Update: The Mercer Island City Council voted 4-3 to keep the Parks and Recreation Department name as is at its March 20 meeting.
Wanting to elevate the arts to a higher level of importance and visibility in the city, Deputy Mayor Debbie Bertlin proposed that the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department be renamed the “Parks, Arts and Recreation Department” at the Mercer Island City Council’s March 6 meeting.
Bertlin said that the name change, originally discussed at the council’s planning session last June, would pay tribute to the growing recognition of the role that arts plays for everyone.
Her intent was to raise awareness in the community, and among city staff and council, that to the extent Mercer Island funds play fields and open space, it also needs to support the arts. She said that she had recently reviewed a draft list of capital projects, and only two mentioned the arts.
Her motion was supported by Councilmembers Dan Grausz and Benson Wong, but opposed by Mayor Bruce Bassett and Councilmembers Wendy Weiker and Jeff Sanderson, who saw the change as unnecessary, and cited that the staff recommendation was to keep the name as is.
Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Fletcher noted that an immediate rollout of the new name, if approved, would cost $60,000, as the department would need to update its signage and stationary. Most of the other updates could be done online and at a nominal cost, though he said getting used to the new name may take some time.
The Parks and Recreation subcommittee recommended a slower rollout that fits into the existing budget, and items like signs and business cards would be replaced as needed.
Bassett said that he did not support the change because it “takes a clean simple name and turns it into a more awkward mouthful,” and he “particularly [didn’t] like the idea of spending a lot of money to do this quickly.” Sanderson said he saw the “Parks and Recreation” name as standard, which is why the city changed the name of its maintenance department to “Public Works.”
Before the motion could die on a 3-3 draw — as many other council motions have in the past few years, including the Town Center rezoning — it was tabled.
Community members later speculated on social media that the name change could have been inspired by some councilmembers’ desires to support the planned Mercer Island Center for the Arts. Bertlin noted that the community is “quick to support sports … and public safety,” but asked, “what arts facilities does the city maintain for its kids, for its adults?”
“Whether it’s a mouthful or not, we can all get used to something new,” she said.
All council members agreed that there is a definite relationship between arts and parks. The Parks and Rec department supports many arts programs, including staffing the Arts Council, organizing community dances and offering classes for ballet, after school art and even “Wine and Painting” for adults.
“There are a variety of programs, facilities and events that encompass the current name of Parks and Recreation, including parks, opens space, trails, camps, special events, festivals, fitness, sports, arts, senior programs, trips, arts council, art gallery and aquatics,” according to the council’s agenda bill.
Council considers another name change
Also at the March 6 meeting, the council decided to name the outdoor sculpture gallery near Interstate 90 and Sunset Highway the “Greta Hackett Outdoor Sculpture Gallery.”
Dedicating the gallery in her name acknowledges the city’s appreciation of its history, tradition and citizen spirit, according to the Arts Council’s public arts chair, Erin Vivion. Vivion said one of the Arts Council’s goals is to reinvigorate the gallery, but that it lacked a strong identity. The gallery has had many unofficial names over the years.
Former City Councilmember and Mercer Island Reporter editor Jane Meyer Brahm compared it to the “Park on the Lid” over I-90, which was renamed in honor of Aubrey Davis, who was considered to be the “driving force” behind the park. Brahm suggested the Outdoor Sculpture Gallery be dedicated to Hackett for the same reason, as it was her “brainchild.”
Hackett’s daughter Joan Wold attended the council meeting, and said her family was honored by the dedication. Her mother, a cellist, painter and dedicated community volunteer, loved the arts and the outdoors, and the interactive aspect of outdoor sculptures. Her husband, John, donated a sculpture of a deer, called “The Yearling,” to the city in 1998.
Vivion said it was important to rename the gallery now, as the small Mercer Island community is “facing big challenges,” and the council didn’t want the gallery to get lost in the shadow of Town Center and transportation developments. It also aligns with the city’s goal of “humanizing community spaces,” she said.