Citing safety concerns, board seeks new location for artifact
A piece of Expo ’74 history is up for grabs.
The Spokane Park Board voted unanimously Thursday to remove an unnamed sculpture by Charles W. Smith from Riverfront Park.
The piece is one of 14 sculptures that were displayed for Spokane’s World’s Fair.
Last week, officials said the piece likely would be thrown away, but Park Director Leroy Eadie pledged to the board Thursday that he would oversee a process that could allow the work to be transferred to an institution, business or individual if they pay for its removal, accept liability and can pledge to maintain it.
“Come get it, in my opinion,” said Park Board member Randy Cameron.
The sculptor’s son, Owen Smith, said Thursday he’s glad the city will try to save the work but questions why the park department would want to remove it from its collections.
“I feel a bit offended for my father that the Spokane parks department would be as narrow-minded and parochial as this choice indicates,” said Smith, a professor of new media at the University of Maine. Smith said that while the piece needs repair, it appears that officials have exaggerated its condition.
City officials say the unnamed sculpture, which they call “dinosaur bone,” is showing significant wear and is unsafe for kids. The piece was meant to be touched and climbed upon, but park leaders are worried because it is not an accredited piece of play equipment.
“We have had some issues with some children falling from the sculpture,” Arts Director Karen Mobley told the Park Board.
Former Riverfront Park Manager Hal McGlathery said other play equipment likely is more dangerous.
“It didn’t have sharp edges. It was not high off the ground,” said McGlathery, who said he believes the city should make an effort to study the possibility of saving it. “There were a lot of things about it that would suggest that it was not a piece of high-risk equipment.”
The city will look for a new home for the piece “with the expectation that it become an artifact in an art collection as opposed to being a play object in a park,” Mobley said.
Mobley said that since The Spokesman-Review first reported the story about the potential removal of the sculpture, she has been contacted by a couple of art collectors and a business about acquiring it. But she said she has doubts that moving the piece will be economically feasible if liability insurance is considered.
Charles W. Smith, a University of Washington professor for more than 40 years, died in 2009. He was one of 15 sculptors chosen by a jury of artists and patrons to create work for Expo ’74 and the site that became Riverfront Park. The work was commissioned by the Spokane Junior League and originally was located on the land that covers the Washington Street tunnel. It was moved to a playground near the YMCA building to make room for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Smith told reporters when he was crafting the piece that it was meant to be “anything a child wants it to be.”
In 2007, a similar Smith sculpture from the early 1960s in a Seattle park was refurbished. The man who fixed the Seattle piece said last week that the Riverfront Park sculpture likely could be repaired.
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