Author: Madrid, Cienna
Date published: September 23, 2010
Radio station KEXP and the artists behind Open Platform, a proposed exhibition space and park, shot back against a panel's recent recommendation to plant a Chihuly glass museum on public land at Seattle Center. Now the groups, which are bidding on that land together, want the public's help to scrap the glass museum.
Open Platform said in a statement that if the museum were permitted, 30,000 square feet of open space would be "walled off and the public will be charged an admission fee to enter." Instead, the group vowed to push offi cials to "select our plan so Seattle gets the public open space it deserves." KEXP, meanwhile, announced it will "await a decision from the mayor."
On September 17, the panel appointed by Seattle Center to evaluate eight proposals for the 1.4-acre site announced its choice, praising the Chihuly museum's "organizational readiness" and saying that "no other proposal was as successful in meeting the... criteria."
The recommendation will soon reach the desk of Mayor Mike McGinn, who can draw up a lease agreement for the Chihuly museum or select another project. "I am not predisposed to any option at Seattle Center," McGinn said at a press event on September 10, while the recommendation was still pending. "The public loves Seattle Center, and we would do what meets the public's expectations."
As for the "public's expectations," sentiment has long been against a Chihuly museum. Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, chair of the Parks & Seattle Center Committee, has received 64 e-mails supporting KEXP/Open Platform and against a Chihuly museum in the last six weeks. She has received only 25 in favor of the museum. And in April, Bagshaw's offi ce received over 500 e-mails about the museum, with threequarters against the plan.
The panel's arguments for the museum may not quell the public opposition. For instance, the panel says the museum's "organizational readiness" played a primary role in its decision. But gauging the project by that metric suggests a predisposed outcome. The Chihuly museum had a year to craft its proposal (beginning behind closed doors), while other projects-KEXP, Open Platform, a Native American cultural museum, and four other proposals in competition- had only six weeks to create their proposals (a bidding process opened only after public outcry about the glass museum's apparent backroom deal). And while the other proposals are less shovel-ready, they have assets the Chihuly project lacks, such as periodic changes to the installations and free admission. Announcing a winner based on the museum's upper hand only exacerbates concerns that the project has long been predestined by the company that owns the Space Needle and Seattle Center, which has backed the project since the beginning.
"This was not a setup," insists Bill Block, the panel's leader. "We came into the process open-minded." Block also says the panel carefully considered public concerns when evaluating the museum project.
But several of the museum's fl aws seemingly weren't on the panel's mind when making its recommendation: (1) the static, one-artist focus of the museum for 20 years- although Chihuly proponents say Pilchuck glass students and emerging artists could potentially exhibit in the space, Block admits they never stated how large a role they would play; (2) the lack of local participation (the museum estimates its audience will be 70 percent tourists); and (3) the eight-foot-tall fence surrounding it-the panel was satisfi ed with the "visibility of the art through and rising above the fencing."
Of course, the Chihuly project has one clear advantage over the other proposals: funding. It offers higher rents and is throwing in a $2 million park-and-maintenance package to sweeten the deal. Oddly, the panel went out of its way to dismiss that advantage, saying that it evaluated the proposals based on how much they could potentially cost Seattle Center, not how much they could make.