woefully underpaid. let’s see ten thousand divided by …fifteen ……… YIKES….it’s Flip Wilson Formula. $666 point 666. ………..Figures. they already had a statue.

  13. That is one thousand hours of work at Fifteen dollars an hour. Only in Seattle. They also purchased a statue of Lenin leading the Masses in Revolution for Fremont and had the rifle he was brandishing aloft carefully removed. they are not above desecrating works of art for political purposes in the neighborhood.I suspect Fremonters are the Washington version of Taliban.

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