Still rethinking public space after 25 years

December 20, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

Pomegranate Center designs with openness, inclusion

Pomegranate Center Managing Director Katya Matanovic (left) and founder and Executive Director Milenko Matanovic stand before pictures of past Pomegranate projects on display in their Issaquah headquarters. By Tom Corrigan

While he now describes his work as community building, Milenko Matanovic says he began that work after realizing he was a frustrated artist.

Founder and executive director of the Issaquah-based Pomegranate Center, Matanovic, 64, contends that art lives too much in concert halls, museums and other similar spots.

“They’re all kind of like temples, right?” he said. “My own sense is that art should be infused into our daily lives.”

Marking its 25th anniversary this year, Matanovic’s nonprofit Pomegranate Center has attempted to move art out of the “temples” and into the every day. Doing that is where the idea of community building comes in, Matanovic said.

“Pomegranate isn’t the easiest thing in the world to explain,” admitted Katya Matanovic, one of Milenko’s daughters and Pomegranate’s managing director.

For the most part, with plenty of help required from the community involved, Pomegranate’s efforts are focused on creating parks or commons-like areas and including plenty of artistic touches. Milenko Matanovic seems to have borrowed the idea of the commons from Europe where he said many, if not most, traditional communities have a central, public space.

Locally, the Pomegranate Center is responsible for several projects including, for example, the planning and construction of Ashland Park in the Issaquah Highlands. While he could conceivably be talking about many Pomegranate Center projects, Matanovic said he saw the highlands’ park as “a place where festivals or a fair can happen.”

And at this point, he hits on two themes related to Pomegranate’s community building, themes that might be summed up as openness and inclusion. For example, children are welcome at Ashland, but it is not exclusively a playground.

Art elements at Ashland Park include a large pole with a handmade design. Actually, even the park’s light poles are handmade, Matanovic said.

While there are no special plans for any public celebration of Pomegranate’s 25th year, Matanovic said he and his staff celebrated this summer by completing what amounted to a record five projects in five months. He figures some 8,000 volunteer hours went into the work.

When construction season comes to an end, that hardly means the Pomegranate Center shuts down. Matanovic takes what he described as a three-pronged approach to community building. One aspect is the building of various projects, but another is the planning for those projects that entails a lot of public meetings and so on. A third aspect is leadership training, done through what Matanovic calls “Multiple Victories Workshops.” He said every project needs to have more than one goal and thus the “multiple victories” portion of the workshop title.

Matanovic believes his overall approach and philosophy is starting to gain some traction outside of the immediate area. While the Pomegranate Center is headquartered in donated space in Issaquah, Pomegranate is starting to spread its influence nationwide with, for example, a project in Alabama.

When Matanovic talks about being a frustrated artist, he is referring strictly to the way he perceives art as being used — or not used — in everyday life. Prior to launching the Pomegranate Center, he was an established avant-garde artist. Today, his work is in several museums around the world, including Los Angeles.

“The purpose of art is to improve life,” he said.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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