Port Orchard sculptor develops public art incentive

A Port Orchard artist is looking to privately finance a large public sculpture, using a method he hopes will catch on in other communities and further the cause of public art.

And if it provides some employment for starving artists along the way, all the better.

“As more art comes into the area, it attracts more people,” James Kelsey said during a presentation to the Port Orchard City Council. “It attracts better businesses and it attracts more visitors — which is everything that we all want.

“I think that all the things happening in Port Orchard are helping us,” he said. “With Paint the Town and Cedar Cove Days, people are getting really excited. Along with this, renewed public art will pull us out of the economic downturn even sooner.”

The idea, which Kelsey hopes will catch on in other areas, is for artists to be commissioned to build pieces that will then be donated to public spaces.

This is a for-profit enterprise and will not qualify for many existing government programs.

Rather, it is intended to generate funds for the artist in order to make them a profit and support their ventures.

“Artists need to live, and it is a hard enough life,” he said. “So I don’t want to make it a nonprofit.”

At this week’s council meeting, Kelsey displayed a scale model, an abstract arc with a sphere, of the piece he hopes to build.

He is soliciting contributions of any size. He is hoping they will add up to $66,000, which he said is the cost of producing the piece (which could sell for twice as much on the open market).

The finished piece will be about 15 feet high and be constructed from stainless steel. Kelsey said that it will be virtually vandalism proof, as it cannot be dented, and any graffiti will wipe off easily.

Kelsey said the money donated may be counted as a tax deduction, although he could not offer details of that arrangement.

He is leaving the name of the piece open, as well as its proposed location.

One possibility would be on the outskirts of town, for instance on one of the newly built roundabouts.

Another option would be to place it downtown on the waterfront.

After the meeting, Kelsey was next to the third floor window in city hall when a meeting attendee pointed down toward the triangle that joins three downtown streets.

“You should put it right there in the middle of the grass,” he said. “That way, people would have something to look at when they go to and from jail.”

Even if this was not a serious suggestion it was one Kelsey appreciated.

“That’s what I like about art,” he said. “It gets everyone involved.”

The fundraising project starts on Aug. 15 and ends on Sept. 15. This limit not only places a finite limit on the idea it falls within legal boundaries.

If a merchant charges a credit card, the transaction must be completed during that time.

Kelsey hopes to raise all the money through pledges during this period. If the goal is not reached he will cancel the credit card charges and return the checks.

Kelsey does not fit the stereotype of a reclusive artist. Over the past year he has maintained a high local visibility.

This includes joining the Chamber of Commerce and hauling his sculptures downtown for the monthly Arts Walk.

“I think a lot of artists would rather be in their studio working on their art and not talking to people,” he said. “But I do so much public work I need to address a lot of groups about what I am doing. I don’t have that choice.”

For more information or to contribute to Kelsey’s project go to

The Web site was scheduled to be up this week.

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