Oak Harbor City Council members unanimously voted to direct staff to explore the ramifications of accepting the gift of a 37-foot-tall sculpture proposed for Windjammer Park.
The council’s vote comes after much public debate on social media over whether the “Angel de la Creatividad” fits the city’s aesthetic and concerns that it would preclude a windmill from returning to the park.
The sculpture features an abstract depiction of an angel on top of a tall column. It is 37 feet tall and weighs approximately 5 tons, according to a presentation during last Tuesday’s council meeting. It is currently bright red, Parks Operations Manager Jesse Ott said; most of the artist renderings show it as light gray or white in color.
The piece was made by world-renowned artist Sebastián of Mexico City. The estate of an avid public arts supporter, George Drake, was going to give it to Bellingham but pulled it back when the city wanted to do extensive vetting of the project.
The executor of the estate then offered it to Oak Harbor and said it would cover installation and transportation costs. The estate also would cover costs over $35,000, and Arts Commission Chairman Rodric Gagnon said at a prior meeting that he was working to get a letter to solidify that commitment.
Most of the council members supported the art piece, although they were concerned about safety, maintenance and cost.
Council members Joel Servatius and Jeffrey Mack said they “wholeheartedly” supported accepting the piece, although Mack added he was concerned about safety.
Councilmember Jim Woessner suggested that the sculpture be placed in Catalina Park near the marina.
Councilmember Erica Wasinger said she wasn’t comfortable making any decisions on the sculpture without more information. Councilmember Tara Hizon agreed.
“If somebody wanted to give me a giraffe, obviously I would be thrilled,” Hizon said. “But do I have the means to take care of a giraffe? There’s a lot of things to consider.”
City Attorney Grant Weed suggested a gifting agreement be drawn up to outline each party’s responsibilities.
Multiple council members said they received input from citizens, and public opinion presented during the meeting showed division.
A report by Zencity, a $15,000 tool to measure public opinion the city bought with CARES Act money, showed that the public overwhelmingly opposed the sculpture. Over three days, it measured 737 interactions opposed to the art piece, while just 109 supported it.
The proposed art, Zencity’s report said, was “the latest example of the city not listening to local input.” Residents would prefer a windmill, it added.
The 20 public comments submitted directly to the city, however, were more supportive. Written comments were shown during the meeting.
“I think it would be a crying shame to turn down this remarkable opportunity,” wrote Suzie DuPuis.
Others said accepting the sculpture would exemplify the city’s diversity. One of the opposition’s concerns was that the sculpture did not fit with the city’s Dutch history.
“It’s time to accept we are not simply a ‘Dutch’ town,” wrote Mandi Rothman, adding that Oak Harbor is a blend of cultures.
She suggested that the community should fundraise for a windmill if it was so desired, but that it is in the city’s “best interest” to accept the donation.
A handful of comments shown were opposed to the sculpture and its proposed location in Windjammer Park.
“Stop forcing crap on us and quit wasting money on dumb things like this” Jon Eaton wrote. “It’s a Dutch-theme town; bring back the windmill as we were told.”
Andrew Robertson criticized the state of the roads in the city and said there was an imbalance in spending.
“Let’s not let the promise of ‘free’ art distract us from the real issues we need to solve,” Robertson said.
The council’s decision requires staff to present its findings at the March 24 city council workshop.
Other sculptures moving forward
City council members gave other sculptures the green light to move forward.
A giant acorn statue made from the wood of a 330-year-old Garry oak tree is moving forward.
Council members approved a professional services agreement with local artist Pat McVay not to exceed $15,000. It’s been suggested that the acorn be placed outside the post office, although it will require postmaster approval.
Council members also approved $25,000 for repairs, painting and installation of “Temple Blue,” one of the pieces of the Joseph Kinnebrew sculpture collection. The arts commission recommended the large metal sculpture be placed at the pocket park next to the former Office Max building on Highway 20 and Northeast Koetje Street. The piece was painted light blue and yellow to match the city’s logo colors. It has one rectangular block leaning against multiple rectangular blocks.
It will be the first of the collection to be placed. The city bought the four sculptures in December 2018 for $19,566.
Proposed locations for the other art include the Boys and Girls Club, Flintstone Park and Centennial Grove. The pieces were originally designed to be part of a city sculpture park near North Whidbey Middle School but that project has been postponed, so now the pieces will be placed throughout the city.