On March 23, 2019, ARTS at King Street Station, an innovative arts space created to showcase artists of color, celebrate cultural differences, and build community connections, opens to the public. More than 2,500 people attend the opening festivities in the 7,500-square-foot space, located on the third floor of Seattle's historic train station at 303 S Jackson Street in the Pioneer Square neighborhood. The project was conceived in 2016 when a series of community meetings and focus groups were held to shape the gallery's mission and design parameters. In response to community input, ARTS at King Street Station opens with a flexible configuration that includes movable walls, conference and meeting rooms, artist-in-residence studio space, and office space. The inaugural exhibit, yəhaẃ, highlights the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest with some 200 works created in media ranging from bead work and photography to videos and canoe paddles.
'Do The Work'
ARTS at King Street Station held its opening celebration from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, 2019. More than 2,500 people toured the space and enjoyed songs, performances, and storytelling that embodied diverse artistic and cultural expressions. The historic red-brick King Street Station originally opened to the public in May 1906. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
To pay tribute to Seattle's location on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish people, the city's Office of Arts & Culture (OAC) decided to launch the new gallery space with an exhibition that connected and engaged the Native American community. The show was called yəhaẃ, a Lushootseed word roughly translated as "do the work." The word "... comes from a story about some far-off past when the Creator brought lots of people together with no common language. At the time, the sky was too low and people kept bumping their heads against it. So they came up with one word they all understood: yəhaẃ -- do the work. The people made poles for themselves. Then, in unison, they ... lifted the sky. 'There's no hero in that story, no one single person,' [Asia] Tail said. 'Everybody knew they needed to change the world together'" (Kiley).
Three locally based artists curated the inaugural exhibit: Tracy Rector (Choctaw/Seminole), Asia Tail (Cherokee), and Satpreet Kahlon. The trio selected creative works from more than 200 Native artists, ranging from well-known masters to emerging talents and students. The diversity and scale of the objects created some installation challenges, as the team "tried to figure out how the 280 submissions by over 200 artists (bead work, photographs, paintings, paddles, installation concepts, woodblock prints, videos, dyed buffalo hide) would all be seen, in conversation with each other ... The whole endeavor is a civic exercise in radically decentralizing and democratizing the idea of what an arts space can be" (Kiley).
Dueling Art Fairs
In 2008, more than a decade earlier, Seattle had purchased the imposing 62,400-square-foot King Street Station from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company for $10 and began a five-year, $56 million project to restore the building's historic character, upgrade its rail and transit needs, and create a sustainable, environmentally friendly design. The station's cavernous third floor, however, remained largely unused.
In 2015, Paul Allen (1953-2018), Microsoft co-founder, enthusiastic arts supporter, and well-known art collector, through his company Vulcan, Inc., began making plans to host the first Seattle Art Fair, billed as a one-of-a-kind show of modern and contemporary art. Some 40 regional, national, and international art galleries participated, traveling to the Northwest from as far away as Tokyo and Paris.
Although the event was touted as a great coup for the city's arts community, there was concern that local artists would not be well-represented. Gallery owner Greg Lundgren (b. 1969) decided to take things into his own hands. Lundgren created an exhibit called Out of Sight, which featured 80 local artists. He secured a temporary lease for the upper floor of the King Street Station, gathered a curatorial team to select the art, and staged his own exhibit during the same timeframe as the Seattle Art Fair (July 30-August 2, 2015).
Both shows were successful, attracting national and local media attention as well as thousands of visitors, but the Out of Sight exhibit offered an unexpected bonus: It proved to the city that the train station could house a permanent arts space that would be embraced by the community and attract out-of-town visitors, as well.
Listening to Community Needs
While exploring the idea further, OAC began using the third-floor space for popup events, and during 2016, the staff held three public listening sessions and 16 community focus groups to determine the vision and curatorial direction of the space. One idea was voiced repeatedly by participants: The gallery needed to present more opportunities for communities of color to present their work.
The city retained the Seattle-based firm of Olson Kundig to create the initial design concepts, and in 2017, Seattle's Schacht Aslani Architects began work on the design. The finished space provided flexible multipurpose areas, some with movable walls, that could accommodate public gatherings as easily as meetings and exhibitions. There is a community "living room" that encouraged visitors to linger and a studio space targeted for an artist-in-residence program.
"Schacht Aslani's design responds to ARTS' desire for a light touch that would leave the third-floor space in the raw, unfinished condition in which it was left following a 2010 renovation. ARTS' goal is a space that is real and honest which will not become 'calcified' over time ... The unadorned historic structure and kinetic gallery walls that characterize the presentation gallery allow the communities that will use it to project their own identities into the space. When contrasted with the restored train station, the unfinished character of the ARTS space tells the story of King Street Station's evolution from an early twentieth-century train station to a contemporary transit and cultural hub" (Lindsay press release).
Renovations to the existing third-floor space were made primarily to meet energy and safety codes and cost $5.6 million. The funds were drawn from the 1 percent for public art program and an admission tax that attendees pay to enter admission venues or events in Seattle.
Reflecting a City's Past and Future
Since the nineteenth century, train stations have used grand works of art and imposing sculpture to celebrate a city's past, relay the stories of its present, and convey hopes for its future. ARTS at King Street Station is no exception. "ARTS' presence at King Street Station is another great example of how train stations can be reimagined to meet the needs not only of travelers, but the community at large" ("Seattle King Street Station Welcomes ...").
A few days before the venue opened, Randy Engstrom, OAC director, commented that ARTS at King Street Station might be the first community arts space of its kind in the country. "'We are thrilled to open a new, inclusive, community-driven artistic home for the city at King Street Station,' Engstrom said. 'Seattle is home to a rich cultural community, from Indigenous peoples to those who are just now calling our city their own. King Street Station reflects our voices and values'" ("Seattle King Street Station Welcomes ...").
ARTS at King Street Station is one of five public galleries managed by OAC. The others are: the Seattle Municipal Tower Gallery, City Hall Lobby Gallery & Anne Focke Gallery, The Mayor's Office Gallery, and the Ethnic Heritage Gallery. A rotating advisory panel of artists and community leaders provide direction, ensuring that the gallery embraces racial equity, represents diversity, and showcases a range of artistic disciplines. Advisors receive a small stipend and serve a two-year term. ARTS is open free to the public five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday.