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    Chihuly exhibit: smashing Center open space hopes?

    A proposal for Seattle Center to have a new Dale Chihuly exhibit has been sailing along quietly. But the plan runs counter to a master plan and the idea of preserving Center open space.
    Rendering of the Dale Chihuly "glass house" proposed for Seattle Center

    Rendering of the Dale Chihuly "glass house" proposed for Seattle Center Seattle Center

    Schematic for Dale Chihuly exhibit at Seattle Center

    Schematic for Dale Chihuly exhibit at Seattle Center Seattle Center

    A Dale Chihuly artwork

    A Dale Chihuly artwork City of Olympia

    A plan to turn part of the Seattle Center grounds into exhibit space for glass artist Dale Chihuly is generating controversy after gliding along quietly for months.

    The plan would use the Center's existing Fun Forest arcade building, plus much of the open space where kiddie rides now stand, to create 44,000 square feet of exhibit space for Chihuly's work. Patrons would have to pay to enter the building, but some works would be installed outside, where the public could view them for free. The site would include an "art garden" and "glass house" separate from the building, as well as a gift shop and café inside.

    The Seattle Design Commission, which serves as an advisory group to the mayor and city council, approved the "concept direction" for the proposal in January despite some concerns that too much of the space was closed off for paid admission. "Consider increasing the size of the area that can be enjoyed by the public for free," the commission urged, in a list of recommendations attached to its approval in minutes from the meeting.

    The plan was scheduled for further discussion by the commission at a meeting Thursday afternoon (March 4), but was removed from the agenda without any official explanation. The proposal will go through at least two more stages of review by the commission, as the design gets more refined. If it gets final approval, and signoff from Mayor Mike McGinn, it will go to the council.

    Robert Nellams, Seattle Center director, told the commission in January that the indoor-outdoor exhibit reflects the principles of the center's master plan. "It's about bringing vitality and vibrancy to the campus," Nellams said. He also touted the chance to showcase Chihuly, known around the world for his glass artworks, in his hometown; until now, the only public Chihuly showcase in the region has been the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

    "The premier glass artist in the world wants to be a part of this project," Nellams told the design commission. "This is a good thing."

    But the center's Century 21 Master Plan, adopted by the council in August 2008 after nearly two years of study, shows the area as open space. "Five acres of valuable real estate returns to the public realm in January 2010," the plan states. "A significant space on the campus that is now most frequently an empty asphalt lot for carnival rides becomes an active, fun destination for children and families throughout the hours of the day and the days of the year. Surrounding the Space Needle will be a landscape expressing the abundance and sustainability of the earth, a naturally forested area, a structured urban forest, sustainable gardens and botanical terraces."

    Some skeptics view the Chihuly proposal as a misguided departure from the master plan, a move that would take yet more of Seattle Center's space and cordon it off for people who can afford to buy a ticket.

    "This is a big deal," said City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who heads the council's Parks & Seattle Center committee. "Seattle Center is 74 acres, and there are only 17 acres left that are open space. So let's preserve this." Bagshaw said she'd like to hear other ideas for the area, maybe even one that would dedicate the land to art and culture more broadly: "I want there to be a public process."

    Norie Sato, the lone "no" vote on the design commission, said, "One of my concerns is that the space is going to become a paid space." But the artist — the only one on the 10-member commission — also felt the design needed more work: "If we're going to turn more public space into private space, we need to do something of extra quality, extra value. The design wasn't quite there yet."

    Bagshaw said she did not know why the center didn't issue a "request for proposals" to solicit ideas for the use of the Fun Forest space. The rides will be removed and the arcade building emptied after Labor Day, when a lease to the private group that runs the carnival will expire. Another area — north of the monorail and east of the Center House — has been opened up to an RFP process. Seattle Center spokeswoman Deborah Daoust said she could not explain why one area is going through an RFP and another area isn't. Nellams, she said, was not available to comment.

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    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 3:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    Seattle Center is becoming more and more of a playpen for the estimated 1000 employees that will eventually be stationed at the Gates Foundation complex across 5th Avenue. Maybe they will get generous fringe benefits such as free admission to all the private venues within the 74 acres of Seattle Center. And, the proposal for underground parking where Memorial Stadium now stands leads to the question of who gets first dibs access to those parking spots? The glass museum/exhibit seems to be a stretch and not really a 'gift' but more of a backroom deal.


    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 6:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    This is just another silly part of a Center plan that few in this town actually support beyond paying lip service to open space. A Chihuly exhibit seems much like EMP, aimed at the over 35 elitist crowd and once you've been there you don't need to visit again.

    The new Center plan is crazy, building as it does on a 20 year old plan that while creating more open space has done nothing but kill attendance and revenue the Center. The Seattle Center in the late '80's was third behind the Disney parks in attendance nationally and had about 80% of the population in the 4 surrounding counties visit the Center at least once a year (according to reports at the time). No longer true because open space, especially at the Center isn't the attraction the these utopian dreams believe it to be and neither is Chihuly. Visit the Center on an average warm summer weekend and see how empty and dead the open lawns on Broad St., the old flag plaza, North of the fountain, and the Mural Amphitheater are.


