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Exploring Identity 

The city of Spokane Valley wants to create its first public arts master plan

click to enlarge This sculpture by Kevin Kirking honoring local Native American tribes could soon be on display at the Spokane Valley City Hall.
  • This sculpture by Kevin Kirking honoring local Native American tribes could soon be on display at the Spokane Valley City Hall.

At 13 years old, the city of Spokane Valley is going through an identity crisis. And just like any teenager rapidly coming into their own, the city is turning to the arts in an effort to express what kind of city it really is.

Spokane Valley City Council has applied for the Our Town grant through the National Endowment for the Arts. If approved, it would help fund the Valley's first public arts master plan. Winners of the grant will be announced in April 2017.

"It's to enhance our parks and other infrastructure in a way that contributes to the city's identity, and draws people in our city together around those things, and draws people from the outside," says Councilman Ed Pace.

If the city is awarded the $50,000 grant, it would require a dollar-for-dollar match by the city for a total project cost of $100,000. Pace says the city already knows where that money is coming from and it won't raise taxes at all.

The idea, according to Christina Janssen, a city planner, is to establish a vision for public art, establish guidelines for public art projects, and promote the city's identity.

The only issue with that, says Councilman Sam Wood, is determining what identity there is to promote in the Valley. Wood was the only councilmember to vote against applying for the application.

"Public art is a vehicle for the community to express its identity," Wood said at a recent council meeting. "So, my question is, do we have an identity?"

The city is already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on various tourism and marketing studies to answer that very question. City Community Development Director John Hohman says the conclusion of those studies should coincide nicely with the possible creation of the arts master plan. The city wouldn't begin work on any projects until Aug. 1, 2017, at the earliest.

The money will help fund arts engagement, cultural planning and design of public spaces in the city. City staff sold the idea as a way to improve the local economy by recruiting businesses and to make the city more attractive to residents. Pace agrees, saying he sees public art as a way to improve infrastructure and beautify parks.

"A sculpture in a park is like planting a tree in a park," he says.

He says he is advocating for an art gallery in the basement of the new city hall, which is under construction and should be completed by September 2017. The city already has partnered with the Spokane Valley Arts Council to add bronze sculptures somewhere around the new city hall.

The arts council has presented other statues to the Valley before, such as the Dance of Sun & Moon by Jerry McKellar, currently at Discovery Park playground.

Jim Harken, art director for the Spokane Valley Art Council, says the city creating a plan for public art is a "great idea." He says this council seems to be more interested and more appreciative in helping plan art.

"I think it's smart to be doing this," Harken says of the planning process.

Pace says even if the application for the Our Town grant is not approved, he thinks the city will make an effort to create an arts master plan for public art.

"All I know," Pace says, "is a few of us on the council now have recognized the importance of it." ♦

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