Published on January 2nd, 2015 | by Whitney Rhodes


A Warhol bloom or bust?

Lately it seems I can’t open Facebook without being confronted by images of a Tacoma Dome covered with a flower, usually accompanied by pleadings of support for a Warhol flower. Deborah Kinerk wrote a beautiful letter to the editor in The News Tribune saying, “Ordinarily, I harbor uncomfortably ambivalent feelings about high art, because it so often caters exclusively to the comfortable upper crust, but this piece would cheer the heart of everyone who passes by it. Tacoma deserves its own icon.” Where did all this come from?

In 1982 a contest was held to create a design for the giant Tacoma Dome, a signature to make the dome rising over the city more interesting. Andy Warhol, only a few years before his death in 1987, submitted a design which made it look like a giant flower is blooming in the dome shape. The committee passed him over. Why? I can’t fathom. But the blue triangles we all know and love were put up instead.

Fast forward several decades, Tacoma is a city with four (!) major museums and a happening art scene. The idea of the flower is resurrected. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we had the largest Warhol in the world?! Little old Tacoma! Portland puts birds on everything, now we can have a flower. No longer would our blue dome be mocked by the millions of cars on I-5. No. It would be something to be proud of.

The City of Tacoma has been pursuing this idea. They created a test patch of vinyl (like what you wrap cars with) on the T-Dome roof to get an idea of wear and maintenance. After a six month trial the findings were presented last week at City Council. The News Tribune did a great summary of the council committee hearing.

All of this is fantastic. So here’s the rub. This art installation will cost $2.1 million to install, and about $300,000 per year to maintain. Ouch.

City Council insists this must be fundraised from private donors and not come from tax dollars. This is great, but our donor pool is only so big. I find it hard to believe that much money would come from outside our community. And I can’t help but think of how that much money, even if it’s sourced from private donors and not public funds, could change our city in so many other ways. More than 63% of the kids in Tacoma public schools live in poverty. The Eastside doesn’t have a library. Pierce Transit has cut bus service drastically over the past few years. And lets not even get started on the dismal state of mental health treatment.

I love this city more than I can really describe. In my personal experience, what stands out in my travel memories isn’t a piece of public art. It’s a mix of quality transportation, diverse populations, successful entrepreneurs, clean well-maintained streets, and yes, public art. I love public art and am not opposed to the Warhol flower gracing the Tacoma Dome. But if we, as donors and Tacoma lovers, are going to make a one year $2.4 million investment I can think of many other things higher on the list.

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About the Author

Co-Managing Editor at Post Defiance, Whitney is a local government nerd and nature lover with a serious case of wanderlust. She works in local government (shocking really) and spends far too much time with her cat. Follow her @gritcitygirl.

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