Taste of the Town

Taste of the Town: Seattle Public Art Program Director Ruri Yampolsky

Picking her favorite Seattle art installation? Almost impossible. Picking her favorite potato chip? Child’s play.

By Clancey Denis March 1, 2011

Seattle Public Art Program director Ruri Yampolsky believes bacon is a condiment.

Photo: Amy Herndon

Seattle was one of the first cities in the US to establish a public art ordinance—meaning that one percent of all construction costs in this city is allocated for the commission and purchase of public art.

The sundial at Gasworks park, the totem poles in Pioneer Square, the upended umbrella on Western Avenue, and the funky red statue underneath the Space Needle are some of the more obvious examples, but there are more—a lot more. Almost 380 permanent installations and over 2,800 portable or temporary works have sprung from the program over the years and grace libraries, parks, street corners and buildings all over the city.

As long as Seattle keeps building, the art will keep on coming.

The woman in charge is Ruri Yampolsky, director of the city’s Public Art Program. She and her team work to “integrate artworks and the ideas of artists into a variety of public settings throughout the city, in a range of artistic expressions,” making Seattle a living, evolving work of art.

Yampolsky was born in Japan but moved to New York City as a toddler, where she would live for the next 28 years—going to college and graduate school and starting a career as an architect. But by 1990 her husband, who grew up on Vashon Island, was sick of living in New York. “He wanted to buy a house, raise kids and be crazy soccer parents in a more relaxed atmosphere,” says Yampolsky. So they moved to Seattle. She redesigned a kitchen for the then-public art director, who later hired her to give technical assistance to artists. She became a project manager, and eventually the director of the Public Art Program.

If she had to recommend one piece of public art in the city that everyone should see? That, she says, is like asking her to pick her favorite child. But, if pressed: “Cal Anderson Park is a wonderful urban open space…. The water feature, called Waterworks, is monumental, interactive, has visual and aural interest and makes use of Seattle’s natural resource, water.”

Choosing favorite foods was way easier.

Eat to live or live to eat?
Eat to live.

Vita, Stumptown, or Starbucks?
We brew Peet’s at home and I carry it to work in a thermal mug.

Favorite way to burn calories?

Where do you take out-of-town guests to eat? We mostly cook at home for guests, but I’d take them to Bakery Nouveau, Tilth, Malena’s Taco Shop (for take-out), or Mashiko. If there are a lot of kids, Blue C Sushi.

Do you use recipes or wing it?
Both. My mother is Japanese and everything I learned from her has no quantities specified. I like Ruth Reichl’s Gourmet Today cookbook, and Roasting by Barbara Kafka.

What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Caramelized onion dip from Metropolitan Market with Trader Joe’s ridged potato chips.

Are you or have you ever been a vegan?
No. Eat everything, in moderation. Plus, we now have a trio of backyard chickens—Evita, Imelda and Lacey—and their eggs are amazing.

What’s your desert-island condiment?
Bacon. Seriously. We add it to everything (OK, not everything, but it’s a staple).

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