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Originally published Friday, November 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Visual arts

Step away from your desk and walk amid art

With the dark season upon us, we all need to seize the days and wring out any precious moments of natural light we can find away from cubicles...

Seattle Times art critic

Art outings

"Growing Vine Street" (www.growingvinestreet.org) and Olympic Sculpture Park (Broad Street and Elliott Avenue, 206-654-3100 or www.seattleartmuseum).

With the dark season upon us, we all need to seize the days and wring out any precious moments of natural light we can find away from cubicles and computers. Fortunately, there are some lovely urban art outings to be had on lunch hours (or as a break from the rigors of holiday shopping).

One urban oasis with a low profile but a whole lot of appeal is a project called "Growing Vine Street" (www.growingvinestreet.org). It joins the precious little Belltown P-Patch and Cottages, an important example of historic preservation at Elliott Avenue and Vine Street, to another creative, community-based outdoor space.

The tiny cottages were built in the early 20th century as affordable housing near downtown and nearly razed in the 1990s for development. Now the three remaining houses stand surrounded by a lush, fragrant garden lovingly tended by individuals in the neighborhood. The garden adjoins a water reclamation project, designed to one day take over the eight-block stretch of Vine Street from Denny Way to Elliott Avenue, and transform it into a watershed and urban green space for the dense high-rise population surrounding it.

Pioneering Seattle public artist and environmentalist Buster Simpson is involved in the plan. The focal point of the evolving project is his 10-foot tall, gawky-adorable "Beckoning Cistern," extending its arthritic pipe "fingers" skyward. One of them connects (in a gesture reminiscent of Michaelangelo's vision of God reaching down to Adam) with a downspout from the 81 Vine Building. Overflow from the cistern cascades out the "thumb" and down the hill through a series of planters.

On the building wall next to "Beckoning Cistern," a vertical downspout planter system repeats a 1980s eco-artwork Simpson created for a building at the Pike Place Market. Its kinky geometry makes a pleasing wall sculpture that captures rainwater to nourish tufts of grass and other hardy plants. Simpson says he hopes people will feel free to borrow the idea for their own downspouts at home.

Of course, the most obvious destination for in-city art strolls is the radiant Olympic Sculpture Park (Broad Street and Elliott Avenue, 206-654-3100 or www.seattleartmuseum.org) — less than a year old and one of the sweetest spots in the city on a fall day. The park's design still looks as close to perfect as human minds get, and I can't help sprouting goose bumps every time I visit. The entire composition feels well-thought out, carefully wrought.

On a recent morning, I wasn't alone in my bliss. A steady stream of visitors crisscrossed the park trails, ogling the views and the artworks, looking dazzled and content. The trees have shed most of their leaves, the meadows are shorn and the landscape is settling in like the rest of us, waiting for light and warmth. An affable security guard meandered around on his bicycle and paused to chat with maintenance workers, busy keeping the sculptures pristine and dust-free. Inside the pavilion, dads looked adorable lounging with their toddlers in Pedro Reyes's hanging "Capulas" like overgrown kids in playpens. Other visitors sat in chairs reading, sipping coffee and admiring the views.

There was only one big oops at the park. And I do mean big. That would be Mark Dion's nurselog project, the "Neukom Vivarium" — in my mind one of the only truly questionable commissions Seattle Art Museum made for the park. On the middle of a busy Friday, it was closed.

A sign at the door explained that the vivarium — an obviously very expensive part of the park that required its own special climate-controlled building and the purchase of naming rights to fund it — is open only when volunteers are available to staff it. Good grief. The lack of planning here is out of step with the free, open, ingenious park around it.

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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