Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) Art in Public Places Program

  • By Traci Timmons
  • Posted 4/28/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22973
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The Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) began as a small committee of visual and performing arts experts in the early 1960s. Through the establishment of its "art in public places" program in 1974, this state agency has built a collection of more than 5,000 works by locally, nationally, and internationally recognized artists sited in 1,300 buildings: public K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and state buildings throughout nearly all of Washington’s 39 counties. Washington’s State Art Collection is one of the oldest and largest statewide public art collections in the nation.

State Legislature Establishes an Arts Commission

The Washington State Arts Commission was established by the state legislature in 1961. House Bill 57 created a state arts commission consisting of members appointed by the governor. The commission was charged to "meet, study, plan and advise the governor, the various departments of the state and the state legislature [and to] make such recommendations as deems proper for the beautification and cultural development of the state of Washington" (Washington State Arts Commission: At Your Service). The House voted 92-3 in favor and Governor Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011) signed the bill creating the commission in March 1961. Upon signing, Rosellini said,

"I greatly appreciate the fact that the Legislature has recognized the merits of such a commission by granting it statutory existence ... We in the State of Washington are greatly honored and justly proud of the fact that some of the greatest painters and poets and other artists of the nation reside in our state or have been educated here ... Let us ever be mindful that in centuries to come, when the labors of statesmen and legislatures have become dust and ashes, the creative genius of our artists alone may survive" (Rosellini via Guzzo)

The commission began with an appointment of 18 members, 13 of whom were grandfathered in from the former Governor’s Arts Council, and five newly appointed members. John Ashby Conway (1905-1987), theatre designer and drama professor at the University of Washington, was the commission’s first chairman. The commission convened its first meeting on October 25, 1961. Its initial focus was identifying geographic areas that would benefit from cultural activities and the establishment of local community arts councils. Early commission activities focused on the performing arts – ballet, theater, opera – and circulating visual art exhibitions. In 1967, it launched a grant-in-aid program that helped cultural organizations with one-to-one matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Art for Public Places in Washington

In the early 1970s, the commission grew to 21 members and included a state senator and a representative. It began exploring ways it could create a permanent art collection for the state. As part of its grants-in-aid program, it established several program areas including one specifically for public art: "This service makes available matching funds to cities and counties to commission artists or purchase works of art by artists of the state to enrich public buildings, parks, and other public lands" (Washington State Arts Commission: At Your Service).

The commission held a two-day conference to explore the idea of a true "art in public places" program. "Urban Arts Conference: Art in Public Places" was held February 19-20, 1972, at the Eames Theatre at the Seattle Center. It included a series of panel discussions focused on the pros and cons of public art with talks delivered by architects and academics, members of other state arts councils, NEA representatives, and artists. The conference demonstrated the positive benefits of a statewide public art program and, in 1974 the state legislature created Washington’s "percent for art" program. It was the second statewide program of its kind in the nation following Hawaii (the City of Seattle launched its 1 Percent for Art program in 1973). The legislation mandated one-half of one percent of capital appropriations for new construction at colleges and universities, state agencies, and public K-12 schools to be put toward the purchase or commissioning of visual art. The program had three primary goals: to provide high-quality artworks for the public where they live, work, and study; to recognize qualified professional artists through the purchasing and commissioning of their work; and to develop a collection of state-owned works of art.

In 1975, the group commissioned its first work, Langskip Norseland Spirit (1976) by Washington artist Ken Lundemo (b. 1931). The 19-foot steel, Nordic longboat-style sculpture was created for Poulsbo Elementary School and referenced the Scandinavian heritage of the city of Poulsbo. Other early works included two-dimensional painted works by Kathleen Gemberling Adkison (1917-2010), Max Benjamin (b. 1928), Byron Gardner (1930-1992), Kay O'Rourke (b. 1943), Michele Russo (1909-2004), Jerry Scheideman (1932-2003), and Lee Bogle (b. 1947) that were acquired or created for elementary and middle schools, a community college, and several state buildings. Three-dimensional sculptures, including glass work and kinetic sculpture, were created by Gloria Crouse (1925-2011), Frederick Heidel (1915-2000), Parks Anderson (b. 1942), Stuart Branston (b. 1943), John H. Geise (1936-2018), James Lee Hansen (b. 1925), Donald Ingleman, Manuel Izquierdo (1925-2009), Roberta Kelly, and Dan Wilson (1934-2008) for elementary, middle and high schools, community colleges, and universities. Through the 1970s, roughly 100 works were added to the collection each year.

