In SLU, development is driving art space for a change

With its larger-than-life installations, MadArt isn't known for doing things conventionally. Its newest HQ is no different.
Crosscut archive image.

The inside of MadArt on Westlake.

With its larger-than-life installations, MadArt isn't known for doing things conventionally. Its newest HQ is no different.

Imagine that your apartment building also houses an art studio, home to a revolving cast of artists working on large-scale projects and sculptural work destined for the public sphere. This art-lover's dream is soon-to-be reality: In the next few weeks, MadArt, a for-profit mission-driven arts organization that funds large-scale public art works, is finishing up one of the most fascinating hybrid live/work spaces in town. Their location: The ever-growing South Lake Union neighborhood in the heart of Amazon territory.

A large ground floor workspace with a 50-foot bank of windows will look out onto Westlake Avenue and double as the new home to MadArt.

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The exterior of the new MadArt space. Photo: Hannah Letinich.

MadArt's mission — to provide artists with space, funding in the form of honorariums and commissions and crucial curatorial support — will be bolstered not only by the arts space, but by the rents coming from the 12 market-rate units that will sit above it.

And that bank of ground level windows will also provide a connection to Westlake and South Lake Union, giving pedestrians walking past a view of each artist's creative process as it unfolds.

“We are excited to have a community living right inside the building with MadArt,” director Tim Detweiler said. “There will be lots of activity to see and experience, and we are excited to see how we can connect the neighborhood to the artists, and the artists to the neighborhood.”

Large-scale sculptor John Grade will be the first to work in the new space when it opens its doors this week. You may know Grade's work from the four-story spire that perches in MOHAI's grand entrance, salvaged from the planks of the historic Wawona schooner sailing ship. At MadArt, he will be working on his upcoming Middlefork project destined for the University of Wyoming Art Museum in Laramie.

The apartments in the new Graham Babba-designed building, called The Lofts at 325, are nearly complete and will be available this July. Of the 12 units, 10 are lofts. One is an ADA compliant one-bedroom and one is a penthouse with two generous bedrooms and a huge wraparound deck.

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An architectural rendering of 325 Westlake. Image: Graham Babba.

As a living situation, it would be a natural fit for local art collectors. The lofts, as Detweiler explained, will have high ceilings, built-in shelves, exposed steel beams and huge windows. They'll also include plenty of opportunities to connect with a community of artists and get involved in their work.

This isn't a first for MadArt, which has been unleashing unorthodox large projects on Seattle since 2009. Before setting down roots in South Lake Union, MadArt transformed storefront windows in Madison Park into site-specific art installations, instigated interactive temporary sculptures in Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park, and somehow wrangled permission to use five soon-to-be-demolished homes on Belmont Avenue for immersive installations. All while working with an extremely diverse group of local artists.

And that spirit of ingenuity will spread from South Lake Union to the University of Washington campus this autumn, where a group of yet-to-be-revealed artists will set to work on a temporary sculpture project dubbed ‘Mad Campus’.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jeremy Buben

Jeremy Buben

Jeremy Buben is a Seattle based writer interested in visual and performing arts. His weekly schedule generally includes several trips to local museums and art galleries, as well as to a variety of art related events with more than likely unexpected outcomes. Jeremy’s writings on current art exhibits, museum shows and happenings can be found on his own arts & culture blog LeDandysme and on Vanguard Seattle and