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Ducklings added late to Oak Harbor art mix

Georgia Gerber, one of four artists selected to create art for Pioneer Way, shows one of her ideas for a piece that could go on Ireland Street. She will meet with the Oak Harbor Arts Commission Monday in an effort to hammer out a final design.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Georgia Gerber, one of four artists selected to create art for Pioneer Way, shows one of her ideas for a piece that could go on Ireland Street. She will meet with the Oak Harbor Arts Commission Monday in an effort to hammer out a final design.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

The Oak Harbor Arts Commission will hold a special meeting Monday in the hopes of shoring up one of its Pioneer Way art recommendations before it’s vetted by the city council Tuesday night.

The group will meet with Clinton bronze artist Georgia Gerber in an attempt to hammer out an actual proposal for a piece on Ireland Street. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be held at City Hall.

The arts commission selected Gerber earlier this week as a last-minute replacement for one of two finalists chosen last month to create public art downtown. Less than two weeks before the recommendations were to go before the city council, May 17, one of the artists withdrew and another doubled his price.

The replacements selected included a piece previously dismissed, a basalt column of salmon by Freeland Art Studios, and something by acclaimed artist Gerber. Due to such short notice, Gerber didn’t have time to submit an actual piece but the arts commission agreed to hire her anyway because her work is so well known.

Cac Kamak, a senior planner with Oak Harbor Development Services, said arts commission members decided the next day that it would need something more concrete to present than simply an artist backed by a good name.

“They want to meet and get something worked out before the city council meeting,” Kamak said.

Gerber said she plans to propose a piece called “Stumbly Duckling,” which depicts a procession of three ducks, the tallest of which would measure up to 3 feet in height. The scene is of two in front running while a third, the hindmost in the flock, would be lying on its belly after having stumbled.

“He’d be great for kids to climb and play on,” Gerber said.

The arts commission discussed several possibilities this week, including a seal, sea lion, and a crab. While individual opinions for each varied, group members made it clear they wanted something the public could interact with by touching or sitting on.

But no matter what is selected, the arts commission may be facing a hard sell. They were tasked by the city council to select four artworks for Pioneer Way within a budget of $80,000. Instead, they chose five pieces, which total $125,500.

Although the arts commission is proposing to cover the extra $45,500 with funds from their own budget – the $80,000 is separate as it’s a line item in the Pioneer Way project budget – city officials aren’t so sure.

“I think they are blurring the lines with that,” Mayor Jim Slowik said.

For the first time since he took office, Slowik said he is submitting comments on an agenda item. He plans to recommend that the arts commission stay within budget.

Slowik said he will also recommend that the mermaid, the fifth piece planned for the corner of Highway 20, be placed somewhere in the construction zone between City Beach Street and Midway Boulevard. It was by far the public’s top choice in the survey and the people’s preference should be honored, he said.

“If we bother to survey the public, we should listen to what they say,” Slowik said.

The survey included 11 total pieces, and of the public’s top four choices, only the top two were selected by the art’s commission – the mermaid and seal in kelp sculpture. The moon and waves sculpture planned for Midway came in fifth, and the stacked glass, now planned for City Beach Street, was rated seventh.

A mechanical water-mist piece, which was withdrawn by the artist, ranked 10th. The seal in kelp is also no longer a contender due to the artist doubling his price. The basalt column of swimming salmon, one of the replacements chosen this week, came in third.

Gerber also submitted a piece, a salmon window of bronze that ranked fourth, but the arts commission dismissed it for a variety of reasons, ranging from safety to aesthetics.

Slowik isn’t the only public official with concerns. Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell said believes the arts commission needs to stay within budget, as many in the community are questioning whether now is the right time to spend money on public art at all.

He also has concerns about some of the pieces chosen, and wonders whether the theme, “Water: on, below and above,” was the best choice. Why not something more representative of the community, such as Race Week, he asked.

Although he was one of the city council members that voted last year to green-light the project, he said he’s now second guessing that decision.

“I don’t know if voted the way I should have,” Campbell said.

A lot of discussion will need to take place Tuesday night, he said.

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