State officials have confirmed that sculptures at Peace Arch Park must be removed before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. The statement comes after the United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association’s (USCPAA) application to extend the International Sculpture Exhibition to a year was denied.
Washington State Parks and Recreation public affairs director Virginia Painter said the decision was based on the agency’s desire to maintain fairness under recent policy changes.
“Because [Peace Arch Park] is a public place, we need to allow people some means of display and expression,” Painter said. “But we need to have that be with some boundaries on it so we can be fair to everybody.” Following the controversy involving religious displays at the state capitol in December 2008, new policies for public displays were necessary, Painter said. Many remember the ruckus created when an atheist solstice display was stolen from the Capital Rotunda during the holidays.
The event earned national coverage, and Painter said officials needed to reduce the possibility of future confrontations. The policy the exhibition now adheres to stems from that incident, and outlines stricter guidelines for public displays of political, secular or religious content.
“We have to be sure we can be fair to everyone, and it’s just not seen by anyone as reasonable for something to be up for a whole year,” Painter said. She also said it becomes a free speech issue when less people are able to exhibit. If the request had been approved, USCPAA founder Christina Alexander said the exhibit would have drawn travelers during the upcoming Olympics to Blaine. With an increase in border traffic expected for the weeks surrounding the Games, Alexander said prematurely removing the art will be a major blow to the local economy.
Painter suggested the beauty of the park will still attract tourists to get out of their vehicles, but Loni Rahm, Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism president, advised otherwise.
“It’s tragic,” Rahm stated. “The potential to tie together an international sculpture exhibit to an international tourism market will be lost.”
The 12th Annual Peace Arch Park International Sculpture Exhibition, which includes 15 works of art from all over the world, will need to be dismantled by October 2009, Painter said.