The city's Hearing Examiner last week overturned a January decision by the Pike Place Market Historical Commission to block the sculptural celebration of the lives of the homeless in King County.
When the organizers for the Homeless Remembrance Project sought input from the public about where to place an art piece celebrating the lives (and remembering the deaths) of homeless people in King County, the response from the homeless community was overwhelmingly in favor of placing the "Tree of Life" in Victor Steinbrueck Park, just north of Pike Place Market.
The organizing group, which grew out of the Women in Black vigils held by the Women's Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), started working on the project in 2003. Artist Clark Wiegman and the group worked to design a tree-like structure the shape of two large leaves rising from the ground. Each leaf has cutouts of smaller leaves, as though these tiny pieces have fallen off and are lost.
As a separate phase of the project, "Leaves of Remembrance" will be embedded in King County sidewalks; each leaf will bear the name of a homeless person who has died on the streets.
"It has grown far beyond our original idea," says project chair Carol Cameron, describing the journey the design has gone through to reach its current state.
The Seattle City Council passed a resolution giving its unanimous support for placing the piece on public land. The Seattle Parks Department approved of the proposed design. But the project hit a wall when, in 2008, organizers sought approval from the Pike Place Market Historical Commission. After years of revisions and meetings, the Commission voted in January to deny the proposal.
The project was given new hope June 1, however, when the Seattle Hearing Examiner overturned the Commission's ruling, bringing the project a step closer to actualization. Among the several reasons the Examiner gave to overturning the Commission's decision, the examiner determined that, after years of revisions, the design of the project did not conflict with any of the Commission's guidelines relating to the park.
The guidelines cited by the Commission applied to buildings, but not to the park, the Examiner said in its findings document. The Examiner also determined that the Commission's concerns about the structure blocking views was unfounded, since it would only disrupt someone's view if they were standing directly behind it.
"We have our approval and we're ecstatic about it," says Cameron.
The next step for the project's organizers is to raise more money. The group has been working with the city's Department of Transportation to find locations for the first of the "Leaves of Remembrance," possibly in Belltown. However, no locations have been confirmed yet. If all goes smoothly, the first leaves could start going in by the end of the summer.
The "Tree of Life" has more hurdles ahead of it, but Cameron hopes work can begin next year.