    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm not exactly sure what the hell "a landscape expressing the abundance and sustainability of the earth" would be. Sounds like they'd be moving in exhibits from Expo 74. Remember the big pile of garbage in the US pavilion?

    Mr. Chihuly produces some stunningly beautiful pieces, and I take every opportunity I can to view his work. But this sounds like a very expensive advertising campaign for his studio, which is a commercial venture. There are already many places to see his wares. Try the old Union Station, the Glass Museum and the Swiss Tavern in Tacoma. Why does Seattle always have to try to out-do Tacoma?

    And if the goal is to beautify the Seattle Center, start by removing all the junk from the courtyard of the Science Center.


    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    So if the Chihuly Exhibit seems aimed at the over 35 elitist crowd and once you have been there, no need to go again, what about SAM, the Sculpture Park, and for that matter the 1% for Art Program. Once you have seen the totem in Pioneer Square, ho hum? Calder in the park... been there? Please... I like all the art every time I see it.

    Like it or not Chihuly is considered by many to be a major artist. But other than the Chandeliers at Benaroya Hall, some work on display in the City Centre Lobby and the WSCTC and the Seattle Aquarium, The Tacoma Art Museum has more Chihuly on display than Seattle public palces.

    And Tacoma has a Glass Museum a few blocks down... Over 35 playground? Hardly... Lots of under 35 head there... BIG draws for artists, and folks of all ages but you have to go to Tacoma. Or Las Vegas... Or Kew Garden.

    As a fouth generation local I am THRILLED to see the Seattle Center lead in the creation of a large glass display. As a home to multiple attractions, it helps create a "center of gravity" to draw even more folks into the downtown core.

    I find it long overdue to have a facility devoted to Glass Art. We have more than 485 parks, and while green space is nice, the Seattle Center ALSO offers a number of attractions that keep the core vibrant. Theatres, museums, music venues and gathering spaces are also important. Adding yet another reason to come to the Seattle Center is worth the investment.

    And kudos to see private investment be a part of it. Especially in budget tight times.

    I do agree with Captnp that the lawns are underutilized in the summer... but the attractions are not. They tend to be packed.

    When I want OPEN space, I go to Discovery Park, Magnuson Park, or many of the 485 some parks. Seattle Center is a park, but not focused on open space alone. It's "pull" is the attractions, a history that dates back to the 1920s with the Civic Center Ice Rink and Opera House and Armory, and a dozen acres of open space. The mix remains the same almost a hundred years later. I think we can spare 44,000 sq. ft out of the 74 acres to keep that mix balance.

    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 10 a.m. Inappropriate

    One last note: The Tacoma Museum of Glass is about Glass Art in it's many forms. There is actually more Chihuly on display a few blocks down at the Tacoma Art Museum than at the Museum of Glass.

    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Aside from the relative merits of this proposal, there is a very large point to be made about public capital planning here.

    A long term plan is a brainstorm, it is not a contract. Planning that prevents additional proposals would be just stupid. It is when a specific funded project comes forth that final, and binding, decisions, need to be made. We need to worry a **lot** more about responsibility at that stage of the public's business, then about plans controlled by political appointees and machines.

    BTW, The whole Museum of Glass neighborhood is nearly as much an international destination in Tacoma/Pierce as Mount Rainier - if you haven't been it is definitely worth at least on trip from King County - even if you are under 35!

    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    The building has always been out of character. It looks more like a warehouse than a park attraction. It completely divides east side from west side attractions. It should be demolished. Another building could take its place if designed to enable pedestrian movement on all sides around it; octagonal possibly with expansive glass window views in all directions, and more than one story to complement adjacent Center House and the Needle. I consider Chihuly more a craftsman than an artist. An new building housing an art museum would work, but I wouldn't dedicate it solely to Chihuly. Seattle Center's asphalt plazas are disgusting. Work on pedestrian amenities and landscaping the area along with any new building. Seattle doesn't need any more artsy fartsy crap like the nauseatingly hideous Sculpture Park.


    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    From one broken business model to another.

    Hey, at least 4Culture is up front about begging for a public handout.
    This back room public land and money grab kind of make me a little sick.

    Were "we" going to charge rent, or is that reserved for non-profits?

    Mr Baker

    Posted Fri, Mar 5, 5:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    Let's get the Jones Museum back too!

    Posted Sun, Mar 7, 12:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    I couldn't care less what the Seattle city planners do with Seattle Center-I never go down there any way, and unless they start showing live films of the birth of Christ, I'm not likely to.....and even then it would be debatable.

