Public art: Federal Way schools are shopping, state is paying

A sculpture by British Columbia artist Michael Dennis at Saghalie Middle School. - Courtesy photo
A sculpture by British Columbia artist Michael Dennis at Saghalie Middle School.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

At Todd Beamer High School stands a metal shape perched atop an Ionic column. Standing in a lawn at Saghalie Middle School is a series of giant, swooping wooden figures that look like children running while holding hands. At Decatur High School is a painting of a woman meditating over a bowl of three oranges.

All of these pieces were bought and placed in Federal Way schools by a state program that buys public art. The school system is beginning a process to attain several more pieces for the newly built Lakota Middle School and Valhalla and Panther Lake elementary schools.

The state’s Art in Public Places program sets aside half of 1 percent of state funds that aid in the construction of civic buildings to buy art. The state retains ownership of the art, and it is up to the individual schools to select and maintain the art.

The program was established by the Legislature in 1974, and has resulted in 4,600 pieces of art across the state.

Committees to select new art for each of the three new schools have been formed, said Audrey Germanis, the district’s construction information coordinator. The two elementary schools each have $31,000 to buy art, and Lakota has $34,000, Germanis said. The funds are controlled by the state, though the committees have absolute say in the selection of an art piece.

The committees are still in their early stages and have not selected anything yet. The process could take up to 18 months. The state has collected art from numerous artists across the U.S. and Canada, but Germanis said Federal Way will shop local. (There are no Federal Way artists on the state's artist roster.)

“We're pretty much devoted to staying with Washington state artists,” she said.

Federal Way School Board director Amye Bronson-Doherty is on the Lakota committee. It’s very early in the process, she said, but the committee is already talking about letting students in on the selection process. So far, the three committees are made up entirely of adults, except the Valhalla committee, which includes two students in art classes at Thomas Jefferson High School.

“We definitely talked about liking the idea of the students having some sort of involvement in the process,” Bronson-Doherty said. “We don't know what that would look like. There was an example where student art work is involved. We want them to have a connection to the creation.

“The new building at Lakota gives us a lot of possible ways to display art. It's got a lot of high ceilings and open areas and the huge lawn in the front,” she said.

Other schools that have art from the state program are Enterprise Elementary, Federal Way High School, Green Gables Elementary, Truman High School, Meredith Hill Elementary, Rainier View Elementary, Sherwood Forest Elementary and Thomas Jefferson High School.

Lakeland and Sunnycrest elementary schools, which are under construction, will also benefit from the state program, but will not have funds allotted until next year.

Bronson-Doherty has a son in sixth grade at Lakota, but so far, he has been mum on what kind of art he would like to see installed at school.

The state “is encouraging us to have something kids can relate to, but that adults can get something out of, too; something that impacts the entire community,” she said. “We certainly want (the art) to be something that other people see and adds to the concept that schools are public places and that they're welcoming.”

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