|Portrait of a jail: No inmates, plenty of art.|
Under a "one percent for art" resolution passed by Multnomah County in 1980, all county construction projects must dedicate a fraction of their budget to public art.
And that includes Wapato, the brand-new 525-bed jail that has been mothballed for more than a year while the county Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Bernie Giusto haggle over money to run the place.
How do you make jail a more aesthetic experience, anyway? The installations at Wapato include a massive concrete sculpture adorning the driveway, with earthcast pillars resembling an ancient shipwreck run aground in a cherry orchard.
Artist Thomas Sayre of Raleigh, N.C., didn't return WW's call before presstime. But his website describes the sculpture as making "a somewhat ironic connection" between the ruined boat and the jail site, which is built on silt dredged from the Columbia River. The price tag for the piece, titled simply Wapato: $180,000.
Another piece, titled Transition, consists of a series of panels that project light onto tiles lining the entrance lobby and stairway. The tiles are made of recycled glass-a metaphor, says artist Michael Boonstra, for the jail's role in helping inmates reform. Price tag: $75,000.
Does it really make sense to put art in a jail? "Absolutely," says Kristin Calhoun, public-art manager for the Regional Arts & Culture Council, which coordinates the Percent for Art program.
"We're not putting art work in jail cells," Calhoun says. "It's for the public-for anyone who comes there. You've got hundreds of people a day coming to that facility. It's absolutely appropriate for them to experience art in that setting."
Nonetheless, Wapato isn't quite like a school or a library.
"It's a jail!" exclaims Christine Kirk, chief of staff to Sheriff Giusto. "It's at the end of a cul-de-sac!"
To increase the likelihood that the public will actually see the public art, the committee in charge of Wapato's art decided to spend some of its money elsewhere in the neighborhood. It paid $200,000 for Flows and Eddies, an installation at the nearby Smith Lake canoe launch, which features carved stones, benches shaped like canoes, and "habitat trees" designed to attract birds and bats.
It has also set aside $100,000 on a future project somewhere in the St. Johns area and $50,000 for art to liven up the jail's lobby.
Altogether, the art budget for Wapato adds up to $605,000.
"For a jail facility, that's a little hard to swallow," concedes County Chair Diane Linn.
"That's a hell of a lot of money," agrees Lt. Jay Heidenrich, the commander in charge of Wapato.
Of course, everything's relative. At a cost of $105 per inmate per day, the art budget would sustain the full jail for only 11 days.
Until the county board can come up with a solution to run the jail, the sheriff will continue to release hundreds of petty criminals every month. And Wapato will remain empty, its windows dark, its corridors silent and its artwork unappreciated.