Arts and Entertainment

VHS awarded large grant for public art

Vashon High School recently received one of the largest state-funded grants for K-12 public art in the history of the Washington State Arts Commission, receiving a $125,000 award for original artwork to be installed at the newly constructed school.

Now, a committee of representatives from the school district and the arts community have selected an artist who will soon work with school to create a large outdoor installation on the school’s west lawn.

“For VHS, receiving one of the largest budgets in the history of the state means the artwork can be substantial,” said VHS principal Danny Rock, “and that makes what is possible really exciting.”

VHS received such a large grant for the art in part because of a change in the state’s orientation toward public art. Five years ago, grant recipients would pick a piece of art out of the state’s collection. Today, recipients participate in the process that results in original site-specific but still state-owned art.

Once they made that shift, Rock said, the state also increased the grant allocation, which gave more money to fewer recipients. Grant monies are raised from half of 1 percent of capital appropriations for new construction and renovations. Capital projects include K-12 public schools, state colleges and universities and state buildings. VHS qualified to apply for the grant based on the school’s recent construction.

When Rock first learned of the grant in November, he formed a committee of island representatives from all of the school’s stakeholders — students, parents, school board, staff and district members plus local artists. Facilitated by Rebecca Solverson of the Washington State Arts Commission, the committee was tasked with first determining what art would best fit the spaces in or around the new building, while also meeting the needs of the school.

“We started that process by asking what is it about Vashon that is important to us,” Rock said. “What are the values we hold and the personality traits of this community. We listed those out, winnowed them down and came up with a refined list of characteristics.”

Those characteristics included a connection to nature and art that is engaging, dynamic and interactive with the landscape. The committee then wove the notion of community into the two points, Rock said.

Those criteria became the lens through which every aspect of the selection process was viewed — while also following strict state guidelines — including the choice of artist. The state provides a list of 300 qualified international artists. Several Vashon artists are on the list, but according to Rock they were either unavailable or weren’t a good fit for the project.

Rock’s committee narrowed the pool of 300 artists down to 60, then to a dozen after viewing past work by each of the artists. After the group looked at 10 pieces of art for every finalist, one artist clearly rose to the top, Rock said.

The group wants someone who can listen and take their cues from the community and environment, Rock said, and they want the installation to be outside and made of a natural material like stone.

“We didn’t want the piece to be too esoteric, but we didn’t want something too literal that was not thought-provoking. We wanted something with just the right amount of mystery and suggestion.”

The selected artist will spend several days on the island in June, talking to students and faculty and touring the island. She will submit a proposal in the fall. Once the committee approves the design, the final piece will be installed on the expansive green lawn on the west side of the school for the 2015 school year.

“It’s all very exciting,” said Rock, “and very affirming, both for the school and the island to receive a public art grant as large this one.”

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