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Community Art

Community Art

by Mary Clymer on December 15, 2020

Renton's Art Collection is a Reflection of Who We Are

The Important Role of Art in the Community


Benson Hill Mural on Petrovsky at 116th

If you grew up in Renton in the 1960s, 70’s, 80’s, and into the early 90’s you no doubt spent time in the courtyard of the downtown Sears complex. The open air space that sat sheltered between Sears and JCPenny’s featured some outstanding architecture of the time. 

A beautiful metal water fountain from famed Seattle sculptor George Tsutakawa that now lives at the Maplewood Golfcourse. Two porpoises sculptures from Form Inc. designed by Jim Miller-Melberg were worn down by all the kids who jumped on their backs and slid down their side. One of those porpoises can still be seen at the Henry Moses Aquatic Center. My favorite, the Hexapod by Creative Playthings was a funky 1960’s shape fun to crawl around. It is now up in Skyway by Nevzat's Espresso.

But the most remembered, most cherished, and most played on piece in that strip mall courtyard was Tommy the Turtle by Milton Hebald, also of Creative Playthings.

Tommy the Turtle at his new home at Kennydale Beach Park.

Tommy was moved up to the highlands Library where kids continued to play on him for 20 more years. 

When KCLS took over our library system Tommy went into storage, and after much community discussion landed this January on the shores of Kennydale Beach Park.

So why all this talk about Tommy?

It hadn't even been a part of Renton's Art Collection until recently, but it showcases what art does for a community. 

Public art becomes a placemaker for the community. Tommy the turtle is brought up often in the You know you're from Renton if page on Facebook as a cherished piece of our history. 

Today there is a lot of talk about creative placemaking, described on city projects as “art playing an intentional role in community planning and development.”

The term comes from Jamie Bennett, director of ArtPlace America (APA). The foundation believes that artists and art organizations can shape the social, physical, and economic characters of their community. 

Here in Renton, we are lucky to have a Mayor and Council who are invested in this belief. This hasn’t always been the case in Renton, but a dedicated Arts Commission helped open the city's eyes to the obvious importance of putting art at the heart of a community. 

Starting with small projects the Renton Municipal Arts Commission began to show how art enhances our lives. Whether through music, art, sculpture, or dance we are all creative beings. Public and Community art helps us feel inspired to look beyond our every day to see a more vibrant community.

Photo of Boone from the Seattle Times.

Art helps tell the stories of our various communities and the people who live there. Take the Boone Kirkman Mural on Wells Ave. A dedication to a world-class fighter from right here in Renton. Another great example is the woven fence that runs over 800 feet up Sunset. Through a series of community discussions and workshops, a design was built around that community. 

Just a couple of months ago Renton got its largest mural in the Benson Hill neighborhood. Artist Mari Shibuya worked with the neighborhood to come up with a community design that reflected what they wanted to see. It can now be enjoyed on the 20ft retaining wall running along Petrovsky at 116th. 

In 2020 while the world shut down the Renton Municipal Arts Commission rolled up their sleeves and got to work. The Benson Hill mural was the first of four new murals the city got. All a reflection of who we are as a community. 

Thanks to the South Renton Neighborhood project. Decorated fire hydrants can be seen all over the neighborhood. Giving all a fun opportunity to walk around and see something unique and interesting. 

Besides these huge pieces of art that we all get to enjoy 2020 has brought us together in other creative ways. The City of Renton hosted a great sidewalk chalk art contest. Each day community members were encouraged to get involved and share on social media what they were creating on their sidewalks. 

Construction in our downtown core has been a real drag for local businesses, yet somehow they manage to stay positive and focus on the community. Currently, you can see work from a handful of Renton’s Black artists throughout the storefronts of Downtown, and the newly refurbished Penny Lofts just got decorated with four iconic pieces that bring the old and new together as one. Images that feature both Bruce Lee and Kurt Cobain as one face remind us of the roots these important icons played in our area. 

Even performing artists found a way to get out to the community in a year where almost all community events were canceled. 

The Renton Civic Theatre is continuing to employ artists for live radio readings where performers can be isolated yet continue to work. 

Key to Change was one of the lucky live events that happened before March to have their annual recital at the IPAC, but even still Dr. Quinton Morris continues to host live events via zoom to help his students stay active and be seen. 

It gets easy sometimes to look around and see the negative, yet there is so much going on. Art has become a vital part of our community. Even the Renton Chamber is using RentonLIVE to help keep the community connected while helping videographers to stay active. 

Art continues even when the world stands still. It remains a light when things look dark. In times of isolation we understand how much in our community is based around the arts and how valuable our art community is. 

You may not be aware of the importance of these things, but you would notice if they were missing altogether. 

Just like Tommy the Turtle. It wasn’t until we all became adults that we could recognize the significance of the piece. How it held space for children to play while offering exhausted parents a moment of reprieve. It’s a shared memory that floods our brains with fond memories of a time past. 

Last month the Renton Loop art installation was installed at the corner of 2nd and Main. Featuring materials that made up Renton's past present and future while representing the Renton Loop car circuit that was a part of teenage culture for decades to our downtown. 

These are things that bring a community together. Collectively we share so much just from walking these streets. Art in the Community is meant to be a reflection of us, and in turn, we become a reflection of our environment. Renton is a vibrant diverse group of people, our art should reflect that community and it does. 

If you are interested in knowing more about the City of Renton’s art collection or how you can get involved with the Renton Municipal Arts Commission please contact Jessie Kotarski.

The City and the Arts Commission want to hear from you. What would you like to see in your neighborhood? What ideas do you have? Please reach out and be a part of the vibrant community of art and artists who are deciding what will shape the direction of art in our community.

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