Big boost for Eastside arts

The slowly maturing arts on the Eastside suddenly have a growth spurt, with major gift to fund Taneuki Center in downtown Bellevue. What's been holding the Eastside back?
Tateuchi Center in Bellevue

Tateuchi Center in Bellevue Pfeiffer Partners Architects

Plans for a concert hall in Bellevue have suddenly revived with news of a $25 million lead (and naming) gift from the local Tateuchi Foundation. The hall, a block northeast of Bellevue Square, now has $60 million of the $160 million needed for the campaign.

The saga reveals some interesting facts about the local arts scene. One is that we have artificially depressed the growth of suburban arts venues, mostly in order to build up Seattle-based arts groups. In other regions, the wealthy suburbs, full of patrons who resist the long drive into downtown for entertainment, have been playing vigorous catch-up. One of the most interesting instances is the recent decision by the Baltimore Symphony to play in a new hall in suburban Washington D.C., in addition to its Baltimore home.

Our Eastside has only the Kirkland Performance Center, at 400 seats, and the thriving Village Theater in Issaquah, specializing in musicals. Bellevue built a small art museum, which almost imploded under early board crises. South King County does better, particularly with the Auburn performing arts center and the Ikea Center; the north has the new Edmonds Center for the Arts.

One reason for the lagging by the Eastside is that major patrons there are very much courted by the major arts boards in Seattle, leaving facilities like the PACE project (Performing Arts Center Eastside, as it was called) struggling for major gifts after the initial grant of free land in 2002 from developer Kemper Freeman. The project had sought federal earmark money and had pretty much gone into hibernation until this week's announcement of the Tateuchi grant. Atsuhiko Tateuchi, who died in 2007, was the founder of a human-resources consulting firm.

Tateuchi Center will have a 2,000-seat concert hall as well as a 250-seat cabaret-style space. Some feel the main hall is too small to be able to attract major money making touring musicals and shows, while it is also rather large for organizations such as the Bellevue Philharmonic. It will adjoin the Bellevue Hyatt, so it might also do service as a conference/convention facility. And it will work well for some Seattle organizations who want to do run-out performances. Grand opening is now slated for 2013, according to the Center's detailed announcement.

Might it spur an arts renaissance (really a "naissance") on the Eastside? Here the useful analogy is Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the second city has arts groups such as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra that complement the Minnesota Orchestra and draw from the wider metropolitan audiences. That still seems like a long way off, as serious arts performances still have trouble finding audiences on the family-fare-oriented Eastside. But, just as Seattle arts were built by having the facilities first (legacies of the 1962 World's Fair) and then found organizations to fill the stages, so the Eastside has to start somehow.

David Brewster is founder of Crosscut and editor-at-large. You can e-mail him at david.brewster@crosscut.com.


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