Large-scale metal outdoor sculptures were prominent early acquisitions. Artists with national standing created works for colleges and universities, and even public schools. Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly (1932-2022) created several works: Gate II (1970) for Olympic College, Bremerton, Gate III (1973) for Cheney Middle School, Untitled (1976) for the University of Washington, and Untitled (1977) for Pierce College. Larry Tate’s (b. 1947) Untitled (1977), James Lee Hansen’s Stempost (1979), Robert Ellison’s (1946-2012) X-Position (1976), and Clint Brown’s Untitled (1976) were all commissioned for Washington State University’s Pullman campus. Other works included Poktalaruk 'huk shuk (1978) by Lawrence Beck (Inuit-Chanagmiut, 1938-1994) for Highline College, Des Moines; Trapezoid Square (1976) by Robert Maki (b. 1938) for The Evergreen State College, Olympia; Charles W. Smith’s (1922-2009) Seed of Knowledge (1979) for Eastern Washington University and Untitled (1976) for Seattle Central College; Untitled (1978) by Ted Jonsson (1933-2015) for Olympia Technical Community College (now South Sound CC); Psalm 61 (1975) by Stuart Branston (b. 1943) for Bellevue College; and Circles (1978) by Kim Hoffman (b. 1950) for Selah High School, among others. Artist Beverly Pepper’s (1922-2020) Normanno Wedge (1979) was the first work added by the commission to the outdoor sculpture collection at Western Washington University in Bellingham in 1980. Works on this site would become especially well-known in later years.

Into the 1980s more works by women were added to the group of large-scale outdoor sculptures. Visual Dialogue (1982) – a work meant to invoke contemplation – was created by Lynda Rockwood (b. 1949) for Valley View Middle School in Snohomish. Artist Julia Kerl (b. 1947) created Passages (1985), an abstract work designed as a passageway symbolizing the students’ journey from adolescence to adulthood, for Evergreen Middle School in Redmond. Back and Forth (1986), a pair of abstract aluminum sculptures, was created by Jean Mandeberg (b. 1950) for the Public Health Laboratories, Department of Health, in Shoreline.

Growing Collection for Public Schools

In 1982, the Washington State Arts Commission faced one of its most challenging times as many commission programs had their funding severely cut or, in some cases, merged with other programs. The Art in Public Places program was the only program to avoid cuts and was able to accelerate the implementation of available project funds for the purchases of artwork. The collection had grown to more than 750 works at 363 sites throughout the state. Eighty-six percent of the works were in public schools, while 9 percent were at public universities and colleges. The remaining 5 percent were sited at state agency buildings.

Washington’s was one of the few state art collections where sited works by prominent artists could be found in public schools. Work by some of the Northwest’s most well-known artists could be found in public K-12 schools including George Tsutakawa’s (1910-1997) Unity, Harmony, Growth (1978), a 12-foot-tall abstract bronze sculpture at Olympic High School in Bremerton; Icarus (1979), a bronze statue referencing the Greek myth by Phillip Levine (1931-2021) at Beacon Hill Elementary in Kelso; Marvin Oliver's (Quinault and Isleta-Pueblo, 1946-2019) carved and painted cedar wood sculptures Raven Who Stole the Sun and Big Bird (both 1979) for Yelm High School; a triptych drawing, Flowers for Nana (1984) by Jim Hodges (b. 1957) for Willard Elementary School in Spokane; the painted Untitled (Triptych) (1984) by James Lavadour (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, b. 1951) for Cusick School; Buster Simpson's (b. 1942) Untitled (1982) hanging sculpture of fish, boots, tools, and other objects for Woodlands Elementary in Bremerton; and Cappy Thompson's (b. 1952) series of animal-themed stained-glass windows, Fairuz and the Elephant King at the Lake of the Moon, The Cat and the Mouse, and The Fox and the Drum (all 1984) for South Bay Elementary in Olympia.

