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New public art proposed for Riverfront

Proposal by Saya Moriyasu recommended as top choice of four finalists

May 8, 2020

Spokane Arts and the City of Spokane Parks Department have taken another step forward in commissioning a second piece of interactive art as part of the renovation of Spokane’s Riverfront Park. Artist Saya Moriyasu, who splits time between Soap Lake, Washington and Seattle, has been selected as the top finalist, and her proposal for an interactive sculpture of a beaver has been recommended by the Joint Art Committee (comprised of members of the Spokane Arts Commission and Spokane Park Board.) The JAC recommendation is passed to the Riverfront Park committee for review, and ultimately will go before the full Park Board for a vote. The Park Board is currently accepting public comments on the sculpture at

The piece selected, with a working title of “Beaver” or “Beaver Throne,” celebrates and imagines a humble beaver who suddenly is inspired to create a piece of art from a beaver’s perspective. She makes a huge, radiating beaver face with colorful log “hair” fashioned like a beaver lodge. The reverse side of the face is a seat shaped like a beaver’s tail for people to sit on. The work will be made of bronze with a colorful patina mounted on a rotating base.

Moriyasu said, “Conceptualized during this time of Stay at Home, the beaver lodge and tail to sit on represent a safe and wonderful place. May we all become grounded in this time and emerge with new ideas, beautiful colors and stories to share.”

Moriyasu is an experienced public artist who created the popular “Maya” sculpture at the Batik Plaza in the Yesler neighborhood of Seattle. The “Maya” sculpture quickly became a beloved neighborhood fixture, with residents often taking photos with the sculpture, placing flowers in her hand, or even adding a mask to her face in a nod to the current covid realities.

Moriyasu’s proposal for Riverfront Park was selected after four finalist artists presented a conceptual design proposal to the Joint Art Committee. The committee reviewed applications from 26 artists from the Inland Northwest region to arrive at the short list of four. Prior to the artist interviews, the members of the JAC emphasized that they were looking for a design that would be interactive and welcoming, create a destination within the park, possibly be colorful, and be durable, long-lasting and low maintenance. Applicants were asked to reference the existing Riverfront Park Art Master Plan to gain a sense of already-identified opportunity sites that would activate underused spaces in the park and/or provide engagement along existing pedestrian corridors. The committee selected Moriyasu’s proposal as their recommendation for a variety of factors, including its interactive nature; the colorful, playful aesthetic; and its nod to how beavers continue to live in the park and have shaped the course of the river over time. The committee also noted that this would be the first piece of folk art in the city’s public art collection.

As part of the artist’s presentation slides, she proposed the idea of working with the Spokane Tribe to determine whether a Salish name and story would be appropriate for the sculpture. Committee members directed that the Spokane Tribe should be contacted to determine if the Tribe would be interested in partnering, depending on whether there might be an appropriate story to tell in conjunction with the beaver sculpture or not. The artist and Spokane Arts look forward to further conversation with the Spokane Tribe to determine if there is interest in partnering on this art piece or not. Based on the Tribe’s decision, the artist will then work with the various project stakeholders to finalize a name and text to go along with the sculpture.

About her art practice overall, Saya writes, “My hands have touched, brushed and molded the art I make. Figurative elements connect the viewer with an emotional alliance and an implied story. The plot is open to interpretation and embellishment…Transformation of space invigorates my spirit.”

The project budget is $85,000, and the artwork is set to be installed later this year at a date to be determined. This project is funded by the 2014 voter-approved bond to renovate Riverfront Park, with 1% of the overall budget set aside for the creation of new public art that would create new destinations within the park to delight visitors. The $85,000 budget includes the design, the artist’s time/labor, fabrication, installation, taxes, insurance, and other related expenses.
The addition of engaging, interactive elements in our urban park creates destinations for local residents and visitors/tourists alike, community gathering space for people of all ages and backgrounds, and creates cultural touchstones that, over time, become part of the fabric of Spokane and a source of civic pride.

Artist’s experience: Saya Moriyasu has exhibited at venues including the Deitch Art Parade (New York), Aqua Art Miami (Florida), Montserrat College of Art (Massachusetts), Henry Art Gallery Gift Shop Project, Bellevue Arts Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, and Wing Luke Museum for the Asian American Experience. After graduating with a BFA from the University of Washington, Moriyasu was awarded residencies at Skowhegan and at Pilchuck Glass School. She is an alumnus of SOIL Artist-Run Gallery.

Spokane Arts is an independent non-profit arts organization that partners with public and private entities to promote arts and culture in Spokane. Spokane Arts does so through grantmaking, arts advocacy, professional development opportunities for artists, and through our diverse programming across arts disciplines, which includes management of the city’s public art collection, such as sculpture, murals, art-wrapped utility boxes, and more.