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Riverfront Park art piece gets Park Board approval

A rendering of “Step Well,” the $360,000 sculpture that is being recommended for placement in the Clock Tower Meadow of the redeveloped Riverfront Park. The designer is J. Meejin Yoon, an MIT professor and award-winning artist and architect who’s overseeing the art plan for the new park. (Howeler + Yoon Architecture / Courtesy)
A rendering of “Step Well,” the $360,000 sculpture that is being recommended for placement in the Clock Tower Meadow of the redeveloped Riverfront Park. The designer is J. Meejin Yoon, an MIT professor and award-winning artist and architect who’s overseeing the art plan for the new park. (Howeler + Yoon Architecture / Courtesy)

The new Riverfront Park has its signature art piece, but where it will go is still up for debate.

A nearly unanimous Spokane Park Board gave its approval Thursday afternoon to “Step Well,” a $360,000 piece designed by renowned artist and architect J. Meejin Yoon as part of the park’s $64 million redevelopment. The piece is scheduled to be constructed by the end of next summer, said Melissa Huggins, executive director of the nonprofit Spokane Arts that is coordinating with Yoon on the project.

After the design received its first approval last month from a panel made up of park officials and members of the local art community, Yoon returned to Spokane earlier this week and suggested a second site for the piece. The installation could be built in the Clocktower Meadow just across the Spokane River channel from the new Looff Carrousel building, but Yoon has also now suggested placing the piece near the site of the former YMCA building overlooking the suspension bridge.

“She feels like siting the piece there would give you a really incredible view of a more majestic section of the Spokane River,” said Huggins, presenting the pitch to the park board Thursday afternoon.

The piece will stand roughly 9 feet high and rival the dimensions of the Red Wagon installation in the southeast corner of the park. It will be built on top of a surface that can withstand heavy foot traffic, said Parks Director Leroy Eadie, because the piece is intended not only for public inspection, but use.

“It’s going to be a surface that will hold up to a lot of foot traffic, as well,” Eadie said.

Before casting the lone “no” vote, Park Board member Jamie SiJohn, a member of the Spokane Tribe, questioned Huggins as to why the piece drew heavy inspiration from architecture in India and Pakistan, rather than more local influences.

“I’d like to know why India and not our beautiful community here,” SiJohn said. “Why was there no inspiration drawn from here?”

Huggins said Yoon met with elders of the Spokane Tribe in developing her design for the piece. Its sloped and angular design is meant to evoke the logo of Expo ’74, a multicolored Mobius strip resembling the stairstep laminated wooden structure that is expected to be able to seat between 65 and 75 people.

SiJohn was the only member to oppose the design for the structure, as well as an overarching plan to promote art pieces throughout the park with informational placards. The final tally was 10 votes to 1.

Huggins said after the meeting she hoped to bring a proposal for the final siting of the piece at the next full Park Board hearing in May. The money for the art installation was set aside by the Park Board at the beginning of the park redevelopment project, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2019.


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