Bellingham is a blessed community. Notwithstanding our incredible geology and fortunate geography, we are blessed with a richness of human capacity. The people of this area are simply amazing. We have renowned authors, artists, craftspeople, farmers, engineers, architects. This community hosts an array of national and international nonprofits.
This is a supportive community. When old rail rights of way were available to create a world-class trail system, the community stepped up and taxed themselves for the purchase. When that levy was retiring, they identified more parcels to acquire, taxing themselves again, and then recently did so one more time.
When Sunday bus service was lost in 2010 due to declining transit agency revenues, the community supported an increased transit tax to keep the service. When that vote failed at the county level, but was strongly supported at the city level, Bellingham residents voted to tax themselves to subsidize Bellingham’s Sunday service, protecting jobs and mobility. In November 2010, Bellingham was one of only five communities in Washington to pass a tax.
So it is perhaps not surprising to find that in this community there is a guerrilla artist who gifted us recently with ‘Grace.’
Bellingham in winter is a pretty gray place, so when ‘Grace’ appeared in late December, she lightened up much of the community. Sited near the Taylor Street Dock overwater walkway–one of the city’s most popular pedestrian paths, Grace is installed on what appears to be a large boulder in Bellingham Bay. In fact, the ‘boulder’ is a mute testament to Bellingham’s rich fishing heritage, a mass of tin remaining from a cannery fire in the early 1900s.
The artist bolted ‘Grace’ securely to the tin rock, and left the rest of us to wonder, and city officials to wonder what to do. Bellingham is noted, for good and at times for ill, for its commitment to process before action. Clearly, this action was at odds with that. To their credit, though, the Arts Commission and the Mayor recognized that exceptions can prove the rule. I spoke to one Arts Commissioner, who said that he was convinced ‘Grace’ should stay by a couple of factors: her popularity with the community, and the assurance from Parks Director James King that ‘Grace’ was well-anchored. It seems King rowed out to personally inspect the installation.
I love that the Parks Director felt the need to personally inspect the installation. Again, that’s Bellingham, where everyone, it seems, is hands-on. What’s not always Bellingham is flexibility. At times, we are overly attached to our rules. ‘Grace,’ though, convinced us that sometimes we can bend.
After deliberating, the Commission decreed that Grace could stay, but that as a general rule, installations on public property should go through an approval process. ‘Grace’ sets a high bar for evading official channels; I suspect that guerilla installations won’t become a nuisance issue. And I am grateful that we’ve been ‘Graced’ by the sculpture, by the Arts Commission’s commonsense response, and by Mayor Linville’s ultimate approval of the Commission’s determination.