In 1983, the commission revised its Art in Public Places legislation to allow for the pooling of artwork allocations. It took the opportunity to lead a program addressing art and artists in education. The state had built a collection of works through its percent-for-art funding and had gotten hundreds of works into school districts across the state, but the commission also recognized an issue. Art in Public Places Program Manager Sandra A. Percival summarized it this way: "A single artwork placed in a school in perpetuity could not be expected to be a dynamic learning experience. It would, over time, become decorative" (Rutherford). In response, the commission built a collection of portable works, often around specific themes, that could circulate to public schools. The goal was that, over time, the state’s collection would become an ever-changing, ever-developing library to circulate in the schools, and would be enriched with art by many generations of living artists who demonstrated rich, artistic traditions.

Diversity in the Collection

The project "Beyond Blue Mountains: Artworks by Native American Artists" strove to fulfill the goals of a more dynamic and diverse collection. Between 1984 and 1985, Washington State Arts Commission project coordinator Deborah Rutherford worked with artist Jim Schoppert (Tlingit, 1947-1992) to curate a collection of works from major tribal communities from across the Pacific Northwest. Through gatherings and discussions amongst communities including Makah, Lummi, Colville, Yakama, Squaxin Island, Skokomish, Suquamish, and Umatilla, and the recommendations of local tribal representatives, 91 works were acquired. Works from this collection circulated to schools and cultural organizations statewide and demonstrated through specific lessons — rooted in the concepts of form, culture, and the individual – that art is a tool for developing problem-solving skills. Works in the collection further challenged ideas about understanding art simply from its formal qualities and placed "the work of artists – specifically Native American artists ... – in a broad disciplinary context" (Rutherford).

"Beyond Blue Mountains" works ultimately found permanent homes in Washington’s schools and government offices: fifth-generation basket weaver Hazel Pete’s (Chehalis, 1915-2003) woven Storage Basket (1974) of cedar bark, beargrass, and cattail was acquired for Pioneer Elementary in Shelton; and two sculptural works created by Lawney Reyes (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Sinixt, b. 1931) were installed at elementary schools – Killer Whale (1981) at Maywood Hills Elementary in Bothell and Eagle and Salmon (1984) for Woodland Elementary in Lacey. Woven baskets, Berry Basket and Hip Basket (both 1984) by Elaine Timentwa Emerson (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Methow Band, b. 1941) and T' at' atiya Basket (1985) by Nettie Kuneki Jackson (Yakama and Klickitat, 1942-2013), were acquired by the commission, along with Feather Hat, Spirit Dance Shirt, and Siyalt Ceremonial Cedar Hat (all 1984) by Gerald Bruce Miller (subiyay) (Skokomish, 1944-2005). Hand-carved sculptures Cousin Stick and Grandfather Stick (both 1983-1984) by Ray A. Cheer (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and Nooksack, b. 1957) and #237, Painted Desert (1984), a densely layered abstract painting by Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935) were acquired for "Beyond Blue Mountains" and are displayed at Washington State University in Pullman. More work by Indigenous artists entered the collection including the 12-foot-tall carved wooden Welcome Figure (1980) by Lance Wilkie (Makah, 1955-2015) for Neah Bay Elementary.

