WATER OF LIFE
Millennial Plaza at Yakima WA
This is part of the National Endowment for the Arts “Artists and Communities” initiative that paired selected artists with local state arts organizations across the U S at the turn of the century. The central idea, conceived by a committee of devoted citizens, and myself as artist, was to create a common space in a rather deeply divided city –- geographically and socially – between the 50/50 residents of European and Latino descent, as well as the people of the large reservation of Yakama Nation close-by. Allied Arts Council of Yakima WA was able to raise the modest NEA seed-grant into $750,000, nearly all from local contributions. The city donated an 8,100 sq. ft. parking lot in the partly demolished city center as the site for a sculptural plaza. I lived a total of most of a year in the area, made diverse connections, internalized the social fabrics and collaborated with the local authorities, fabricators and artists. The design is a tribute to irrigation that gives life to the farmland and orchards, and to people’s labor that powers the community. It is an interplay of water, rock, bronze sculpture, light and the orientation of the site with the sun and towards the distant mountain ridges that provided the source of the water. 2 concrete walls hold 39 windows with objects contributed by citizens and artists as “power totems” for sustenance.
The plaza, completed in 2003, has been regularly used as a central spot for many different cultural events, and as a destination for visitors. The original concept of using art to create self-representation, ownership and belonging, and for the city to be as a congregation of people of diverse cultures and activities, has largely been realized. The process has been exemplary.