Echo looking to increase public art presence

<p>The wheat sculpture near the Wheat and Barley Pub in Echo was one of the city's first public art installations. It was crafted by Chris Penny, who donated the sculpture to the city.</p>

One of the first things people see as they drive through the Echo is art, although not so much in the traditional sense.

Raised circular planters filled with flowers are on the corner of every street in Echo, and a few of the planters feature art pieces that reflect the community.

One has an art piece made of metal scraps from machinery equipment that have been painted yellow to look like wheat. In two others, antique bicycles representing Echo’s annual Red 2 Red bicycle race sit intertwined among flowers and other plants.

Buildings also line the street displaying a variety of architectural styles. The city’s old bank, built in 1920, which now houses a museum, displays glossy white tile on the corner of Main Street as drivers head into town, while on the opposite side of the street is a converted old house, now the H & P Cafe.

Echo City Administrator Diane Berry said she and other community members consider both the planters and the architectural styles around town public art, but they want see even more progress made on that front. She said she hopes to capitalize on what is already available as public art, as well as add new elements to the city’s collection so Echo can become a cultural destination for tourists and locals, alike.

A SLOW PROGRESSION

Berry said the idea of consciously developing a public art scene is not new.

“Clear back in 2000, President Clinton had issued, for the millennium, a challenge to communities to add something permanent to their community as a lasting legacy,” she said.

Berry said the city’s art committee came up with a theme, but nothing further came of the idea. A few years later, officials consulted with some other art organizations, who told them artists rarely would give prices and rough designs if they were not going to get anything in return. They recommended having an art submission contest where the city could place the project ideas they wanted on a list of what to pursue.

“We kind of worked along that, but then it kind of took a hiatus while we were doing the downtown project,” she said.

This year, the city finally decided to host the art submission contest where the winner would receive $500. The city would keep all of the ideas submitted on a list and pursue them as money became available.

“The first choice might not be the one you develop because it might be the most expensive, but you would have a list already adopted,” Berry said.

A CONTEST WINNER

This year, the city hosted its first contest. Berry said the art committee received only one submission by the deadline, which was from Michael Booth, an established Pendleton-based artist and art instructor at Blue Mountain Community College.

Berry said Booth had submitted a number of art ideas, but the committee ultimately decided the winning entry was a design of a cougar metal sculpture that will ultimately be placed in front of the city’s Post Office. Berry said the cougar is the Echo School’s mascot and would fit perfectly as the city’s first art piece for the project.

“We liked the idea of doing a cougar that would be in a more natural setting like on some boulders,” she said.

Berry said officials have contacted Booth, and, after he returns from summer vacation, he will submit plans and a cost estimate for the project. She said the city will have to schedule fundraisers and seek donations and grant funds to pay for the sculpture because the project will cost anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000.

LATE SUBMISSIONS

FULL OF IDEAS

Even though Booth’s was the only project submitted by the deadline date, Berry said word started getting out about the project, and the city started receiving other art concepts.

Berry said local graphic artist Dennis Greeley submitted an idea for a mural on the far face of the city’s skate park. Committee member Gene Hampton also agreed to develop an oxen sculpture made out of pipe.

Another project idea included a mural on the side of the post office that would feature the city’s musical history, proposed by Echo School’s art teacher Rick Thew. Thew, who is also an art committee member, thought it would make a great student project. Berry said the project could feature a flat mural as a background, and then metal silhouettes of musicians, such as Doc Severinson playing the trumpet, an early fiddler and Echo Koontz, for whom the city is named, singing. The silhouettes would physically project from the wall.

“The mural is one of the things we could use to bring together the music and the history of the area now that we are having live entertainment again with (Sno Road Winery),” she said.

Other ideas included working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to develop a piece that would commemorate Native American history in the Echo area, as well as a possible mosaic at the raised garden in front of the H & P Cafe.

The city’s art committee also expressed interest in a veteran’s memorial, an art piece commemorating Echo’s Portuguese history and an art sculpture that would incorporate farm equipment and other objects to display Echo’s farming and agricultural history.

Berry said she also recently met Vancouver, British Columbia-based artist Douglas Walker, who constructs sculptures made almost entirely out of musical instruments, to discuss making something for the city. She said nearly all of his pieces are kinetic, in that they use wind and water to move.

Berry said Walker agreed to send over some sketches of a project in the near future. Walker’s project has yet to go before the committee, she said, but the few she’s spoken to are receptive to the idea.

TYING IT BACK TO

THE COMMUNITY

Berry said city officials do not want to place random pieces of art in the community. They want each to reflect the community in some way.

“Most of these things would have a tie to the community, a history, so they are not just pieces of art that are sitting there without a tie-in,” she said.

Berry said the eventual goal of the project is to mark each item with a plaque and create an art walk that will blend with the city’s “museum in the streets” concept already in place.

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