Friday Afternoon Club: Speaking of Art in Cities (or Not)

Bear with me while I ramble a bit here.

First things first. It’s Friday. Run, don’t walk, to this week’s featured event, which is under way as we speak. It’s a wine and hors d’oeuvres affair at the Amy Burnette Gallery on 4th Street in Bremerton to celebrate the grand opening of the “Crazy Lady on 4th Street Gallery,” with featured art by Shelly Wilkerson … “think Norman Rockwell meets Mad Magazine,” says the item on the Kitsap Sun’s calendar. You have until 8:30 p.m. Wilkerson’s Gallery is at 296 Fourth St.

Now, there’s considerable irony in the fact that the reception is in Bremerton, according to South Kitsap artist James Kelsey of Southworth. Wilkerson is from South Kitsap, said Kelsey, but alas if it has anything to do with art, it’s probably happening in Bremerton.

Kelsey, a former dyed-in-the-wool optimist, sounded positively cynical and downright despondent when I called him today to ask if he met his goal of fund-raising for a piece of public art in Port Orchard. He hadn’t even hit the halfway mark.

Last month on this blog, I wrote about Kelsey’s efforts to raise $15,000 through an online private fund-raising campaign for a sculpture he proposed to install in a public place in Port Orchard. The money would have covered his materials, including a large stainless steel sphere that cost $6,000 to manufacture. Kelsey, willing to take a gamble on PO’s heart for art, paid for the sphere on his credit card. His plan was to get the statue installed, then mount a campaign to cover his time and other costs.

At the time he launched the fund-raising drive, Bremerton had just approved another statue (that makes about 300 quadrillion so far) paid for with the city’s 1 percent for the arts program.

Port Orchard has no arts funding program, but Kelsey believed private citizens would step up to beautify their fair city. By the deadline of the campaign, he had raised only $4,000. The giant sphere sits in storage. Perhaps he will use it in another piece.

Kelsey is a successful artist with works on Kitsap County properties and in Bremerton (did we need to ask?), as well as in other states and British Columbia. His art fetches a fair price, but producing is is a lengthy and often speculative process. With the recession, Kelsey struggled. In March he lost his home. Some friends bought it and are allowing him to rent until he can buy it back. But in truth, Kelsey is starting to lose spring in his step.

Asked if he’s given up on Port Orchard, Kelsey said. “They’ve given up on me. I keep forgetting I live here because it’s a good place to live, not because it’s an arts community. This is a blue collar, NASCAR town, not an art-centric community.”

Bremerton, in comparison, is bustling with activity, largely as a result of its arts scene, Kelsey said. “You look at Bremerton’s parks, and the art and the fountains they have. It’s becoming a destination, and a lot of that has to do with the arts.”

Ironically, Kelsey said, there are numerous artists living in South Kitsap, but most of their work is displayed and sold elsewhere. In his opinion, support for the arts, including the Historic Orchard Theatre and Western Washington Center for the Performing Arts, comes from a small core group of people, and it’s not enough to support a thriving arts community.

Kelsey, citing a 2009 study on Arts and Economy by the National Governors Association, said Bremerton and Port Orchard respectively will reap what they sow in the realm of investment in the arts.

Since this is a single source blog post, I’d like to open this forum up to comments from those of you who agree or disagree with Kelsey.

What say you, is Port Orchard culturally challenged (take the poll on this blog’s hoome page)? Why do you think efforts to privately fund a public sculpture have failed?

Is Bremerton’s investment in the arts paying off?

I was going to poke fun at Bremerton for poking fun at Port Orchard about our new 7Eleven, but we’re in the middle of a serious discussion here. Guess I’ll just have to save if for a future post.

Reach Kelsey at james@jameskelseystudios.com.

Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter

One thought on “Friday Afternoon Club: Speaking of Art in Cities (or Not)

  1. Wish there was a way to measure the blue collarish of a location. From dragging my bones around the greater Port Orchard area it is difficult to determine with much satisfaction from just observation.

    It may be a difference in the leaders of Bremerton and Port Orchard that has resulted in Bremerton looking to be on the rise and PO on the down elevator. From the Kitsap Sun there has been a vocal chorus of comment indicating there are a lot who are objecting to the money spent on art and parks in Bremerton. It took some serious leaders to create what I have seen recently on the PSNS side of the water. Bravo.

    Bremerton does however have a much larger population (37,259 versus 7,693 in the 2000 census) to work with. Much of the area that might support the arts on the PO side are in unincorporated areas of S. Kitsap. Kudos for Mr. Kelsey for his efforts, but he is going to need a lot more help than he has been receiving. Somebody out there needs to give that man a good commission, so he can stay healthy enough to continue to lobby for the arts.

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