Will the Dome Project Bloom?

“Andy Warhol would like to see the Tacoma Dome as a large flower.”

This was the opening line of a project proposal sent to the Tacoma-Pierce County Arts Commission in January 1982 from Vincent Fremont of the Andy Warhol Studio.

Warhol’s vision for the 530-foot Tacoma icon was born from a composite of different flowers combined to make “a flower’s flower,” according to the proposal. The expansive petals would cover the circumference of the dome with the flower’s center at the dome’s zenith.

Warhol’s proposal was famously rejected, over Stephen Antonakos’ “Neons for the Tacoma Dome,” which was incidentally later de-selected with concerns over compromising the integrity of the dome’s structure.

“Unfortunately, Tacoma has a bit of a past history of turning down forward-thinking ideas by well-known artists — I don’t just mean the Tacoma Dome,” said Tacoma artist Chandler O’Leary, referencing Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1873 curvilinear street layout rejection. “People were so upset by the proposed artwork ideas that the city’s entire public art program disappeared for a couple of decades.”

“Andy Warhol would like to see the Tacoma Dome as a large flower.”

In recent years, citizens and professionals in the arts community have been endeavoring to revitalize Warhol’s vision. “Adopting Warhol’s design after more than 30 years would feel like a real accomplishment — like we’ve finally learned, as a community, the value of good design in public spaces,” O’Leary said.

In February 2015, the Tacoma City Council unanimously green-lighted the design, which would allow supporters to approach the Warhol Foundation and begin to secure funding for the project’s estimated $5.1 million price tag.

More than a year after the decision, many Tacoma residents may be wondering whether they can expect to see the skyline blossom any time soon, or if the project will wither away. Amy McBride, arts administrator for the City of Tacoma and longtime shepherd of the Flower The Dome movement, cautions that there are still obstacles yet to overcome.

“The first priority is to figure out a way to give the Tacoma Dome the investment it needs to be rehabilitated and brought back to its original glory. It’s a magnificent structure,” she said. “I think if the city goes for a bond measure or something to fund that, it would be an opportunity to revisit the Warhol as part of a bigger package.”

Rock Hushka, chief curator at the Tacoma Art Museum, also sees some roadblocks ahead.

“It’s a very expensive project, and it crosses multiple institutions and consensuses to move forward,” he said. “It would be great to make this happen; sometimes art takes a long time to realize, you just chip away at it day by day.”

Tacoma artists like O’Leary are hopeful they’ll see a flowered dome in the future to further cement Tacoma’s arts culture and inspire more art-based tourism.

“Personally, I really hope the Warhol design ends up on the Tacoma Dome — not only am I a big fan of Warhol’s work — I also think the Tacoma Dome makes for an ideal blank canvas. Adding a big beautiful orange poppy would certainly add a lot of visual interest to a fairly dull part of the skyline,” O’Leary said.

Fellow Tacoma artist Jessica Spring agrees.

“I also think the location — viewable from the often-cruel I-5 traffic — would offer some solace to commuters and an invitation to explore an arts-driven city,” Spring said.

is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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