Since its inception, the commission had recognized the importance of diversity, even writing an "ethnic art" goal into its original grants program to "support audience development and the arts generally among minorities" (Washington State Arts Commission: At Your Service). The selection of artists and works for its State Art Collection bore out this commitment well beyond the scope of projects like "Beyond Blue Mountains." In the 1980s, works by diverse artists were acquired for universities, community colleges, and other sites. Abraham's Well at Ur, in the Land of the Chaldeans (1989) a sculpture by James Washington Jr. (1911-2000) was acquired with funds generated by public school construction, and was re-sited to Tacoma Community College in 2012. George Miyasaki's (1935-2013) printed and collaged work Thin Edge (1980) was acquired for Washington State University and is now at Spokane Falls Community College. A number of works eventually were sited at Western Washington University in Bellingham: Laying Black Doll (1989), a sculpture made from doll figures and found objects by Marita Dingus (b. 1956); Carl Chew's (b. 1948) print Prehistoric Post Office (1982); and Eduardo Calderon's (b. 1949) photographic works, Street Musician #1 and Street Musician #2 (both 1980) and Quarry #1, Quarry #2, and Petrified Forest #1 (all 1981). Posturing Series, No. 3 (1981) by Manuel Neri (1930-2021) was purchased for the Washington Department of Social and Health Services and re-homed to Washington State University.

More works by nationally and internationally recognized artists were acquired, too – those by Alice Aycock (b. 1946), Nancy Mee (b. 1951), Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), Rick Bartow (Wiyot, 1946-2016), Gaylen Hansen (b. 1921), and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, b. 1940), among others.

Growth and Change in the 1990s

By the mid-1990s, the collection had grown to over 3,500 works. Importantly, partners such as school districts and governmental departments helped augment "percent for art" funds to create more ambitious art projects. The commission continued to "shape the State Art Collection in an inclusive manner to represent the diversity of contemporary artistic production" (WSAC 1995 Annual Report) by creating its Artists Resource Bank (ARB), a roster of artists formed through biennial, competitive open calls. Commissioned works would draw from this roster. However, large-scale projects required individual competitions overseen by a panel made up of artists and art professionals to make the selection. To ensure fairness, the makeup of the panel changed for each call. In Fiscal Year 1995 alone, 59 commissions were in development – works for four state colleges and universities, eight community colleges, nine state agencies, and 17 public schools.

Art selection committees were formed by agencies, schools, colleges and universities, and were responsible for making artwork selections for their sites. K-12 school committees were representative of the local constituency and would often include a school principal, an art teacher, parents, students, and members of the community. The committees chose artists from the ARB and then worked with AAIP and the artist at the site to develop the work.

A major highlight of the 1990s was the acquisition of Jacob Lawrence’s (1917-2000) complete The Legend of John Brown series (1977) consisting of 22 silkscreen prints from his original gouache paintings of the 1940s. The series, inspired by oral histories, tells the true story of the controversial, white abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859), who was ultimately convicted and hanged for treason, murder, and inciting enslaved people to revolt. From 1974 to 1977, Lawrence worked with the master screen-printing firm of Ives-Sillman under the auspices of the Detroit Institute of Arts to create the prints and bring them "the same power and sensibility as evident in the gouaches" (Sojka, 31). The series was acquired with funds from the construction of the Departments of Natural Resources and Labor and Industries. It is now located at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, where Lawrence was a professor.

Commissions often took on social issues and actively involved the community. Artist Roger Shimomura (b. 1939) created a painted, 36-foot-long, site-responsive commission, An American Neighborhood (1997) for Southridge High School in Kennewick. Shimomura, a Japanese internment-camp survivor known for works that investigate stereotypes and identity, described the work as a "powerful investigation into how stereotypes, conformity, and customs impact 'our country's advancement towards a more diverse and equitable, multicultural society ... It is my hope that this mural suggests a visual forum upon which this topic might be continually discussed and debated'" (My Public Art Portal, entry for An American Neighborhood). The Tri-Cities Japanese-American community responded to the work by providing new curriculum and reference materials designed to help students understand the artwork and the Japanese-American experience.

