Some Seattle museums and art galleries are gradually opening their doors to visitors in restricted numbers, and with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for patrons to visit the Seattle Art Museum, Bellevue Arts Museum, and other local fine arts institutions come summer.
But the mild weather opens the door to spend more time enjoying ourselves in the fresh air. And what better season to visit some of the many outdoor public art installations in Washington State? One can build a walk around art displays in numerous areas, or even plan a full-day trip around an art outing—with no admission cost.
Public artworks are bountiful in our region. They are commissioned and funded by state, county, and local governments, as well as private institutions and individual art patrons. Seattle alone has more than 400 permanent pieces of art on public display throughout the city. It was actually one of the first cities in the United States to adopt a percent-for-art ordinance, a program that specifies that a percentage of eligible city capital improvement project funds be set aside for the commission, purchase, and installation of artworks in a variety of settings.
You will find listings and photos of public projects on the websites of many Washington counties and municipalities. Here are just a few of the most noteworthy, walking-friendly outdoor collections of sculpture, murals, and other expressions in areas that allow you to meander as you take them in on self-guided, or volunteer-guided, jaunts.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Since it opened to the public in 2007, this welcoming and award-winning nine-acre greenspace, a project of the Seattle Art Museum, has become a prime attraction for tourists and local strollers alike.
Located at the foot of Belltown, and the south end of Myrtle Edwards Park, the once-contaminated industrial site formerly owned by a gas company has been redesigned, ecologically conserved, and beautifully landscaped. It showcases both the gorgeous natural views of Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, and (on a clear day) the Olympic Mountain Range, as well as an array of world-class artworks (most permanent, though some on temporary loan from other collections).
Broad paths make the park accessible to visitors of all abilities. As you wander along the 2,200-foot paved walkway, the winding path reveals different sculptures every 30 feet or so.
These works, created by leading artists from the 1960s to the present era, can be quite dramatic.
Alexander Calder’s “Eagle” is a compelling, red-hued, abstract version of America’s most symbolic bird. TeresitaFernández’s “Seattle Cloud Cover” is a sculptural bridge that displays images of “changing sky discovered in nature and art.” And Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s towering “Echo” is a white sculpted head more than 45 feet tall that looks like a serenely monumental marble bust. (It is actually made of fiberglass coated with marble dust.)
The Olympic Sculpture Park is open daily, from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. Guided tours are offered several days a week, and dogs on six-foot leashes are allowed.
More information: https://www.seattleartmuseum.org/visit/olympic-sculpture-park#hou
Bellevue Arts Commission Art Walk
Not all Eastsiders realize that Bellevue’s downtown boasts a wide range of public art, much of it of recent vintage. A civic art map, in fact, lists more than 100 pieces supported by public funding and local corporate and business underwriting.
Spread across a wide swath of downtown, the map points to statues, murals, and stone etchings, as well as indoor works on paint, canvas, and other materials. Some of these works are on display, outdoors or inside, at the Meydenbauer Center, the Westin, the Bellevue Arts Museum, and the Bellevue Library.
For more details and a downloadable map visit: https://www.visitbellevuewa.com/things-to-do/arts-and-culture/public-art-walk/.
Downtown Puyallup Outdoor Art Gallery
The city of Puyallup in Pierce County is widely known as the home of the annual Washington State Fair. (Yes, the one traditionally serving up those delicious scones, along with a slew of nationally known pop and country music acts.)
It was also the first city in the state of Washington to receive an AARP/World Health Organization “Age-Friendly City” designation for optimizing opportunities for people of all ages.
One of its all-ages attractions, year-round and at no cost, is a streetside outdoor art gallery featuring permanent and rotating sculptures from professional and amateur artists creating in a variety of media.
Some of the works draw on traditional and modern Native American artistry, like “Rising,” by Louis and Sandie Nadelson. It is an arching form of a whale, constructed of recycled metal inspired by images of Orca whales as depicted by Northwest Native Americans.
In another vein, the charming “TA DA” by Oregon sculptor C.J. Rench is a balancing act of two playful X-shaped stainless steel figures. And Lance Carleton’s “Fat Tire #7” is in the form of a bicycle constructed of recycled steel. The artist says it is definitely not a “Do Not Touch” piece, and viewers are welcome to “climb aboard.”
Puyallup’s Arts Downtown consortium offers live, self-guided and phone tours. For details visit: https://www.artsdowntown.org/
Misha Berson writes about the arts for crosscut.com and many other media outlets, teaches for the UW Osher program, and is the author of four books, including Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination (Applause/Hal Leonard).