50 Years: Exploring the ever-growing King County Public Art Collection

Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000). Games, 1979. Vitreous enamel on steel. 108 x 216 inches. Seattle Convention Center, Seattle, WA. King County Public Art Collection. Photo: joefreemanjunior.com

Earthworks and oil paintings. Bronzes and mosaic murals. Artist-designed bridges and transit experiences. Today the King County Public Art Collection contains nearly 2,500 works of art in a vast array of forms and materials. Whether made by an emerging artist or an established expert, each of these works has a story. How was it created? What inspired it? What does it say about our cultural history?

Over the past few years, 4Culture has been crafting hundreds of these stories about artworks in the collection, revealing details about the origins of individual pieces and the artists and artisans who made them. In the months ahead, we’ll be spotlighting the collection’s works, themes, processes, and locations, including new acquisitions and commissions.

“The collection really speaks to shifts and trends in culture,” says Kelly Pajek, 4Culture’s public art program director. “It helps us better understand our communities and our collective identity— and it belongs to all of us. That’s the beauty of public art.”

Melinda Hurst Frye. Arboretum Trail, 2018. Archival Inkjet print. 30 x 40 inches. King County Public Art Collection

In 1973, King County became one of the first governments in the nation—and the first in Washington—to pass a 1% for Art ordinance establishing a dedicated source of funding for the acquisition of artwork. In the 50 years since, 4Culture, formerly the King County Arts Commission, has built an impressive collection that you can readily access in all sorts of public spaces, from airports to parks, bridges to water treatment centers, buses to courthouses.

Along the way, we also became one of the country’s most innovative public art programs by taking strategic risks and centering artists and their ideas. We created, and continue to create, opportunities for artists and arts professionals to influence public policy, stimulate dialogue, and shape the world we live in. Working together, we are always seeking out and finding ways for art to add meaning to the day-to-day lives of our families, friends, and neighbors.

The King County Public Art Collection reflects many significant aspects of our region, not only through objects but through experiences like interactive performances and audio installations. It features works from the Studio Glass movement and paintings by the internationally celebrated Northwest School. It highlights the traditions of the area’s Indigenous peoples as well as traditions brought here by immigrants from around the world. It celebrates the trees, mountains, and water that define our home.

We look forward to sharing stories about all of these topics and more in the months ahead. In the meantime, we encourage you to begin exploring our ever-growing online trove of artwork profiles!