Marvin Oliver’s multimedia 16-foot-long sculpture, Time Traveler (1997) for Mountain View Junior High in Bonney Lake was another notable addition to the State Art Collection. Unlike Oliver’s more well-known serigraph prints and carved wooden sculptures, Time Traveler showcased the artist’s adeptness with other media: "[The work was] comprised of a central glass canoe and six vertical paddles created from aluminum, wood, glass, and neon. Each paddle has its own symbolic meaning, and together they represent ideas about life, time, tradition, and the universe. Oliver's hope is that the artwork will inspire students to pursue and reflect on their own ambitions" (My Public Art Portal entry for Time Traveler).

Other highlights of the 1990s included Gloria Crouse’s (1925-2011) fiber art works that grew out of the craft of traditional rug-hooking for elementary schools across the state; Lucy Liu’s (b. 1926) traditional Chinese brush painting works for elementary schools and state buildings, including Outside the Window and Purple Attraction (both 1994) for Tonasket Elementary School; Barbara Earl Thomas’s (b. 1948) tempera works, A Fire in My House #2 (1990), Fallen House and Floating House (both 1992), for Cedar Heights Middle School in Kent; Cat Temple & Fish (1992) by Gaylen Hansen for Harbor Heights Elementary in Gig Harbor; the cast-bronze sculpture Bird Family by Philip McCracken (1928-2021) for the La Conner School District; Circle of Light (1992), a site-responsive commission for the Yakima Valley Sun Dome by Richard C. Elliott (1945-2008); and Alfredo Arreguín's (1935-2023) architecturally integrated commission, The Froth (1996), an 18-panel stained glass installation, an unusual work for the Mexican American artist best known for his intricately detailed paintings, for the Department of Ecology in Lacey.

Outdoor Sculpture for Higher Education

Washington’s universities and colleges had nationally regarded outdoor sculpture collections that had been building over the last few decades. The commission recognized the ongoing importance of large-scale sculpture and continued to develop those collections in the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Works by Beverly Pepper and Alice Aycock had been commissioned in the 1980s for Western Washington University’s outdoor sculpture collection. Now, other works were being added: Manus (1994), a 15-foot "hand-like tree" bronze sculpture by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017) and WWU alumnus David Ireland's (1930-2009) Bigger Big Chair (2007), described by the artist as "micro-architecture." Tom Otterness's (b. 1952) Feats of Strength (1999), featured cast-bronze whimsical figures lifting rocks, adding a playful element to a truly diverse group of works. By the turn of the century, Western Washington University’s outdoor sculpture collection was considered one of the top 10 university sculpture collections in the country. After the turn of the century, the sculpture collection at Western has continued to grow. Notable acquisitions by internationally recognized artists include Cause and Effect (2012) by Do Ho Suh, Split Stone (Northwest) (2019) by Sarah Sze, and A Moth of Peace (2018) by Fred Wilson.

Works sited at the University of Washington campuses also grew in number: Department of Forensic Morphology Annex (2004) by Cris Bruch (b. 1957); Reflect (2003) by Jun Kaneko (born 1942); K-Cut (1978, re-sited 2000) by Robert Maki; Martin Puryear's (b. 1941) Everything that Rises (1996); and Brian Tolle's (b. 1964) Stronghold (2005), all for the Seattle campus; and Terminus (2002) by Brian Goldbloom (b. 1950) for UW Tacoma. Robert Irwin's (1928-2023) 9 Spaces 9 Trees, originally created in 1983 for the City of Seattle's Public Safety Building, was re-conceived by the artist for the UW Seattle campus in 2003 after plans for a re-design of the Public Safety Building site required the artwork's permanent removal. Functional large-scale works were also added: Untitled (Medicinal Herb Garden Bus Stop) (1992) by husband-and-wife team, Suzanne Hellmuth (b. 1947) and Jock Reynolds (b. 1947) for the Seattle campus suggested greenhouses and integrated into the surrounding gardens and landscape near the campus’s Medicinal Herb Garden. Pam Beyette (b. 1945) created a two-part installation entitled Tree and Wetland Shelter – bus shelters, Tree Shelter and Wetland Fence (both 2002), created to enhance the waiting experience for bus riders at the UW Bothell campus.