    Aaah, but Dale Chiloolee. Really. Who cares any more? I was tired of his work twelve years ago. He doesn't actually make any of it himself anyway.

    He has foisted his crap all over the place. When I was in London not long ago a couple highlights of our trip were sullied by the presence of his garbage. Completely unrelated to anything in their vicinity. Kew Gardens let themselves be bothered with all of these wierd misplaced bubbley things averywhere....what on earth did they have to do with anything? Kew gardens is a timeless place. This stuff is not even remotely timeless.

    The worst was the lobby of the Victoria and Albert museum, where the original fabulous (historic) chandelier in the main entrance area has been replaced with some huge strange cheelooey thing. Jarring, inappropriate and sad.

    I think we should all encourage Dale to move all of his work to his Museum Of My Ass in Tacoma. He got them to buy the whole schtick. Perfect! Now if we play our cards right we in Seattle will no longer be bothered with him.



    Posted Mon, Mar 8, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    Seattle Center again becomes the place for a "new idea", a pantry just waiting for more stuff. Not that the Century 21 plan did much more to advance the center as the premeir landscape of the city. Still wish to see a much larger vision for the Center - probably won't happen especially in this economy. Sigh!!!


    Posted Tue, Mar 9, 3:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    I have been involved in the arts community for about 30 years. Chihuly is now a major brand and his work is manufactured. Is it art? Maybe it used to be. Now he's to art what Liberace, Brittney Spears, & Madonna are to music. Just major recognizable brands.

    How about something new? Must we only get behind corporatized "art"? There are many many great artists out there. As good as or better than Chihuly. "Roll Over Chihuly" and give some oxygen to some of the other artists.

    Whether or not that space should be an art exhibition space at all is another matter.

    I'd love to see a space where young people can create new things. We need something new, amazing, and inspirational. Please, no more predictable rich-people's art. Boring, boring, boring.

    This is a battle worth getting behind. The minds behind this project are boring people who are turning Seattle into a boring city. It seems to me that the most creative ideas comes from places like New Orleans, economically poor but culturally rich.

    This Chihuly Pavillion is a step toward turning Seattle into Bellevue, economically wealthy but culturally impoverished.


    Posted Wed, Mar 10, 4:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    Hasn't anyone else in Seattle seen about as much of Chihuly's glass art as one needs to in a lifetime? Do we really need more, with significant collections already on view all over town, from here to Tacoma and beyond?

    Posted Thu, Mar 11, 1:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    What a pity. Another Seattle Master Plan disregarded, this time in less than two years. Must make those who worked so hard on it feel a little used. Also Nellams and Daost seemed somewhat defensive in their remarks, like maybe the powers that be were forcing this proposal on them. I agree where was the RFP for this space?

    Regarding Chihuly's glass, no question he is a master marketer! But one wonders how long his popularity and this latest craze will continue. A 30-year lease for this museum seems exhorbitantly long since who knows how popular his work will be 10 years from now. Does the lease give the Wrights to put anything in this space over it's life? Maybe an expanded "Ye Old Curiosity Shop" later on if the museum doesn't do that well or "gets old". Like how many times does Uncle Joe and Aunt Agness really want to see this stull at $14 a shot.

    Tacomans must be feeling a bit smug these days since they have a lot of Chihuly glass, not to mention that of other fantastic glass artists on display in the revitalized downtown core including the Tacoma Art Museum, the Maurano Hotel, the Chihuly Glass Bridge which connects the Washington State History Museum to the award winning Museum of Glass on the waterfront and displays (free of charge) hundreds of Dale's glass pieces in outdoor display cases in front of you and even overhead as one crosses the railtracks thirty feet or more below. Too bad everything in Seattle has to be commercialized these days.


    Posted Thu, Mar 11, 3:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    A park is Nature and that is Art, open for citizens and frequent use.
    A Chihuly museum represents Art, but it is open for occasional use by tourists and visitors.
    Seattle Center should be a public space for frequent use by everybody.
    The Chihuly collection is priceless for the City of Seattle. It will find a place elsewhere, but a park is unique and not easily found elsewhere in the City.
    Please honor open space especially at the Seattle Center

    Posted Wed, Mar 17, 9:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    As Knute says, the Seattle Center people ignored their newly prepared Master Plan. They ought to just rename these things the Master Scams.

    Apparently the Seattle Center is just being bribed to toss the Master Plan in the garbage this time. The last time it was when the Monorail agency wanted to run their monorail right past the International Fountain, chopping down dozens of mature trees. At first, the representatives came to the public meetings to express their concerns. Later, the agency apparently paid off the Seattle Center and they were just drooling to run it wherever the Monorail agency wanted to go. So this isn't the first time.

    But they should at least do the public a favor and have a big Master Plan burning ceremony so no one wastes their time and emotions trying to improve it.

    Posted Thu, May 6, 5:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    Boycott the Space Needle. The message is simple – no loss of planned open space at Seattle Center.


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