How the creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is paying tribute to the human spirit through the Confluence Project
Sacajawea State Park, Pasco, Washington. The low sun castsdiamonds on the Snake River. A breeze ruffles the Columbia River.The two great waterways converge here, at a point of land densewith gray willows and sycamores. A few yards away, drummers andsingers from the Nez Percé, the Walla Walla, the Wanapum, andthe Umatilla tribes beat out a blessing to a hushed circle ofdignitaries. Among them ― inconspicuous but for the newsphotographers pointing cameras and jostling for a better angle― stands Maya Lin, still blinking away her fatigue from thered-eye she caught from New York the night before.
Lin is awaiting the third of seven site blessings for theConfluence Project, which could be the most ambitious public workof art ever created in North America. Along 470 miles of theColumbia River basin in Oregon and Washington, Lin and her cohortsare planning up to 10 original art installations at the sevensites.
The Confluence Project took its initial inspiration from thepreeminent explorers of the Northwest, Meriwether Lewis and WilliamClark. But it's equally nurtured by the native peoples whose worldLewis and Clark entered and forever changed. The project includesart installations but also environmental restoration of theColumbia and the land around it. Dozens of government agencies(federal, two states, countless counties and cities), nonprofitorganizations, and Native American tribes have been involved. Andit will cost about $27 million to complete.
"Nothing like this has ever been done," says Jane Jacobsen, theConfluence Project's executive director. "Anywhere. Ever."
"How can you say no?"
The Confluence Project began life in 1999, as the Northwestprepared for the bicentennial of the 1804-06 Lewis and ClarkExpedition. The anniversary evoked deep and complicated responsesin Northwesterners. For many, the expedition represented adventureand the opening of the frontier West. For many others ―particularly the region's Native Americans ― Lewis andClark's arrival signaled the end of a way of life thousands ofyears old.
Jane Jacobsen, then director of a program at the Vancouver(Washington) National Historic Reserve Trust, dreamed of a projectthat would commemorate the bicentennial in all of its complexity.She and colleague David DiCesare came up with the idea ofapproaching Maya Lin, best known as the designer of the VietnamVeterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
It turned out they weren't alone. Independently, two othergroups ― the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla and acommittee of community leaders in Washington's Pacific County― had also imagined Lin as the right artist, someone whowould respond to the bicentennial with appropriate sensitivity.Together, and with other community members and tribes, theyassembled a proposal. In November 2000, Lin accepted thecommission.
Lin recalls the pivotal meeting in her New York studio. "Incomes Jane," she says, "and she brings the Umatilla, the Chinooktribe, the Nez Percé." She shakes her head, laughing.
"How can you say no?"