A New Approach for a New Century

The first deaccessions from the collection occurred in the 1990s. Works removed from the collection were primarily those that had been lost or stolen, in addition to works affected by construction projects (renovations, teardowns, etc.), works that presented a safety hazard, were beyond repair, required significant maintenance beyond their value, or were subject to Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) guidelines. The commission began to commit monies from the General Fund (about $25,000 per year) toward conservation and restoration of the collection, but it was time to think more holistically about the scope of the collection and how to sustain an ongoing need to fund conservation and long-term maintenance.

By the turn of the century, the collection had grown quickly and was averaging more than 170 works being added per year. This rate of growth was not sustainable in terms of maintenance and care. In 2003, the collection’s growth was purposefully slowed to ensure better stewardship. Site-responsive commissioned works and curated collections became the primary ways in which art was acquired and sited. Additionally, purchases were restructured, and small public school artwork allocations were pooled. The focus was now on quality and placement, rather than quantity. The 2005-2007 Capital Budget, along with changes to art authorization legislation, allowed for $100,000 per biennium in art acquisition funds to be used toward collections care. Three percent of the art acquisition budgets going forward would be put aside for conservation work and additional funds were committed when available. These funds would be utilized for artworks that, without conservation, would have otherwise been lost.

In 2014, an assessment was done on Richard C. Elliott’s Circle of Light work (commissioned in the early 1990s) for the Yakima Valley SunDome – a work that runs 880 feet and is, by far, the largest work in the State Art Collection. The work consisted of 48,000 reflectors, like those typically seen on the highways and mailboxes, in a myriad of colors that circled the dome, creating patterns inspired by those found on Yakama cornhusk baskets. The assessment revealed that half of the reflectors were missing and those that remained had lost a good deal of their vibrance. In 2021, the Washington State Legislature approved funding to fully restore the work. The commercial vendor that originally produced the reflectors no longer produced several of the colors, but made custom ones specifically for the project. The final new reflector was placed by Elliott’s wife, Jane Orleman, on July 25, 2022, 30 years after the work had originally been installed.

Native American artist and master carver Marvin Oliver's 15-foot carved cedar work Big Bird (1979) was also in need of repair. The work had been installed on an outside wall at Yelm High School for over 40 years and, in 2020, a Yakama student noted the work's deterioration and asked school leadership that the work be restored. The endeavor was successful, and the work was fully restored: a re-painting was completed by David Franklin, a student of Oliver's, with guidance from Bridgette Ellis, Oliver's wife. The restoration was finished in June 2021 and the work was re-installed inside the school in the commons area.

Positioned for a Successful Future

By the end of the 2010s, the commission could look back and see the fruit of decades of work. The collection included thousands of two- and three-dimensional works, both freestanding and integrated. It was rich with Washington artists and boasted the work of nationally and internationally recognized artists. In 2006, the commission took the opportunity to restate its purpose and scope – the collection was "held in the public trust for exhibition, education, and research, not for the State’s financial gain" (ArtCare, 15).

The commission’s work to fund all aspects of the collection program was paying off. Collections care remained a priority and, in 2013, the percentage set aside for conservation from art acquisition funds was raised to 5 percent. With the 2015-2017 Capital Budget, colleges and universities could spend up to 10 percent of projected art allocations for project design. This more comprehensive approach allowed works to be better integrated into building designs. By 2019, the cap for conservation work had been raised to $150,000 per biennium. Additionally, public art funds can generated by any renovation or remodel work that exceeded $200,000 at colleges and universities, not just new construction.

