FOLLOWUP: Nantes Park improvements and artistic options – your input needed

By Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Additions and improvements with an artistic focus and international flair are coming soon to a small park in west Admiral.

At an online “community review” meeting on Tuesday night (as we previewed here), attendees discussed the proposed plans for Nantes Park (5062 SW Admiral Way), which was established in 2006 in honor of Seattle’s “sister city” relationship with Nantes, France. The launch of the Nantes Park Beautification Project this year will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Seattle/Nantes partnership, with a goal as follows: “The project will transform a small, rarely used pocket park… into something that is fun, family-friendly, accessible, and reflective of the sister city relationship with Nantes, France.”

Project organizers want to hear from you: In case you missed the meeting, this online survey is still open, but closing soon.

On Tuesday, the plans for temporary art installations and permanent walkway improvements were presented by Susan Kegel, president of the Seattle-Nantes Sister City Association (SNSCA), with assistance from project manager Pam Kliment from Seattle Parks. Go here to see the presentation.

In February, Kegel gave an earlier version of the presentation to the Admiral Neighborhood Association, as we reported here. In 2019, we shared details about an SNSCA survey seeking input about the project, which then moved forward on the strength of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods grants, the most recent of which was announced last November. Funding has also come from a West Seattle Garden Tour grant to support the creation of art tiles, and from the city of Nantes to support French-inspired designs. The art tiles will include designs by students in Nantes as well as students in Seattle (including West Seattle High School, which has an established exchange program, and Bishop Blanchet High School).

The concepts for the park involve an initial focus on temporary art installations (lasting approximately one year) as well as longer-term embedded art, inspired by French writer/illustrator Claude Ponti, who has created 12 art installations throughout Nantes. At the request of Seattle Parks, the project would include paving a walkway (in the same way it was was originally designed in 2004 but, because it wasn’t permanent, is barely visible today). Artistic elements would be included within and adjacent to the walkway and “seat wall” areas of the park.

Concept options for the temporary installation include, as described by Kegel:

  • Door Pots: “The story is that they are a mutant plant variety endemic to cities where they grow over doorways and gateways and make comments about passersby.” The idea for Nantes Park would be that the pots could be located either on the ground, on the concrete seat wall.
  • Plant Mimicry: “The poles are an accidental mutation (I guess Ponti likes mutations…) of a grass variety similar to bamboo, that have evolved the ability to grow faces on their tops that scare away birds so that they won’t nest in the foliage and raise noisy young that make messes. They are not edible and should not be fed but you can take their picture.” At Nantes Park these would be poles that have “faces” that could be crafted in a community workshop.

For the walkway, options for embedded art include “creature footprints” (bronzed, or stamped) leading around the park, perhaps into “fake holes” that could be commissioned by local chalk artists. There would also be interpretive signage around the park with information about the footprints (they idea being that the prints were made by whimsical creatures with French names), as well as details about the Seattle/Nantes connection and the stories behind the Ponti-inspired art.

Kegel said that due to COVID, much of the momentum of the project and the 40th-anniversary celebration stalled last year, but this year they’re making plans to move ahead and to get the community involved. The group hopes to do a weeding event at the park in May/June, followed by a community art workshop to make the “faces” in July (kids would be able to craft their own art faces to take home). She added that the group plans to participate in the Admiral Neighborhood Art Walk over the summer and will do some fundraising during the spring/summer to help fund “extras” for the park.

COVID-permitting, Kegel said all construction for the temporary sculptures, walkway, and art tiles would happen this summer and would be completed by September, with an inauguration in October. The sculptures would then stay up for at least a year, after which the walkway and permanent installations would remain. New plants would also be added to the park, as part of the project.

The meeting concluded with a Q&A session and discussion. Highlights below:

  • Attendee Brenda Walden, who had seen the earlier Nantes presentation at the ANA meeting in February, said she really liked the designs but was wondering about the permanence of the improvements beyond the “one-year splash” of the art projects (she added that some ideas, like chalk art, are good in the short-term but would obviously wash away). Kegel noted the concrete walkway with the animal footprints, the art tiles and the interpretive signs as examples of longer-term items. Walden agreed that those were positive elements but asked if, as it relates to the immediate neighborhood around the park, the long-term plan is going to be accurately “representative of the relationship with Nantes?” Pam Kliment from Parks responded that the goal is certainly for many of the long-term installations to be representative of Nantes, and of a “French connection” as a whole.
  • Attendees also discussed ideas to “separate” the park from the busy Admiral Way traffic. Ideas includes a fence or a hedge, but those would require additional maintenance.  Kliment said “it’s a complicated site” with the busy arterial adjacent to it, which may make visitors nervous, especially with smaller children. Kliment added that it is Parks policy not to fence off its parks, and that they also need to be careful of creating fences/hedges that people could hide behind and cause problems. Kegel agreed that these ideas could be considered in upcoming months, and agreed with concerns about safety.
  • Attendee Ilse Dippenaar applauded the “whimsy” of the designs and the efforts to make it accessible to kids and to involve children and adults in the designs, but agreed with Walden that more permanent items might be a good thing. Dippenaar wondered if there are low-cost ways to pay homage to Ponti, such as including quotes in the park, and maybe after the 1-year art installation is done, add a small play area for kids that fits the the theme (a castle or a tower). Kegel said that ideas like incorporating quotes can certainly be done; things like a dedicated play area would be great for area families but would require more thought to incorporate in the park.
  • Kegel said that much of what’s been possible with the park planning to-date has been a result of grant funding. With regard to the neighborhood grants, “the great thing about the grants is they come around every year,” and could be available for neighborhood groups to do additional improvements in the park in the future.
  • Kegel emphasized that her association is fully committed to help with ongoing cleanup efforts in the park, as well as efforts to repair any vandalism. Attendee Mary Batterson, who has been involved in various neighborhood cleanups, asked about trash cans in the park (noting that it the park had a receptacle when it opened). Kliment responded that trash receptacles could certainly be discussed, as part of broader discussions about groundskeeping for the park and what that staffing would look like. Batterson said she is concerned about things that she’s seen at the park like discarded needles and dirty diapers, and Kegel/Kliment agreed that obviously things like that shouldn’t be part of a family-friendly park.
  • Attendee Wesley Jones, who lives near the park, noted that the primary use of the park, currently, appears to be by dog owners. Jones added that, while he is not a dog owner, a paved walkway would make it a less desirable area for people to bring their dogs.
  • Walden added that perhaps the park could include, at some point, something like a bike rack for local cyclists who visit the park.

2 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Nantes Park improvements and artistic options - your input needed"

  • Kat Shimon April 5, 2021 (10:11 am)

    I entered the Nantes Park survey through the West Seattle Blog posting link. Like many other readers, I clicked the link without thoroughly investigating how the art installation options related to Nantes.Information about the sister-city connection of these installation choices might help people taking this survey before they click through to the survey:
    This web page shows that the designs offered mimic those at the Jardin des Plantes in Nantes, France.
    From that website…. “Inspired by the idea of increasing the park’s connection to Nantes, the Seattle-Nantes Sister City Association is thrilled to work with Claude Ponti, beloved and prolific French children’s author and illustrator. His influence has gone beyond literature and to museums and public spaces in Nantes and internationally, notably with his exhibits at the Jardin des Plantes and the Parc de Beaujoire in Nantes.

    • Kat Shimon April 5, 2021 (10:24 am)

      When you click to READ MORE in the WSblog article, and see that much discussion and planning have gone into the installation options, the survey will make so much more sense. Seeing the photos of the corresponding garden art in Nantes versus the drawings in the survey may be helpful when taking the survey. Options are fun and delightful!

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