EDITORIAL | Sculpture no Picasso, but public should have been asked

Art is like beauty — its qualities are often in the eye of the beholder.

That’s only true, of course, when there’s actually something to behold, and that’s no longer the case at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center, the Coupeville facility formerly known as Whidbey General Hospital. A rather unique-looking sculpture that decorated the hospital’s entrance for more than 45 years, and ironically one that was registered with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Save Outdoor Sculpture program, was recently bulldozed. It’s a shame. And not just because a rather old piece of art was lost, one that was donated to the hospital, but because no one knew about it until after the fact.

Hospital officials say the piece, created in 1970 by Michael Park along with the help of sculptor Charles Talman, was destroyed because of safety concerns. Made of large sand-cast concrete slabs, a metal brace inside the structure had begun to “rust and rot.” The outer layer of cement was also beginning to crumble, a hospital official said.

These do not sound like insurmountable obstacles to us, especially for a hospital district currently engaged in a $50 million expansion project. It seems improbable that the small army of experts nearby couldn’t have fabricated a new support.

But more disturbing is the fact that the public had no idea this piece of art was being considered for destruction until after the fact. It’s unrealistic to believe that all public art can or should be preserved in perpetuity, but it seems more than reasonable to at least ask the people holding the purse strings what they think.

Case in point, Langley is considering a business owner’s request about whether or not to remove the old pine tree at Boy and Dog Park on First Street. Similarly, it’s going to lengths to give the public a taste of what life might be like under LED street lights. The city has installed a test bulb and asked for public feedback before summarily making the switch to the nearly 100 lights scattered across town.

Such steps may seem unnecessary or downright silly to some, but they are not. It’s a demonstration of respect to the people elected officials have sworn to represent, and a statement that says, “We care what you think enough that we’re willing to ask.”

In our book, that’s something to be applauded.

Hospital officials may not have considered this piece a Picasso, perhaps even a blemish on the district’s future facility and new name, but members of the public may have had a different opinion.

They should have been asked.