Gresham’s mayor wants outside living room gone
From, November 7 2008

Outdoor sculptures that make up a living room setting no longer have a place at a TriMet transit mall in Gresham, according to the city’s mayor, Shane Bemis.

The sculptures, created in 2001 by an artist who has since moved away, have become a magnet for cigarette butts, garbage and crime, says Bemis.

And the mayor is not alone in his thinking – neighborhood associations, business owners who don’t like the look of it and police who say it draws a bad element are all in agreement.

However, there is a lengthy public process to go through before anything can be done – a process that is not without obstacles. TriMet’s policy is that once art is put in place, it should stay put for 10 years. And federal law offers the work and the artist protections.

Bemis wasn’t expecting such problems, but says he won’t give up.

He did say he would be happy to remove the artwork temporarily to try to clean up the problems in the area, but TriMet says that won’t happen unless Bemis participates in the public process.

Trouble in Gresham’s ‘Living Room’
from the Oregonian, November 7 2008

In the cold light of day, “The Living Room,” the sculpture installed at TriMet’s Gresham Central transit station in 2001, looks like the morning after a big party. Cigarette butts spill out of the concrete couch cushions. Plastic soda cups, carried on the east wind, roll around the base of the bronze TV.


Mayor Shane Bemis, fed up with the partying, fighting and the drug-dealing that has cropped up around the sculpture, wants it gone. In September, he asked TriMet to remove it, saying that although the artwork itself wasn’t the issue, the activity it attracts had gotten out of hand.

But removal — if approved — would not be as simple as just prying the bronze TV, and other concrete and bronze living room pieces off the land and sending them off to some big public-art furniture warehouse.

TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen, in an Oct. 8 letter to Bemis, says a public process is needed. Furthermore, according to TriMet, federal law gives the artist, Tamsie Ringler, certain rights, including “right of integrity,” which protects artwork from “distortion, mutilation or other modification.”

That means the sculpture would probably need to be removed in a manner protecting its physical integrity, and preserved. TriMet suggests that could involve substantial cost. A transit-agency policy adopted in 2001 says removal should be considered only 10 years after the date of installation or if a work has been damaged beyond repair, and then only after careful, impartial evaluation.

So far, no next step is decided, says TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch, and Bemis continues to gather information from police to shape his position. “I’m disappointed obviously with the process,” he says. “It seems like we ought to be able to get our arms around it a little more quickly. … But we are still committed to working with TriMet.”

TriMet has decommissioned only one art feature, Cattail Tunes at Quatama/Northwest 205th Avenue station on the west side: tall flexible poles with metal heads that were intended to sway in the wind but were susceptible to vandalism. They were removed in 2000, before TriMet established the artwork “deaccession” policy in 2001.

Ringler, reached by phone at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., where she teaches sculpture, was saddened to learn her sculpture — one of Gresham’s first pieces of public art — may be removed, particularly since city leaders are simultaneously working to bring new public art to a public plaza under construction downtown. Ringler, who used to teach at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, says the busy transit center would face the same kind of issues whether or not the sculpture was there.

Young people love “The Living Room,” she points out, and in Gresham they have few public places to hang out with their friends.

“Probably some of the kids (who frequent the site) come from troubled homes and they have no living room that they can feel safe in,” Ringler says. “So they hang out in a public living room — I think that’s sadly ironic. It’s something the city needs to address.”

Instead of removing her work, Ringler says, TriMet should keep the site tidier and work to repair the sculpture and the surrounding lawn after years of heavy use. “It’s being loved to death,” she says, estimating that while TriMet spent $25,000 for the piece, its real-dollar value is closer to $150,000.

“I think people do realize what they have, but it’s a shame government doesn’t realize what they have. It’s a very unique vision — it seems so everyday and common, but that’s exactly what’s special about it. It’s a celebration of the commonplace in our lives.”