All art is not created equal. At least when sudden changes are proposed to a previously accepted idea.
Capitol Hill residents are no doubt aware of the building nearing completion at the corner of Broadway and East Roy Street. To be called the Broadway Plaza, it's a four-story, mixed-use project at a prominent and heavily discussed location. The project was the object of years of discussion and work on the part of community volunteers and property's developers. One design element favored early in the process was creating open space on the building's south side.
Another was including a water feature such as a fountain within that open space. The fountain was seen as a public amenity, and its inclusion was seen as a done deal.
Having a water feature at the Broadway Plaza site has been part of the collective expectation for the property for years. As far back as the neighborhood planning process, when the Broadway Plaza site was proposed for the Capitol Hill library as part of six-story mixed-use project, a water feature was a favored design element.
But in early July, roughly a year after construction began, Max Gurvich, one of the property's developers, tried to replace the fountain with a work of metal art. And not just any metal sculpture - Gurvich wanted to use his own.
Gurvich designed the metallic sculptures that sit in Lake Washington on either side of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. A small panel of brightly colored metal can be found on the south side of the Broadway Plaza, suggesting the direction he was intending to go with his sculpture.
So late in the game, the community said no to the exchange. And the Design Review Board, which met in the middle of the month to consider Gurvitch's late proposal, said no as well.
"We had no time at all to consider the change," said Randy Wiger, chair of the Capitol Hill Stewardship Council, the community organization charged with overseeing the implementation of the Hill's neighborhood plan. "We didn't have enough time or information to make a quality decision about the sculpture."
Wiger said that among the Stewardship Council the feeling was that absent any new information, and in light of the suddenness of the proposal, that it was simply best to stay with the fountain. It was not a personal reaction to Gurvich's proposed artwork but a logical decision to stick with a known and agreed upon element.
"We thought that without a compelling reason for a change we should fall back on hundreds of hours of volunteer work that was spent considering what was right for that property," said Wiger. "If you spring this on the community, of course the community will say no."
From the community's point of view, he said, it felt discouraging that the sculpture-fountain swamp was sprung at the last minute, a rare situation given how close the building is to completion. Many feel the sculpture is a vanity art project on Gurvich's part.
"If he had gone to the community first, months ago, and given the community time to consider the change, [Gurvich} would have received an open-minded hearing on the idea," he said. "But this is a high-visibility site. There had been huge input on this location in the past and the design, and the idea of a fountain was already agreed upon."
Gurvitch, who was sanguine about the sculpture's rejection, said he thought the issue of the sculpture's late presentation was not of great importance. He thought the sculpture added connections to other neighborhoods and communities that have used sculptures as public art.
"My own judgement is that there was no evaluation of the comparative merits between two pieces of art. The community decided that they had approved something, and they simply did not want to change it," he said. "I am a little disappointed but I am certainly not angry or upset."
Gurvich could re-submit his proposal to the Design Review Board in the future, but said he has no plans do to so. He said his development group has other projects in line where his sculptures could be used.
"I don't want to be a harsh opponent of community organizations," he said. "I think they put their time and efforts into the benefit of the community. It's not an earthshaking thing for me not to have [the sculpture] there."
Wiger, for one, is frustrated that the request was made on such short notice. The idea required a fair amount of effort on the part of community volunteers who wrote letters to the Design Review Board opposing the change. In such a visible location he felt it was odd not to involve the community first.
"This last minute change, just dropping this in our lap and making the community react with so little time was a little discouraging," Wiger said.