Art and the Seawall
The Curator at the Department of Transportation
Eric Fredericksen was director of the private contemporary art venue Western Bridge for all its eight years, until it closed this past November. He's not historically a public-art guy. He's curated at of-the-moment venues throughout the region, and he teaches an upper-level class in issues in contemporary art at the University of Washington. For several months, he consulted with the Seattle waterfront project in conjunction with a New York artist and organization who are now no longer involved. And as of last week, Fredericksen officially has a desk at Seattle's Department of Transportation. He sat down at City Hall to talk about his new post, answering both to SDOT and the city's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.
You started a new job yesterday. What are you doing?
Going to a lot of meetings... My office is up in the Department of Transportation, and I just go back and forth to meetings with people who are figuring out utility relocation and transit planning and things like that.
Are you curating?
I'm managing. I'm the waterfront public art project manager. My job is to realize the plan.
Where will the art go?
There's the seawall, where it becomes more visible in the form of the beach—the habitat bench that's going to happen in Pioneer Square near Pier 48. That's the territory that is the starting point for where Buster Simpson is going to be working. There's a commission that's under way right now for something to do with light, and then there's something to do with sound. So those are the three main first seawall projects.
There's something we want to get under way—to do something that's like a central focus and a major commission, that probably would be located on Pier 62/63, which is where Summer Nights at the Pier used to happen and which is being rebuilt as kind of an activity pier. That's where the swimming barge would be docked. Do you know about the swimming barge?
Is it the same thing as the hot tubs?
Well, there was the hot tubs that were supposed to be at the end of the pier, and there was a pool, too. Now those have been moved to a sort of floating/temporary... a permanent thing, but it's temporarily moored in the summer on that pier, which could be super-cool.
Is that definitely happening?
I don't think anything is definitely happening. But I think that is seen as an early project... That one may involve more private fundraising.
Seattle artist Buster Simpson has the first big waterfront commission. What's he making?
Unclear. But the call was to do something related to habitat—one of the goals of redoing the seawall is to make it a friendlier place, particularly for juvenile salmon but also for other creatures. I think that he's perfect in the way that his work addresses environmental systems and... he talked about making the artificial nature of human-constructed environmental rehabilitation sites visible, to show the human hand...Your first inclination might be, "Oh, [the art] should look like a natural object." But if it functions the right way, the salmon don't actually care that much what it looks like... And the point is just how integrated can his work be in the whole thing while retaining its Busterness, or its agency as an art project rather than [being] just what the mitigation looks like.
What are you looking for in sound and light works?
I'm not sure yet, but the general idea with sound is going to be that there is a lot of sound there, so finding ways to focus that rather than to try to... insert new sound.
Does the arts commission pick?
The public art managers pick a panel that picks.
When will we actually see art and seawall?
I'm not sure. Construction is set to start on the seawall this fall... The meeting that I was just in... is about this attempt to figure out what happens in the interim. We've got a long set of construction years. Buster's thing is the first permanent percent-for-art project that will be sited that's under way... In the meantime, there are all sorts of opportunities to do thinking, talking, research, reporting, public events, and temporary projects.
Are you having culture shock? I mean, you're sitting at SDOT.
Yeah, totally. I mean, yesterday and today it's exciting because there are a lot of people who really have their act together. Not that art people necessarily don't. But they really have to manage huge projects, sets of expectations, deadlines... Right now, I really need to focus on personal organization. I need to up my Excel spreadsheet skills by 500. And I'm starting to think about looking into pro project-management software. And I'm setting a lot of reminders on my calendar.
This article has been updated since its original publication.