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Two Maine artists win $1 million public art commission for summit

Two Maine artists win $1 million public art commission for summit

Portland, Maine - Two Maine artists have landed an ambitious public art commission at a new convention center in Seattle that could be worth up to $1 million.

Wade Kavanaugh of Bethel and Stephen B. Nguyen of Portland will create a site-specific piece of permanent art for the Washington State Convention Center, a sprawling complex under construction in downtown Seattle. They signed the contract in October and are in the process of designing their artwork, which is expected to evoke the natural power of the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. It will be their first permanent piece, and likely will be installed in 2021.

Kavanaugh, 40, and Nguyen, 43, are among 18 artists commissioned to create artwork throughout the building, said Kate Westbrook of LMN Architects of Seattle. The budget for their specific project is $800,000, with an additional $200,000 set aside for changes to the architectural envelope that may be required depending on how the project plays out, said Cath Brunner, a Seattle public art consultant working on the project.

The $2 billion glass-and-steel building is under construction across several downtown blocks, and Kavanaugh and Nguyen will make a piece to fill a long, rectangular space below a cantilevered ballroom on the sixth floor. The artwork will be suspended from the ceiling below the ballroom and visible from escalators and stairs leading to the ballroom and from outside the convention center. The space they will work with is 119 feet long and 25 feet across, with a total of 2,975 square feet. The Maine team was among 127 artists or artist teams to apply for the commission, Brunner said.

Nguyen said it was “somewhat daunting” to think about the size, scale and scope of the project, but with a $1 million budget, “we know we will have the resources to make it happen. There will be a lot more complex things happening in that building than hanging our art.”

Brunner said Kavanaugh and Nguyen were chosen because they convinced the committee members who made the decision they could create artwork that would dramatically reflect the Pacific Northwest in material, form and feel.


“It’s important with these big commissions … that the artists can activate the space in a formal way, and with Wade and Stephen, it was felt they could activate it in an emotional way, as well. Their work has that power that’s associated with the Pacific Northwest,” she said. “There’s a swirling energy and primal power to our landscape, and they bring that to their work. It’s visceral and immersive.”

By Bob Keyes, Staff Writer

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