Bellingham starts program to include artwork in public building projects

Under a new “One Percent for Art” program, the city will ensure that artwork is incorporated into its largest building projects.

On Monday, May 4, Bellingham City Council approved an ordinance that will require the city to set aside funds equal to 1 percent of capital projects that cost at least $2 million, to be used to integrate artwork into the designs.

Bellingham joins the state and other communities such as Seattle and Spokane that have similar programs.

“We haven’t had an arts program, but we certainly are a leader in the arts,” Tara Sundin, community and economic development manager, told council members Monday. “The (Bellingham) Arts Commission has been advocating for this type of ordinance for a very long time.”

While Bellingham didn’t have such a requirement in the past, the city does have a collection of more than 80 outdoor sculptures and pieces of artwork. The art can be viewed on the city’s website at cob.org/services/arts/public-art/index.aspx.

Under the new policy, a $2 million project would be accompanied by at least $20,000 in artwork, Sundin said.

The goat sculpture outside Depot Market Square, Goatcart by John Sisko, cost about $20,000, she said. The globe-like kinetic sculpture that features wind-powered moving parts outside the Whatcom Transportation Authority depot and office at Railroad Avenue and Magnolia Street cost about $65,000. WTA owns the sculpture, Axiom Dyno Trilobyte by Anthony Howe, and paid for about half the price, Sundin said.

Sundin said it’s worth noting the $2 million price range is just a trigger, and a project that size wouldn’t necessarily have to include a sculpture.

“You could look at using specialty pavers, or specialty lighting instead of a sculpture,” she said. “We think that’s more likely to occur, especially on the smaller-scale projects.”

The ordinance includes exceptions: If a project is underground – such as water mains or sewers – or is not visible from public spaces, then the requirement is waived.

The rule also doesn’t apply to routine maintenance and repairs, situations that the city attorney says fall outside of the intent of the ordinance, or to projects whose funding (for example, a specialized grant) legally limits the inclusion of art.

Staff gave the following examples of upcoming projects that likely will reach the threshold:

• An overwater walkway from Boulevard Park to Cornwall Beach Park

• Cordata Neighborhood Park

• Cornwall Beach Park

• Construction of two roads (Mahogany and Arctic) that will need to be expanded as part of a new Costco and commercial centers off of West Bakerview Road

• Rebuilding the West Bakerview on-ramp

• Rerouting part of Squalicum Creek

• The Granary Building

• Projects in the Waterfront District.