A proposal to build a privately funded 420-foot Peace Spire in downtown Tacoma, Washington, has left some who are enthusiastic about peace with feelings of consternation.  --  One of them is arts reporter Jen Graves, who wrote on Sunday in the News Tribune: “Maybe [Tacoma City Council member Kevin Phelps] can explain what kind of peace would come to mind staring at a sword-shaped structure that stands in the middle of a military town and was built during a war its builders declared irrelevant to the topic at hand.” ...


The Arts

By Jen Graves

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
May 22, 2005
Page E01


Because Tacoma is equipped with a healthy inferiority complex and an earnest desire for upward mobility, it’s the perfect target for swindlers trying to sell it some Art.

That’s why I shivered when I heard Tacoma City Council member Kevin Phelps and local insurance agent Marty Stair describe their attempts to resurrect plans for a 420-foot, multimillion-dollar “Peace Spire” next to the convention center downtown.

“No doubt it’s a grand vision,” Phelps told the News Tribune.

“I think we need a big idea for Tacoma,” Stair was quoted as saying. “Tacoma’s a great place.”

Whether those two and the rest of an 11-member advocacy committee (who asked to remain anonymous) are the swindlers or the swindlees is unclear to me.

But since what they’re talking about is essentially a massive public sculpture in grandiose terms reserved for the Vietnam Memorial Wall and Eiffel Tower, it’s time to review general concepts surrounding art, big ideas and self-betterment.

Two things make art worth buying. The noble thing is that the art is meaningful to the buyer. The ignoble one is that it is a status symbol, even if it is meaningless.

I wish I could give “Peace” a chance as a meaningful symbol that represents the deeply felt will of the buyers. But Phelps said the spire has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan or real-life war and peace.

“We want this to be really inclusive,” Phelps told The News Tribune. “Let a person form in their own mind what the concept of peace is.”

It’s more a yoga kind of peace, I guess, the kind where you sit on your mat and contemplate contentment while other people worry about details like fights between nations.

Or maybe he can explain what kind of peace would come to mind staring at a sword-shaped structure that stands in the middle of a military town and was built during a war its builders declared irrelevant to the topic at hand.

Organizers are also considering adding to the project flourishes such as a peace wall with handprints from children around the world and the word “peace” written in several languages. After the organizers have raised the private $14 million to build this spire, they should be the ones to tell those children the bedtime story of how the concept of peace became an empty vehicle for public vanity.

So let’s say the motivation is actually ignoble. Let’s say it has nothing to do with gleeful children holding hands and dancing a circle around the world. We simply want to acquire another object designed by Wyn Bielaska, who was Arthur Erickson’s No. 1 man on the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art, which earned us some very exciting head-patting from no less than the New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler.

Trouble is, buying a third-rate Picasso is sad and a little depraved. Bielaska had an important hand in the gleaming cone on the glass museum, and he fought for the lovely, glowing wing on the museum’s roof. But the “Peace Spire” is not special in design, only in size. Its only statement is that it’s making a statement, and how much of a statement is it making located halfway down a hill?

On top of everything, one disaster is tucked into the spire idea: Phelps said the city would need to cover operating and maintenance costs.

The same city that has a massive budget shortfall? The city that took such good care of its historic theaters that they were shuttered for safety reasons last fall? Phelps himself recently declared publicly that the problem with the Pantages and Rialto is a lack of funding.

We applaud naked emperors not because we’re stupid, but because we’ve been convinced we are. Instead of using peace to prop up the spire, apply your own common sense and see what happens.

Jen Graves: 253-597-8568

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