I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a bit of a cultural elitist. So I want to make it absolutely clear that my opposition to the proposed Chihuly “museum” on the Fun Forest site at the Seattle Center should not be construed as opposition to museums in general or Chihuly in particular. In fact, I think there are strong arguments to make that a “Chihuly Museum” could indeed be a great addition to Seattle, attracting both tourists and their money.
Just not at this particular location.
The Seattle Center is a scarce, kid-friendly attraction near downtown Seattle, and if we’re to have any hope of achieving our density goals over the next few decades we need more near-by amenities for young families, not less. And the several acres of prime parkland the Fun Forest is vacating provides a rare opportunity to create the kinda fun, open and free-admission public space that will draw families to the Center again and again and again.
I fully understand the financial attraction of this proposal to both the Wrights and the cash-strapped Center directors, but a private, for-profit, paid-admission “museum” is simply not the best use of this acreage. Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest that if your goal is to showcase the work of Dale Chihuly and the Northwest glass art movement he helped spawn and promote, there are equally good, if not better places to build a glass gallery in Seattle.
For example, with the collapse of Washington Mutual, the Seattle Art Museum has struggled to fill vacant space at the former Wamu Center, leaving several floors of the building available to a potential glass art showcase. Situated smack dab in the center of the downtown, a comfortable walk from the cruise terminal and the city’s finest hotels, the Wamu Center could prove an ideal location for a glass museum, capitalizing on its proximity to the Seattle Art Museum to concentrate and increase paid admission to both facilities.
Or, if the glass gallery’s backers really have their heart set on the Seattle Center, there is plenty of under utilized land surrounding the Center proper, including parking lots right across 5th Avenue from the EMP. If backers are being forthright in their claim that the proposed $11 per square foot lease is above market rates, then surely they could obtain an even better deal on a not quite so prime location.
But perhaps the best location for a high-profile, Chihuly-branded glass art showcase — one which would provide the most bang for the buck in terms of anchoring and revitalizing a neighborhood that is much in need of such a boost — would be the empty lot on the east side of Occidental Park, right in the heart of the struggling Pioneer Square neighborhood, and the hub of Seattle’s already existing gallery walk. A Chihuly Museum on this or some other nearby lot might prove the kinda public-private partnership I and others could get behind… and a boon to the entire Seattle arts community. Again, just like with the Wamu Center location, the Chihuly Museum and the surrounding galleries would mutually benefit from their co-location.
That’s just three locations, off the top of my head, that might be well suited to a Chihuly Museum without snatching precious open space from public use. And if this project, as it has been presented, is at least as much about art as it is about commerce, then I would hope its backers would take my constructive proposal seriously.