"Seattle as Collector" at SAM through Oct. 23 comprises highlights from Seattle's public-art collection. It proves what a dynamic art scene exists in our part of the country. And it's free to visitors.

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Hung from waist-level to the ceiling, displayed on pedestals and behind glass, throughout the public galleries on the main floor of the Seattle Art Museum are works by 112 Northwest artists. And you own them all — “Seattle as Collector” comprises highlights from Seattle’s public art collection. It’s our art, featuring our artists, and proving what a dynamic art scene exists in our part of the country.

Though the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs got its start in 1971, the collection was inaugurated in 1973 when Seattle became one of the first cities in the nation to demand that a percentage of municipal construction costs be set aside for art, a bold step during the recessionary period called the “Boeing Bust.” The collection now includes almost 380 permanently placed public artworks and more than 2,800 portable works. These works are available for display in city offices, fire stations, community centers and police precincts throughout Seattle.

Deborah Paine, city curator and collections manager, wanted the show to represent each decade and include works that attested to the diversity of the collection and the enormous talent of our artists. She included paintings, prints, photographs, glass, ceramics, textiles, mixed media and videos that work well in the space.

From George Tsutakawa and Guy Anderson, representing the 1970s, to younger artists of this decade such as Mary Iverson and Margie Livingston, all the greats are here. It’s an overwhelming body of evidence proving the wisdom of our civic leaders almost half a century ago as well as the quality of our artistic heritage.

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Compare the rich patterns of Alfredo Arreguin’s “The Window of Make Believe” with the subdued patterns on Leo Kenny’s “The Gem of Appearance.” These two, along with a tapestry by Robert Motherwell and a sumi ink on paper by Morris Graves are among the pieces from the 1970s.

Among the selections from the 1980s are figurative pieces including a lithograph by Chuck Close, a Jacob Lawrence gouache and an acrylic by Fay Jones. There’s also a ceramic piece by Patti Warashina for those who love whimsy.

Compare Dale Chihuly’s 1980 blown-glass piece to Ginny Ruffner’s ebullient lampworked glass from the 1990s, and then look at Preston Singletary’s blown- and carved-glass tribute to his Tlingit heritage created in 2002. There’s Akio Takamori’s exquisite “Sleeping Lady in Blue Skirt” made of stoneware clay. Compare the serenity of that piece with the jarring Charles Kraft glazed earthenware “Disaster Collection: Rabbit and Grenade.”

Paintings by Alden Mason, William Cumming, Gaylen Hansen; a sinuous mixed media piece by Sherry Markovitz — there’s much to love about this exhibition, and so much to be proud of. What a legacy.

Nancy Worssam: nworssam@earthlink.net

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