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The Olympic Sculpture Park Celebrates Its 5th Anniversary

Olympic Sculpture Park, aerial view with Richard Serra’s Wake (2004), © Richard Serra / Photo: © Benjamin Benschneider Photography

“Does anyone have a business card?” our docent asks.

Ripping the offered card carefully and expanding it to a rough Z shape, the docent explains how the project designers, Weiss/Manfredi of New York, came up with the Olympic Sculpture Park’s unusual layout. Voilà!

It’s the neat solution to a particularly tricky puzzle of creating a public space for art. In 1999, Seattle Art Museum partnered with the Trust for Public Land to purchase industrial land transected by busy Elliott Avenue and a railway line at the northern end of Belltown. SAM’s mission: To restore the site and cultivate an environmentally friendly area for outdoor sculpture.

The Olympic Sculpture Park opened to the public on Jan. 20, 2007. An estimated 2.5 million visitors and many prestigious architectural awards later, the 9-acre park celebrated its fifth anniversary this past Saturday with docent-led tours, art activities for children and goodies from the TASTE Café in the PACCAR Pavilion.  Crowds gathered cozily inside the glass building nibbling on salted caramels, although a few adventurous souls braved the January weather outside, huddling by Richard Serra’s Wake and using the piece’s massive industrial steel walls as a wind break.

If you haven’t visited the Olympic Sculpture Park, it’s well worth the trip (barring Seattle’s inclement weather, of course). SAM has created one of the most innovative and unusual public spaces in the country. Its landscaping represents native Pacific Northwest habitats in miniature—valley, grove, meadow, shoreline—while its ground-breaking architectural planning has not only allowed construction of a tranquil park straddling a major thoroughfare, but also fostered sustainable groundwater run-off and the creation of a salmon habitat between its beach and the shored-up sea wall. Nestled into this green setting are striking modern sculptures by master artists such as Serra, Alexander Calder and Roxy Paine, with magnificent views of Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier as a backdrop.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is free and open to the public 365 a year during daylight hours. The PACCAR Pavilion also houses temporary exhibitions. Currently on display through Mar. 4: Trenton Doyle Hancock’s colorful A Better Promise. See the SAM website for details:

SAM Olympic Sculpture Park 5th Anniversary Event. With Trenton Doyle Hancock’s A Better Promise © Trenton Doyle Hancock