Tacoma’s public art just got a bit brighter. Not only are there two new murals for the Tacoma Murals Project in the McKinley and Lincoln neighborhoods, but the 5-year-old program is expanding into art wraps for traffic signal boxes this spring. And on South 27th and South G streets, a partnership between the Tacoma Arts Commission and Tacoma Housing Authority means an apartment corner filled with bright benches and a metal/glass relief mural, dedicated Thursday.
Started in 2014, the two new murals follow the same pattern as every work in the project: created by a lead professional artist, painted by learning artists and connected to the neighborhood which requested something to brighten a dispiriting wall and discourage taggers.
At South 38th Street and South Yakima Avenue, lead artist Bob Henry pays homage to both the Northwest and the rich Vietnamese culture of the Lincoln District. The west wall of the Viet My gift shop is covered with leaping salmon. One is transparent, flying over a romantically-forested view of Mount Rainier; the others are stylized in Coast Salish style, leaping out of black-and-white into a bright red and off into the traffic of South 38th Street. Their bodies ruffle the jade-aqua water in the foreground that gives a visual nod to an Asian color palette.
On East 60th Street, Chris Sharp has brought his sign-writing skills to the north wall of Earthwise Architectural Salvage, a big contrast from the graffiti murals that grace their other buildings. In case you didn’t know where you were, “East Tacoma” is written in big royal blue letters — except for an orange “S” – and floating around them on the buttery-yellow background are faded black objects like icons of what you might find inside the building material recycling shop: bathtubs, chairs, plants, even a duck. It’s the kind of mural that looks as if it’s been there forever, fitting perfectly with the vintage vibe of Earthwise.
That is now 27 murals created through the Murals Project, which will move to a biennial application-and-creation process this summer, seeing new murals painted next spring plus five new murals on the corner of Market and South 13th streets next month as part of the city’s Spaceworks program.
But the project is branching out from walls to traffic signal and utility boxes, with artists’ designs printed onto vinyl wraps that coat the otherwise-ugly metal boxes. Effective already in cities like Seattle, Olympia, Boise and Sequim, the project will see at least 10 boxes wrapped this year, according to arts commission staff member Naomi Strom-Avila. Like the murals, the box wraps are designed to enhance the city by adding art to infrastructure targeted by vandalism, to celebrate neighborhood identity and start community dialogue.
Meanwhile on the Hilltop, a partnership between the arts commission and the Tacoma Housing Authority has meant two cheerful, sophisticated new public art works that add to the beauty and functionality of a street corner of Bay Terrace Apartments, a new workforce housing development at South 27th and South G streets. Part of the Public Art: In Depth program, which trains established local artists to move into the public art sphere, the works inhabit both the vertical and horizontal space between the housing complex and the sidewalk, inviting both public and resident use.
Yuki Nakamura, a ceramic artist known for her subtly surreal objects, moves into abstract form and concrete to create “TransFORM,” a series of three curvy benches on the sidewalk. Blobby and biomorphic in shape, and striped with red, yellow and green against the gray of the concrete, they’re both cute and modern, and surprisingly comfortable, cradling your buttocks as you look at the wall art. On a supporting concrete wall, in “Sea Branches and Pearls,” Jennifer Wedderman has welded cold rolled steel into feathery tendrils emerging from an orange enameled body inspired by a leafy sea-dragon, one of the few animals whose males carry the babies. Dotting the dragon’s underside are round cast-glass “pearls” of blue-and-black splashes by Diane Hansen, recalling the sea, and the colors dialogue with the slate-blue, lime and rust palette of the apartments’ exterior.
“Together, these two artworks create a special, art-filled corner for the Bay Terrace community,” said arts administrator Amy McBride in the press release. “We are proud to partner with Tacoma Housing Authority to create beautiful places for people to live and thrive.”