In early 1994, a citizen approached a member of the Wenatchee Arts Commission, and told them of the community they had just visited, Grand Junction, Colorado, where they had the impression that they ran into art every time they turned around. Wouldn't it be great, they noted, if Wenatchee could do something similar?
The idea was brought up at the next Arts Commission meeting and local business owner and resident, Adele Wolford, who was then President of the Arts Commission, decided to investigate. She pulled together a small group and talked about the idea. She and Steve Maher, a writer for the Wenatchee World, and organizer of a team of newspaper employees who wanted to do a service project, flew out to Grand Junction during their unveiling festival to investigate.
They were fortunate to have some time to talk to the originators of Grand Junction's Art on the Corner program, which is administrated by their Downtown Development Authority. The premise for Grand Junction's program is similar to the one that Wenatchee started Art on the Avenues with, and that is that artists agree to loan their pieces for a year with the promise of one piece being purchased annually. Grand Junction made several points clear that Wenatchee has been careful to follow:
- It takes a resident artist to make the program work. Without the dedication of a locally respected artist, who makes sure that the program is responsive to artists, other similar programs have failed.
- Utilize elements that are indigenous to your natural setting. In Grand Junction, they had a manufacturing plan go out of business that provided a number of large, cylindrical steel pipes that they utilized for their bases.
- Make sure there is a method to sell the artwork, and maintain a high caliber of artists so that the program continues to grow in presence (through permanent acquisitions) and quality.
- There needs to be an organizational structure to back up the program and ensure its ongoing success. Artists need to continue to be the focal point of the program - it is huge risk and cost for them to loan their artwork for a year.
- The fundraising method for the program needs to be specific to the community, but it needs to be consistently done from year to year. Grand Junction's program is funded by an annual arts festival.
- Keep the program in a "walkable" area so that the sculptures can be monitored and safeguarded. This has also been an element of a greater overall downtown revitalization program.
Adele Wolford and Steve Maher came home excited and ready to go to work. They pulled together a committee, starting with local (but nationally known and respected) Wenatchee artist, William F. Reese and his wife, Fran to shape the artists program, members of the Wenatchee Arts Commission and members and the Director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association. Several art patrons were included as well.
The committee put together a slide show of Grand Junction that they took out to service clubs, civic groups, the City leadership of Wenatchee and surrounding communities and many others to build support for the concept. They devised a method for raising funds for the initial year, chose appropriate sculpture bases and set to work. The Reese's pulled together artists for the first show in 1995. They also had the commitment of the Wenatchee Arts Commission to purchase a piece to get them started. These were the steps for the first year:
- Build community support
- Raise funds through selling pedestal sponsorships
- Acquire a supply of basalt for pedestal bases
- Work with Downtown Association Design Committee to identify preliminary pedestal location - refine location after wall-through with William Reese and the Art on the Avenues locations committee
- Design tile mosaic piece as a fundraising mechanism
- Install pedestals with assistance of Wenatchee World employee service group
- Plan first installation and walking tour as basis for brochure
- Plan opening ceremonies
Wenatchee was very fortunate. The first year was an incredible success, and the representation of artists, thanks to William and Fran Reese, was exceptional. They pulled in artists from across the United States. It set a wonderful precedent for years to come. Since that first installation in June, 1995 the community has acquired 40 pieces with 31 becoming a part of the community's permanent collection - 20 purchases were made through the Wenatchee Arts Commission and the city's 1% for Arts program.
The method for fundraising has changed from year to year based on what is happening in the local community. Three areas are consistent: Pedestal sponsorships; Collecting a 25% commission, and an annual fundraising Gala. The committee works off of an approximate annual budget of $20,000 per year, which includes art acquisition. The ability to purchase has been greatly enhanced with the commitment of the City of Wenatchee's 1% for Arts fund, promised by the Wenatchee Arts Commission.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to this project is that it has helped to define a "sense of place" for Wenatchee. It has also put art in front of the community, and helped to heighten the awareness of art as an integral part of our quality of life. The project has not operated without problems. In several of the years, there were incidents of vandalism, including a stolen sculpture. The resulting community outcry, however, cleared up the situations quickly, and the incidents of vandalism have diminished. The community truly treasures this program.