Council to consider Gilkey Square ‘marketing icon'
February 16, 2022
The La Conner Town Council may face a difficult choice at its Feb. 22 meeting: whether to green light $21,800 in already approved hotel/motel tax funds for a 11 foot tall “Love La Conner” “marketing icon” so it gets built or whether to reject the Gilkey Square location, following recommendations from the town’s arts and parks commissions citizen advisory panels.
“We did not consider it artwork but as an advertising sign,” Sylvia Strong, arts commission chair told the Weekly News Sunday. “We did not approve of the artwork, the design or where it was located.” Last December the La Conner parks commission agreed, parks commissioner chair Ollie Iversen recounted, also Sunday night. “We voted the sign was not appropriate to fit at Gilkey Square. So Parks has said it shouldn’t be there.”
“It is not timeless, a beautiful piece of sculpture that will sustain trends,” Strong said. She believes it will be popular for a while, but even the scale is wrong for selfie photos. She stressed she is not against the advertising effort, but that it needs to be placed elsewhere, “because Gilkey Square is a beautiful, open space.” Iversen agreed.
Arts commissioner Craig Barber called the scale “completely off. It will dominate the square. It didn’t make sense to us,” he said Sunday. He was critical of the design, saying “it is not a sculpture. It is a fabrication.”
Strong and Iversen emphasized the time and deliberations commissioners took in reaching their decisions. Iversen made an at-scale wood and cardboard silver painted mockup of the L-shaped 11-foot-by-5-foot structure and brought it on site in November, where park commissioners, Strong, town administrator Scott Thomas and project initiator and then-Councilmember John Leaver considered it.
“I am not for it at all,” Strong said. “None of the other (art) commissioners are. This project was presented to the arts commission and the parks commission and nobody liked it and it was turned down.”
Minutes show then parks commissioner Annie Taylor voted for it at the December parks meeting.
In September Leaver gained council approval in the hotel/motel tax budget for “Love La Conner sculpture advertising,” applying for monies that support nonprofits promoting tourist activities. Leaver proposed the First on First group he created in 2020 to champion tourism apply for the monies, 11.9% of the $183,450 hotel/motel fund budget. The La Conner Chamber of Commerce became sponsor because it is an organized nonprofit organization and Leaver’s group is not.
Leaver maintains his enthusiastic support for the project. “The idea is to have an icon to attract tourists,” he said, that it grew out of the spring 2020 flower pots with Love La Conner signage placed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic at Gilkey Square. “I am all for public art but the arts commission is not doing much about it so we are calling it a marketing icon.”
Leaver knows both commissions are opposed. He believes that “the art commissioners don’t like it because they don’t like the artist,” he said. “We are not saying it is some Rembrandt work of art. We are saying it works as some marketing tool. When tourists see it they will have something to remember their trip to La Conner. We think that’s a winner.”
The art commissioners agreed at their October meeting, among many concerns, that an 11 foot tall metal tower would dwarf some buildings on the Square and the design did not consider the Swinomish park across the channel as background. One commissioner noted later “the project, as presented to the Arts Commission, was rejected solely on merit,” without considering the sculptor, who in the fall had not been identified.
Sunday Barber and Strong each noted that artist Peter Whited has three sculptures in La Conner and one in Shelter Bay. The arts commissioner oversees placement of sculpture in town, Barber said. If the town is to spend funds on public art, he prefers a design competition and a process for selection.
At its Feb. 8 council meeting Taylor reported the park commission “did not like the site in Gilkey Square. Councilmember Mary Wohleb, liaison to the commission echoed that: “you are correct, Annie, they did not like the location.”
While Thomas told council he did “not know they (the two commissions) reached a conclusion,” Iversen said Sunday that Thomas, Wohleb and Taylor were “there so they knew exactly we were doing,” referring to the November Gilkey Square demonstration and the parks meeting that month. The parks commission minutes state “this was brought to the Arts Commission several months ago and they decided it was not appropriate for the Town.”
Sunday Leaver recalled, “the time we had the presentation in front of the parks commission and the arts commission came. We took a verbal beating from all of them.”
Council agreed to discuss the issue Feb. 22, Mayor Ramon Hayes urged “make a recommendation, council. Like it, don’t like it; it is the council’s decision. Both commissions are advisory. Arts dismissed it out of hand. I think the most appropriate thing to do is get your eyes on it and see what the council wants to do.”
Meanwhile the two commission chairs agree. Sunday night Iversen said, “If the council decides that is what they want to do they are not accepting the advice of the two commissions that are involved in this. It is their choice. It is their decision. I am only an advisory person. So are the arts. We give them everything we think is correct. It is up to them to decide if they want to follow that or they can do what they want.”