In the end, to no one’s surprise, Chihuly won. Last spring, the city and the Wright clan, development powerhouses and owners of the Space Needle, announced a plan to build a “museum” of Dale Chihuly’s glasswork on Seattle Center’s south Fun Forest site. Howls rose about leasing such a prominent public site to a private gallery, even if the money was good. So the city invited more proposals. This morning Mayor McGinn joined Seattle Center officials, City Council parks chair Sally Bagshaw, KEXP-FM station manager Tom Mara, Jeff Wright (of the Space Needle-owning Wrights), and Chihuly’s wife Leslie to announce that, after duly considering eight, they’d settled on…. Chihuly. With some sweeteners: The Wrights will contribute $1 million for a playground on the site, and another $1 million to maintain it. And KEXP, which proposed moving its offices and studios (now in cramped quarters nearby) to the Fun Forest arcade, will get the Northwest Rooms at Seattle Center’s northwest corner.
McGinn, an avid rock fan with big support in the music community, waxed ebullient: “We had an argument over whether I should say KEXP is the coolest radio station in the universe,” he joked, nodding to aides. “Let’s just say they are very, very cool. They represent so much of Seattle’s spirit. They will activate this site.”
Politically, it’s a brilliant two-fer: Scruffy indie radio and glassy glam may not seem a natural pairing, but including homegrown KEXP deflects complaints that it’s all being done for tourist dollars. At the same time, KEXP, like Chihuly, is reaching across the globe as a pioneer in webcast programming. “They will be promoting Seattle Center nationally and internationally day after day,” said McGinn. “It’s an economic development tool if nothing else,” crowed Bagshaw.
McGinn lauded one other proposal, Open Platform, a flexible open space for various arts, and promised to pursue it in developing the north Fun Forest site, on the other side of the monorail. He did not mention the Northwest Native Cultural Center or any of five other proposals. But when I asked he said, “We want to work partner with people and work with them to help them develop ideas like the Northwest Native Cultural Center.”
No one mentioned the knock-on effects of turning the Northwest Rooms over to KEXP. Their gallery-sized spaces have become the main refuge of the visual arts at Bumbershoot, a festival they originally spawned but which has since become increasingly dedicated to the types of music played on KEXP. (Likewise at Folklife.) I asked Bumbershoot’s producer, One Reel Festivals chief John Stone, what would happen to the art. He was philosophical: “Seattle Center is a dynamic space. It evolves over time…. Visual arts are a historical component of the festival, and our goal is to continue to feature them. Where and how exactly, I can’t say at this point.”