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Council to consider new $94,850 rain gauge


Daily News Staff Writer

A decorative rain gauge to measure up to the 200 inches of rain that Ketchikan receives in a year could come with a nearly $95,000 price tag for the city.

According to City Manager Karl Amylon, the need to replace the city’s rain gauge came about as a result of the City Port and Harbors Department’s Berth 2 renovation project. The gauge previously hid the vent pipe of a wastewater lift station. The lift station and pipe were moved as a result of the renovation.

"(Now the pipe is) free-standing down there and it’s not a very attractive-looking piece of infrastructure," Amylon said in a Tuesday telephone interview.

The current gauge would leave parts of the lift station and vent pipe exposed, Amylon said, so the city budgeted $100,000 out of its Cruise Passenger Vessel funds last year to commission a new work of art to cover it. The gauge’s purpose is purely cosmetic, Amylon said.

The city paid the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council $7,000 to issue a request for proposals for the new gauge. The arts council did so in June.

The arts council received 31 proposals from 28 artists around the world. To choose an artist, the council established a 15-person selection panel.

The panel consisted of City of Ketchikan and Ketchikan Gateway Borough officials, including City Council Member Matt Olsen and Borough Assembly Member Glen Thompson; members of the arts council, the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, the Ketchikan Historical Society; and the Ketchikan Public Art Works committee; the architect for phase four of the dock renovation; an Alaska Native representative; and two at-large members.

After receiving 31 proposals from 28 artists around the world, the selection panel on Sept. 14 selected the proposal offered by Dutch artists Jennifer Townley — a mechanical artist — and Bette Adriaanse — a writer and visual artist — both of Amsterdam. The two artists submitted a $94,850 bid.

In a letter to the selection panel, Townley and Adriaanse wrote, "We have designed a steel structure that holds cylindrical glass shapes that collect, measure and kinetically distribute the rain."

The nearly $95,000 bid, if approved, would cover a $20,000 artist fee, $27,600 for supplies and materials, $8,000 for the artists to travel to Ketchikan throughout the design and installation of the gauge and $4,000 to transport the gauge to Ketchikan. The rest would go toward lodging, labor contracting, rent, insurance, tools and equipment, and fabrication expenses.

The gauge also will include drawings that depict local scenery, "serving as a celebration of rain as the origin of the local nature," they wrote.

The piece will be lit by LED lamps in order to make the gauge visible even at night or on cloudy, rainy days.

Attached to the gauge will be a wheel that can be turned at the end of the year, "allowing the rain to flow into the large cylinder in the base, showing the total amount of rainfall that year," according to the design write-up.

"Turning the wheel on New Year’s Eve to see how much rainfall there has been could potentially become a public event or a visitor attraction," Townley and Adriaanse wrote.

The artwork will be made of heavy-duty material that will be resistant to frost, vandalism and the extreme weather conditions characteristic of Ketchikan winters.

An image of the proposed rain gauge will not be released until Thursday’s meeting. However, Townley’s portfolio of work is available at www.jennifertownley.com.

According to Townley’s biography, she makes "kinetic art" that draws inspiration from mechanical movements in engineering and dynamic movements from physics. She also draws inspiration from "mathematical patterns that are common in geometry, Islamic art and drawings of M.C. Escher."

Adriaanse’s biography states that the theme of her work centers on "contradictions such as cruelty and naivety, growth and decay, reality and delirium, and explore(s) the conflict between them."

According to Amylon, if the City Council approves the panel’s recommendation Thursday, "it more or less embraces" the proposed gauge, titled "The Great Ketch," and allows Amylon to negotiate the final price of the piece.

Amylon budgeted $100,000 for the artwork but called that number "a place-holder."

When asked why the recommended bid came so close to the budgeted amount, Amylon responded, "When I put the budget together, I had no idea what kind of proposals we’d be getting."

Amylon referred questions about the bid amount to Kathleen Light, executive director of the KAAHC.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Light said that the bid dollar amounts weren’t a factor in the panel’s decision.

"The quality of the work, the design of the rain gauge itself is what the panel selected the piece based on," she said.

Light and Amylon both stressed that the gauge is being paid for with Cruise Passenger Vessel funds. There are restrictions in place on what CPV money can be used for. Generally, it must be spent on improvements that would benefit the cruise ship passengers.

Light said the piece would provide a great opportunity for the community to have events around it. It also could be a feature in tourism advertising and used to draw in art lovers from around the world.

"The cultural tourism aspect of this piece alone is going to be lovely," she said.

The arts council received bids from three year-round residents and one seasonal resident, Light said. The remaining bids came from around the United States and around the world.

Light said she advertised the request for proposals in Alaska and Seattle, and word of mouth carried the request for proposals farther abroad.

"Artists from around the world are looking for work and they pick up on calls for artists," she said. "The City Council did not specify that it had to be (Alaskan artists) only."

Light pointed out that Ketchikan is visited each summer by nearly a million people, "and the people that come here are from all over the world."

Light described Townley and Adriaanse as "very personal, very creative, very honorable artists." She said she spoke with them on the phone and also received numerous glowing recommendations.

One such recommendation came from Richard Simmons, curator of the Mechanical Art and Design Museum in the United Kingdom.

In his letter, Simmons wrote, "Please be assured that these (women) are driven by creativity, not money or even fame. They are straightforward and practical. Hence, I feel you will enjoy working with them and the outcome for your town will be good."

Light added that "these artists are beginning to get a worldwide reputation and their artwork is becoming sought after." She said Ketchikan was fortunate to have the possibility of their work displayed.

If Townley and Adriaanse are hired, they will visit Ketchikan three times, Light said. Once toward the end of the gauge design process, to make certain that the design will work with its surroundings; once to install the piece; and once to check on it and make sure it still is working. According to the City Council specifications, the rain gauge must have at least a 20-year lifespan.

Light said the rain gauge will be made of "very sturdy pieces," and that the artists "are strategizing to lock down the mechanics."

Should the Council reject the selection panel’s recommendation, Light said, "We’ll have to talk about that."

"Hopefully they’ll trust that panel and go with the piece.?They have not turned down a piece yet," Light said.

The city has used this public art selection process recently to select the new Yeltatzie Salmon in Ketchikan Creek, as well as for the art found in Ketchikan Public Library.

"This particular art piece, while it is on our docks, it will be very pleasing to our visitors," Light said. "Our community is going to benefit from it. People are going to take their kids down there to look at it. It’s going to be beautiful at night. It’s just a charming piece."

The Ketchikan City Council is expected to decide whether to approve the piece at its regularly scheduled Thursday meeting. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. There will be time for public comment at the start of the meeting.