In the past, this newspaper has stated its support of the Whale Project — the effort to put a bronze whale sculpture on Juneau’s waterfront as a way to beautify our city, enhance an adjacent micro-ecosystem and draw tourists farther along our historic waterfront.
Today, this paper again throws its support behind this worthy project.
We’re not alone. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has supported the project, as has the core committee that is still spending its time and energy bringing it to fruition.
This piece of privately commissioned art has certainly seen its share of mixed reviews, however. Unfortunately, many of those opinions are fueled by inaccuracies.
Some have said public funds are paying for the creation of the whale sculpture — an immense bronze cast of a humpback whale leaping out of a reflection pool. Water works complete the effect. No public funds are going toward the sculpture or the waterworks; money for the art piece was raised solely out of donations and fundraising efforts.
However, the city has approved, via a years-long public process, spending roughly $600,000 acquired from sales taxes on site prep and CBJ man hours needed for that portion of the project. That site prep includes extending the seawalk and creating what is referred to as “bridge park.”
Another criticism is that the city cannot afford this project in light of budget shortfalls. In fact, this project stands to raise money — the committee organizing the Whale Project is in the process of trademarking the whale. That trademark will then be transferred to the city. Any money made off the whale (and if it is marketed correctly, we think there could be plenty) will go directly into city coffers as a way to fund maintenance of the park and art piece. If any money is left after those expenses are paid, that cash could also be used for just about anything.
Others simply say they don’t want it. All are entitled to their own opinions, but keep in mind this project was initiated by Juneau residents, the same people who wanted to build it as a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of statehood. The project has missed that deadline, but it should be complete in time for the 150th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. This community has always supported public art, and while opinions about the details of that art might vary, we think many can agree this new piece will become as beloved as other pieces of art that initially faced criticism, such as the Windfall Fisherman — the bear sculpture that sits downtown.
Additional criticism surrounds the site, currently a rude dirt parking lot at the base of the downtown side of the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. Critics say the site is too far removed from the downtown hub. Indeed. Yet, how many criticized the renovation of the building that now houses Seong’s, Coppa and the Glacier Salt Cave and Spa? We heard plenty of gripes. Today it is a bustling little hub. Look at what recent improvements have done to the Foodland Shopping Center. It’s fair to say the vitality of that area has increased. Similarly, the extension of the seawalk, the creation of the riparian area and the installation of the whale sculpture will encourage tourists to explore that direction. Completion of the State Library, Archives and Museum building will do the same.
The pursuit of a large-scale sculpture on the edge of Juneau’s waterfront is a worthy endeavor. We believe the generosity of private donations toward the creation of the sculpture and associated water works, as well as the money put forth by the city, will effectively create a local icon.
People have an opinion about and a passion for art, but few question the value of public art, and we are confident that this project will become an iconic symbol of Juneau.
— Juneau Empire,