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C200: Preserving An Ecosystem

2011 March 29
by Michael Seiwerath

< A casualty of the last real estate boom, scores of artists and organizations previously had a home in Capitol Hill’s Oddfellows building; photo: Michael Seiwerath >

The 1990’s brought a building boom to the arts in Seattle. Many of Seattle’s largest arts organizations built or renovated permanent homes and their real estate destiny is now clear.

Few of Seattle’s small and mid-sized groups are as fortunate. Most of them are subject to the whims of the marketplace, often with fickle landlords, sub-leases, or precarious month-to-month arrangements. Apart from those located at Seattle Center, who owns their property or has permanent control? Not Richard Hugo Hugo House, not Freehold, not Annex Theatre, not the scores of artists who may be displaced from the 619 Western building in Pioneer Square.

Seattle must do a better job of working on proactive solutions for affordable arts space. For years there has been a desire to create a focused cultural space program at the city, focused on long term solutions, funding and providing proactive solutions for those arts that cannot pay market rate rents.

Now there is an opportunity to do just this. Through a wonderful collaboration with 4Culture (the county arts agency) the city has a proposal before the National Endowment for the Arts to fund a dedicated cultural space program. Housed at the City Arts office, the program will act as a connector, bringing together space-hungry arts users and property owners with vacant space, activating surplus city property, and focusing funding on arts capital projects.

Our rich arts and culture community is the number two reason people move to Seattle. If this program is created, when the next real estate upswing comes, we’ll have a plan to retain the most fragile part of this ecosystem.


Michael Seiwerath is the Executive Director of the Capitol Hill Housing Foundation and chair of the Seattle Arts Commission’s Facilities and Economic Development Committee.