For Ruri Yampolsky, 1 measly percent means the difference between bland urban terrain and a cityscape that sparks creativity. As director of the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture’s public art program, Yampolsky oversees the city’s precedent-setting “One Percent for Art” ordinance that mandates 1/100th of all city capital improvement project funds goes toward the installation of public artwork. During its 40 years, the program has spawned such landmarks as the bronze dance steps embedded in Capitol Hill sidewalks (by Jack Mackie), “Hammering Man” at Seattle Art Museum (by Jonathan Borofsky) and the mountainous fountain at Cal Anderson Park (by Douglas Hollis). Seattle’s program has served as a model for several other cities, and sets an example of how public art and artists can be integrated into early planning for civic projects (rather than just plopped in as an afterthought). Yampolsky, who previously worked as an architect in New York City, describes her job as “activating space,” and believes public art makes a city “more humane…more livable.” When choosing artists to work on public projects, she seeks people who can reveal something unique about the setting and engage passersby in unexpected ways. “Public art isn’t about an extra in one’s life,” Yampolsky says. “It’s an integral part of what makes the city vibrant.”
NEED TO KNOW
1/ Seattle’s public art collection currently includes more than 380 permanent and 2,800 portable works.
2/ Ruri Yampolsky famously refuses to pick her favorite piece of public art, saying, “It’s like asking, ‘Which is your favorite kid?’”
3/ Two of Seattle’s recent public art projects received national recognition by the Americans for the Arts 2013 Year in Review, including “SODO” (under the Spokane Street Viaduct, shown here.)
4/ Pick up a free self-guided walking tour of Seattle’s public art at the Washington State Convention Center. For other pickup locations or to print out a copy, visit seattle.gov/arts.