Local governments embrace art in public spaces

Clark County Public Service Center, Vancouver City Hall give artwork places of prominence

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: Rebecca Anstine Sixth Floor Gallery, featuring paintings by Michelle Allen.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. business days through February.

Where: Clark County Public Service Center, sixth floor, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

• Information: www.clarkcountyartscommission.org

Visiting a government building isn’t always a happy experience — let alone a deep, moving one. When’s the last time you were touched by joy and insight while paying a parking ticket or speaking up at a public hearing?

Whether they know it or not, busy and concerned citizens — not necessarily art lovers and museum fans — are the primary patrons of the newly renamed and rededicated hallway art gallery up on the sixth floor of the Clark County Public Service Center. County council offices and the main meeting room where policy gets made are all up here. Visit to register an opinion, do some business or attend a meeting, and you’ll get an bonus: art.

It’s an ideal site for a public gallery run by a public body, said Clark County Arts Commissioner Barbara Wright.

“Most art galleries are businesses. This one is unique because it’s run by the arts commission,” she said. “A lot of people come through here. Its gets a lot of visitors” who weren’t planning on a gallery visit but wound up enjoying one anyway, she said.

The Sixth Floor Gallery has been here for years. It was the brainchild of the late Arts Commissioner Rebecca Anstine, who died in February at age 70.

“We struggled a bit to get this going, until Rebecca took it over,” said Arts Commissioner Amy Chase. “What she did with it was amazing.” In addition to curating regular art openings, Anstine made sure to host art classes and other student visits — where more creativity, like poetry, was generated in reaction to the art on the walls.

On Dec. 9, student musicians were playing while the Sixth Floor Gallery was renamed the Anstine Gallery and Erin Dengerink was named the official curator for the space by the Clark County Arts Commission. That two-year position will be modestly compensated thanks to an anonymous donation, Chase said.

Vancouver artist Michelle Allen’s whimsical paintings — featuring absurd, cartoony creatures that seem borrowed from “fractured” fairy tales — were on display. Allen, a successful local designer and artist, said she was thrilled to provide the inaugural Anstine Gallery show — and challenged too.

Allen said she mostly works in “giftable” crafts — throw pillows, mugs, clocks — so Dengerink’s invitation meant she got busy working fast for about two months on a bunch of new paintings, she said. And that’s OK, she said with a laugh, “working to deadline” is usually how she operates.

Allen confessed she had not visited the sixth floor of the Clark County Public Service Center before. But the idea that her artwork is on display in a gallery that’s really a public corridor used by all sorts of people to do all sorts of business doesn’t disappoint her, she said. Just the opposite.

“I think we should always be surrounded by art,” she said.

A longtime veteran of the local arts scene, Dengerink said she always enjoys meeting artists, being surprised by their work — and discussing the future possibilities. “There’s a lot more that goes into a curator job than just spending 20 minutes hanging paintings,” Dengerink said. “This gives me a great chance to connect.”

City Hall’s big lobby

Dengerink, an artist who also operates an art supply business downtown, is stepping away from other curatorial duties as she takes on the Anstine Gallery. She has curated the art at Vancouver City Hall, a few blocks away, for the last few years, and said the city is looking for its own new curator now. There’s a teeny budget attached to that job too.

Unlike the county’s sixth-floor hallway, Vancouver City Hall’s art spaces are walls of conference rooms — plus the spacious interior lobby. That’s a natural venue for big, impressive artworks such as the towering sculpture “Strata” by Vicki Lynn Wilson, which showed there in 2014; it transformed a two-story support pillar into a sort of architectural core sample that drilled down through history.

And this past fall, for the City Hall conference rooms where people strive to understand one another, Dengerink selected a series of oil paintings by Vancouver artist Michael Smith about striving to understand one another.

“The images address how frustrating it can be to try to convey your thoughts,” Dengerink wrote in a description of Smith’s on-point artworks. “The paintings at City Hall are a lovely metaphor for interpersonal relationships and how hard we try to communicate.”