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Pride artwork in Duvall returns, but concerns remain

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Axton Burton
Axton Burton

Duvall's Pride Wall, displayed near the city entrance, was taken down last year after the city received threats, combined with its lack of a sign and art policy.

Since then, a lot has changed. Axton Burton, executive director of Pride Across the Bridge and the artist who created the original piece, got to see their newly designed Pride art installed on the side of city hall by community members at Duvall's first Pride event over last weekend.

Axton Burton  

Revised art policy and a renewed cultural commission
Duvall's cultural commission, which had been defunct for multiple years due to a lack of staff, was reactivated by the city's new community events coordinator. Amy Ockerlander, mayor of Duvall, said the old commission never had a full-time staff member to help get the work done.

"With a full-time staff person, this group is able to be creative and develop work plans, and has come up with some absolutely fantastic ideas for the future," Ockerlander said.

One of the first items on the commission's to-do list was updating the art policy, which requires that the artist be notified of public art removal via snail mail, and requires a deaccession report that includes documentation of communication with the artist. The city is also responsible for regular maintenance using a plan written by the artist.

Meanwhile, the city is attempting to fund the events coordinator position, which helped revamp the cultural commission and ran the Pride celebration. Currently, it is a temporary two-year position using FERPA money from COVID-19. Ockerlander's goal is to make the position permanent. Without the position, she says most events would not happen, and the Cultural Commission would not be staffed.

"We recently had a community survey [in which] arts and culture [was] a very high priority for our residents, which is consistent [with] the entire time that I've been a resident here," Ockerlander said. "I'm hoping that helps provide the basis to get council support and approval to make that position a full-time permanent position so that we can continue to provide cultural events in our community and expand our public arts programs citywide."

Axton Burton  

Community- or city-organized Pride?
After the piece was taken down last year, Burton created an event called the Duvall Pride Palette, which took place last November.

"Because the city was not at all transparent..., there was no reprieve for the Queer community that had been hurt," Burton said. "I just wanted to create something that would be a bandage or an acknowledgment and offer some support during this time before the art installation got realized again."

According to Burton, the city did not respond to requests to support the event.

"The mayor would say, 'Just reach out and tell us what you need,' but I would never hear back from any message," Burton said.

Duvall Pride Palette happened around three blocks away from last weekend's Pride in the Park but did not have food trucks or a dedicated stage like the city-organized event.

Burton also worried about the latter's location, Depot Park, because it is directly next to the city's police department. Duvall police were involved in the early-morning removal of Burton's original piece.

"That is not a space that I'm comfortable in. That's a lot of physical and emotional work that I have to do in a space that should be healing for us," Burton said.

Ockerlander did not choose the event location but said that the park is probably the only appropriate place for it. Other parks, like Duvall's ball fields, are heavily relied on by sports groups during weekends. Depot Park also has restrooms and is near the art installation.

"While we have many parks, there aren't many that are suited for events," Ockerlander said.

"There's a lot of learning that the city will need to do" Burton said, "and I am hopeful that there is a post-event conversation with the two nonprofits that help serve the community in that area to talk about 'we already have a Pride event in Duvall we put on.' Instead of harming the community more and assuming what we want to see, maybe we could have your support with this community-driven event."

Axton Burton  

Quick organization from a temporary position
Burton also expressed frustration about city communication with vendors and performers. According to Burton, the vendors were not told until April 24 that they had been approved to be at the main Pride happening on May 11.

"It's disrespectful to the vendors. The performers still don't have their timeline," Burton said.

Burton attributed the time crunch to having a single person, the community events coordinator, be the planner.

"Because it's all on one individual, I can understand logistically, it's a lot of fucking work," they said.

Not everyone had concerns, though. Elizabeth Hill performed over the weekend with her band Elizabeth Hill and the Valley Folk. Given that it's the city's first Pride event, she feels they are trying to do a good job.

"They're trying to get it done before the ribbon cutting [also on May 11], so the schedule's been compressed. That would be the most fair thing to say," Hill said. "I think it's going to turn out to be a great event."

Generally, the vendors the SGN interviewed were enthusiastic about the festivities. Some did not feel the time crunch Burton described.

"I feel like the city's pretty prepared. All the communication that has gone back and forth between me and the city has been great," drag performer Kenbie Enby said.

One pottery vendor, Joseph MaKing, said it was his first Pride celebration as a vendor. He was excited big brand names were not sponsoring it.

"When big-name sponsors started funding Pride events, it became less about the joy of being Gay and became all about 'we gave you money for our event, drink our alcohol,'" MaKing said. "Small towns are going to be a lot less sponsored, so it's going to be a lot more true to our community."

For longtime residents like Hill, the day provided a sense of community.

"I've lived here for 37 years and it's just been more of a quiet — I wouldn't go as far to say closeted — but it's been a quiet existence," Hill said. "We have a network of people, but there's been so many new people move here that we don't all know each other."