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What’s New and Next for Public Art at the Port

January 10, 2022

Throughout the pandemic, the Port of Seattle has remained committed to bringing public art to the community, visitors, and travelers from across the globe. In 2021, as the Port worked to restore operations and lead a regional economic recovery, it was a priority to grow and evolve the public art program to reflect the community and region we serve.

As the first airport in the country to have a public art program, the Port has long been committed to displaying museum-caliber contemporary works from both local and national and internationally renowned artists to users of Port facilities. To reaffirm this commitment, in 2019, the Port Commission approved a policy directive to allocate one percent of the major capital project budget to public art, expanding the Port’s capacity to purchase new art and create an operational budget for art conservation, maintenance, cultural programming, and public engagement. This commitment has allowed public art to blossom in new Port facilities.

Read on for some 2021 public art milestones and what to look forward to in 2022:

1.    More diversity in the SEA Airport collection

SEA art tour

Port Senior Art Program Manager Tommy Gregory and Art Program Coordinator Annabelle Goavec are working to increase opportunities for artists of color, female artists, and the LGBTQ+ community.

Before 2019, 14 pieces out of the 77-piece collection were created by artists of color and 31 pieces were created by female artists. As SEA grew its public art collection collection in 2020 and 2021, Gregory and Goavec, along with Port employee Tonisha Simmons, who aided the Public Art Program through the successful PortAbility program, worked to increase representation through open calls for art and the acquisition of indigenous art. As a result, more than 60% of the recent commissions and acquisitions are from artists of colors and female artists.

In 2021, the airport's collection grew to 111 pieces — 35 of those pieces were created by artists of color and 54 were created by female artists.

Gregory said this work is ongoing and reflects the Port’s role as an international airport and port.

“We don’t want to take the foot off the gas,” he said. “We want to be proactive. We’ve had a lot of support from the previous Commission and we’re also looking forward to the new Commissioners bringing in a fresh set of eyes and different perspectives.”

2.    Hosting a nationwide public art airport conference

SEA art tour and John Grade's Boundary in the North Satellite.

In recognition of SEA’s renowned public art program, SEA Airport was selected to host the 2022 American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Arts in the Airport Conference.

“We’ve been successful in difficult times and we have one of the more active public art programs throughout the U.S. and Canada,” Gregory said. “Public art in a certain way is essential, and we are safely moving forward with an in-person conference.”

SEA will be the first airport to host the conference since the start of the pandemic.

Gregory said the conference is significant for the airport and its cultural partners across the city. Arts in the Airport will draw between 30 and 40 professional participants that include airport public art directors, independent consultants, museum curators, and other interested parties who want to learn more about managing airport art programs. Attendees will get to experience more than just SEA’s art collection. The conference will include collaborations with the Starbucks and Microsoft public art collections, and cultural institutions like the Wing Luke Museum, the Nordic Museum, and Seattle Art Museum, to name a few.

“Visitors will get to see the full breadth of Seattle’s cultural landscape,” Gregory said.

3.    Focus on conservation

SEA art tour features Michael Fajans' "High Wire"

In 2021, the Port allocated $102,000 of its art budget to conserve and restore current art pieces. For 2022, the Port is increasing its investment, with $674,000 allotted for restoration and conservation efforts, including adding a full-time art technician to the team. There's support for growing the art team which hired Annabelle Goavec, Art Program Coordinator, in 2021.

The public art technician is an important role in any public collection or museum and is responsible for the day-to-day care of the collection, including assessing and evaluating the collection's maintenance needs. 

Preventive maintenance helps keep displayed art in good condition and saves money in the long run. In 2022, Gregory and his team will continue conservation efforts at SEA, assess pieces located on Maritime and Port tenant properties, and relocate pieces to safe locations above eye level.

4.    New capital projects = new opportunities for public art

SEA Airport installation of Chalchiutlicue, a five-piece sculpture by artist Marela Zacarías in the International Arrivals Facility

There are more building projects underway and planned to improve customer experience, comfort, and convenience.  This also means more opportunities to expand the Port’s public art collection.

“It will allow the art program a lot of blank canvas and opportunities to try new things like site-specific video installations,” Gregory said. “We have a lot of great talent in the area, and we look forward to working with local and regional artists, and national and international artists in the next five years.”

More space will allow more opportunities to diversify the collection, as well as bring in modern era works like tech- and video-based work.

“It allows us to be more thoughtful in the work the Port selects,” he said. “We can select work that highlights Port standards and values, increases cultural awareness, and represents where we stand as a nation and a 21st Century tech city.”

5.   Creating new experiences

Passengers walk by "Cow On its Side" by artist Dick Weiss

A strong public art presence provides a collective experience and moments of tranquility within Port facilities. Creating these moments often involves partnerships with other Port departments and partners.

Moving forward, Gregory and Goavec are intentionally creating great passenger moments through art and the way it's presented in the space.

“We want to be thoughtful in the way we commission artwork and create awesome environments for that work,” Gregory said.

In 2022, Gregory is looking forward to an open call for art that will be featured on the airport’s widened arrivals drive, which would reach a broader audience.

“It is an awesome opportunity from a visitor’s standpoint,” he said. “You don’t need to be a traveler to see it. You could be taking light rail towards SEA or dropping off loved ones and have a chance to enjoy airport public art.”

The Public Art Program is also working with the Port’s Innovation team to implement beacons in connection with SEA's public art collection. Beacons work with a smart phone’s GPS, sending notifications when passengers pass by a piece of art, providing more information about that piece and the Port’s collection.

“This will modernize how passengers approach collections,” he said.

Call for Art: The Port’s Public Art Program is seeking artists to submit artwork(s) to be sited within Fishermen’s Terminal Maritime Innovation Center building. The artwork will focus on fishing in the Pacific Northwest and North Pacific, exploring ideas within the realm of history, culture, and heritage of fishing in the Pacific Northwest. The deadline for submittals is January 14, 2022.  Apply now>

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