Visual

Suddenly Dragons

An art adventure in Arlington

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

At the tail end of an epic quest that had taken us from Bellingham to Minneapolis and back via the perilous highways of America, my prince and I decided to escape the horrors of Seattle’s clogged arterials in favor of a scenic choose-your-own-adventure route that started in the town of Snoqualmie and ended in Arlington.

In between the former and latter locales, the day took on a gauzy fairy-tale quality as we happened upon colorful farm stands selling ripe peaches and freshly harvested tomatoes, watched masked tourists wander dreamily through Darrington’s historic district, detoured through a sinuous and magical agricultural road that was never identified—I’m still not sure if it actually exists—and eventually found our way to the dragons of Arlington.

That last vision wasn’t a sleep-deprived hallucination brought on by spending three days on the open road. As was evidenced by a press release awaiting me upon my return to civilization, a number of the mythical fire-breathing creatures have “flown” into downtown Arlington in recent days as part of what is described as an “interactive public art adventure.”

This means residents and those passing through the Snohomish County city south of Mount Vernon will be treated to sightings of the winged beasts crafted by area artists through August—including hidden dragons in the windows (and one fence) of local businesses, a long chalk creature crafted by area youth on the sidewalk of Legion Park, a multi-artist “Suddenly Dragons” Fly-In Exhibit in the windows of the Arlington Depot, and vibrantly hued wind sock wonders waving in the summer breeze just north of the Depot along Centennial Trail.

Originally intended to tie into Arlington’s annual Fly-In Festival—which, like almost every other similar event around the world, was canceled due to the perils of the pandemic—the exhibit at the Depot and the wind dragons crafted by local artist Monica Bretherton became a way to creatively reclaim the city and take a step toward recovery from COVID-19 and its negative effects.

“Dragons are a gateway between the natural world and our imagination,” says Bretherton, who originated the project. “That’s obviously a significant relationship because we have been creating art about them for at least 10,000 years.”

Paid for by the City of Arlington’s Public Art Program—which last year started funneling 10 percent of new construction taxes into funding art—the monthlong event gives people a chance to do some socially distanced exploration of the downtown core as well as provide exposure for local merchants. Dragons can be spied everywhere from the feed store to the florist, the bowling alley, clothing and knitting stores, and even a muffler shop.

Each dragon on display is different, including a found art creation by local artist Karen Lewis, who says the challenge was a “fun way to revisit needle arts and share in my love of whimsy,” and Sarah Arney, who notes her submission is a “fine line between dragons and the colorful lizards of the earth.” Other featured artists include Coe Blackwell, Erika Bruss and her youth art crew, Stuart Heady, Mike Nordine, and Niki Spencer.

At the event’s website, each dragon has a sign with a link to its own webpage containing information about the host and the artist, as well as offering clues to help find their creations. All can be uncovered on or near the four-block stretch of North Olympic Avenue, and most can be seen from the street or out in the open. Physical maps can also be found at the information board outside the depot.

Arney, who serves as president of the Arlington Arts Council, says she is grateful to Bretherton for coming up with the idea for the community-minded project.

“Since we had to cancel our Art in Legion Park Festival and all our youth art events, it was lucky that Monica was able to re-conceive Suddenly Dragons to function in this new environment,” she notes. “Ironically, she proposed the project for city funding over a year ago, before anyone even imagined such a thing as the COVID pandemic. To me, it represents the magic and power of art for recovery.”

For more details about Suddenly Dragons, go to http://www.suddenlydragons.com

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