When art curator Lisa Kinoshita organized a show of more than a dozen environmental sculptures last month in Tacoma’s Swan Creek Park, she was prepared for some disintegration.
The art was made mostly of natural materials, and weather happens.
What Kinoshita wasn’t expecting was vandalism.
Six of the artworks in “Art, Edibles and Sustainable Culture” have been deliberately damaged, including her own, at a loss of time and money for the artists and city.
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“It’s really sad,” said Kinoshita, who was alerted to the damage Sept. 9 by a visitor to the park on Tacoma’s East Side. “These are important regional artists. Their work should be treated with more respect. I don’t know how you can control something like this.”
It’s clear that most of the damage was deliberate.
“Nest,” a 6-foot-tall tower of woven twigs made by Terri Placentia and her art students at the School of the Arts, was knocked into a pile, too neatly for wind or animals.
Another SOTA piece, “Vortex,” was strewn with human debris at the start of the exhibit in August, and “River of the Forest” — a curling “ribbon” of pine cones outlined with rocks — has been mostly kicked to pieces.
But the biggest piece is causing the biggest problem for Kinoshita.
“Fish Trap,” by Jennifer Bennett of Seattle, is a 12-foot-tall inverted cone made of large bamboo trunks lashed with fishing net, Coast Salish-style. The Port of Seattle commissioned it last year for its critically acclaimed “Duwamish Revealed” exhibition.
At Swan Creek, the sculpture was displayed prominently off the park’s central road, a short walk south of the parking lot. Bennett had secured it to the ground with 2-foot rebar stakes.
Vandals left everything uprooted.
Bennett can’t come to pick up the sculpture until next weekend, and Kinoshita doesn’t want to remount it, in case the vandals return, but doesn’t have the strength or a truck to move it herself to nearby storage in the park.
Metro Parks Tacoma manages Swan Creek Park, but the agency, which worked with Kinoshita on organizing and promoting the show, says it’s not its responsibility to handle the clean-up.
“The agreement was that the artists were responsible for installation and deinstallation,” said Mary Anderson, natural resources supervisor for Metro Parks. “I feel like we already bent over backward to help them install: allowing access, providing equipment (like) ladders.”
Metro Parks also made signs for the art and maps for the opening day, added program manager Mary Tuttle.
"We're very committed to getting as much art as possible into our community," she said.
Metro Parks recently won the 2016 City of Tacoma AMOCAT award for arts patron.
Anderson called the vandalism “very unfortunate” but “not totally unpredicted.”
“It’s a public space and not highly used,” she said.
Swan Creek Park, located on 290 wooded acres near Pioneer Way East and Waller Road East on Tacoma’s east side, normally has no staff or security on site. It is popular for its hiking trails.
The vandalism represents time and money lost by artists and the city. Kinoshita received a $2,000 “Make a Splash” grant for the show and devoted many unpaid hours to assembling it. The artists received an honorarium out of the grant, but paid for their own materials.
The public art was a first for the park, which recently saw improvements such as the community garden and a permaculture food forest.
“There has been really good interaction” with visitors, said Kinoshita, citing positive phone calls, emails and miniature artwork created by visitors out of brush by the trails.
Anderson points out the benefit to the park.
“It has the potential to draw in a new audience, to give people a chance to learn about the natural resources here like hiking, the salmon stream, the food forest and bike trails.” she said.
“The more people it gets (and) the more exposure, the less frequently we’ll have to deal with this kind of thing.”
The other labeled sculptures will be on display until Oct. 31, when anything that hasn’t disintegrated will be removed.
And despite the damage, Kinoshita said she would be open to doing another show later on.
“I would consider (it) again if I had more support,” she said.
UPDATE: On Tuesday September 20, Metro Parks moved “Fish Trap” to a shed at another location, said Hunter George, chief public affairs officer.
Art in the Swan Creek Food Forest
What: “Art, Edibles and Sustainable Culture.”
When: Viewable during daylight hours through Oct. 31.
Where: From Portland Avenue, turn east on East 44th Street and drive through the Salishan community. Turn left at East Roosevelt Street, right at East 42nd Street.
Find the art: Most of the art is along the canyon rim trail and central road south of the parking lot near the Swan Creek community garden. One piece is behind the gazebo to the north. Labels on stakes identify the art. More directions are available at bit.ly/2d6lzxN.
See the art: A slideshow of all the artworks is available at http://bit.ly/2d4qhJF.