In 2015, ArtsWA launched My Public Art Portal (www.arts.wa.gov/my-public-art-portal/), making access to images and information more accessible. The portal, which acts very much like an online catalog, provides biographical information about the artists; stories, facts, and meaning about the works; location details, including geo-coordinates and mappings; and web exhibitions that highlight different segments and perspectives of the collection.

The Public Artist Roster was established in August 2021 and contained pre-qualified professional visual artists from the United States and Western Canada. Artists could be on the roster for up to four years before needing to reapply. To be considered, they had to demonstrate a unique vision or perspective and have an authentic relationship to their subject matter. They had to be able to successfully engage with a site and work productively with the community in which their art was being placed. A panel of arts professionals reviewed applications and made recommendations to the commission board. At the start of 2024, more than 50 percent of all artwork commissions were awarded to artists of color.

The commission re-published its guidelines to clarify the scope of commissioned work, including which artists could qualify and how the work was chosen. Artworks must be unique and not part of an editioned series. Works must continue to be "site-responsive" and respond to the space, school, or community. The process for school commissions had been honed. Public K-12 schools created Art Selection Committees that would include an administrator, facilities staff, a professional artist, and were encouraged to also include art faculty, teachers, staff, a student, the project architect, and a community member or parent. The committee should be culturally diverse, and gender balanced. Installation works or murals could be commissioned from an artist chosen from the Public Artist Roster or the school could choose a curated collection or adopt an artwork – a useful alternative if a school didn't have a construction project or wasn't able to commit to an installation or curated collection.

School commissions involved the student body and responded to issues that mattered to their local community. In 2017, Horatio Hung-Yan Law began working on a commission for Marie Curie STEM Elementary School in Pasco. To begin, Law held workshops at the school. He taught students how to make origami butterflies out of paper and talked with them about the lifecycle and migration patterns of butterflies. The community in which the school is situated is 50y percent Latinx. Law explained how butterflies "embody the collective immigrant and migrant experience of the Marie Curie community – students, parents, families and staff – and [how] the school itself becomes the sanctuary of learning and nurturing for the whole community" (My Public Art Portal entry for Sanctuary). Students made a temporary installation with their origami butterflies in a common area, and in 2019, Law installed a permanent, stainless-steel version, entitled Sanctuary, recreating the students' butterflies in the same location.

In 2023, ArtsWA continued to reinvent the notion of a State Art Collection when it engaged with the LIFTT program and Central Washington University professor of art Gregg Schlanger to create a tactile art collection for the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver. LIFTT, which stands for Life Skills for Today and Tomorrow, is a residency program that works with blind young adults to develop vocational goals and skills for living independently. The Art Selection Committee wanted works that celebrated blindness as a strength, rather than those that tried to interpret the visual. Several of the artists were blind and the result was a collection of 22 tactile works by 11 artists made of wood, ceramic material, cement, bronze, and found objects. Of the collection, curator Gregg Schlanger said: "This project encouraged me to question what I knew about art: Accessibility, Multisensory, Visual, Tactile, Scale, and Placement. I selected artworks that are comfortable in the hand. While this is a public space, it is a residence, and the work should be what one might find in a home. The art ranges from representational to non-objective in form and all have a tactile experience" (My Public Art Portal, WA State School for the Blind Curated Collection ...").

Through its Art in Public Places program, the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) has continually fulfilled the goals it originally set for itself. ArtsWA has provided high-quality work by locally, nationally, and internationally recognized artists that is accessible to the public in their places of education, where they work, and in their communities. It has recognized qualified professional artists through an equitable artist-roster program that resulted in the purchasing and commissioning of work by a diverse group of artists. Lastly, it developed a respected collection of state-owned artworks curated by experts and shaped by community input. ArtsWA and the State Art Collection have made large strides in the 50 years since the percent-for-art program was introduced. With guidelines in place for acquisition methods, sustainable funding for collections care, and a rich well of professional artists from which to draw, ArtsWA can look forward to another successful 50 years.


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