Sunday Op/Ed: Don't Put the Chihuly Museum at Seattle Center

By Jean Godden March 29, 2010

This editorial by Seattle City Council Member Jean Godden was originally published on Sunday.

Several years ago my friend Diane, an arts-loving journalist, had to make a decision: Buy a small but beautiful piece of Chihuly glass art or a new car. She opted for the glass. That meant she had to patch up her old car and make it last for three more years.

She’s never regretted the choice. The artistry of the Chihuly work is something that she still enjoys every day. The car, finally hauled off to the junk yard, is long gone. But, as they say, life is short, while art is forever.

Glass art is something that has flourished in our region, thanks to Dale Chihuly and his many talented colleagues. Chihuly’s art reflects and embodies the essence of Seattle and Western Washington. And, as such, it is important to find ways to honor the artistry and creativity and to share it with all Seattleites. I’m excited and thrilled at the prospect of a museum that would celebrate Chihuly’s glass.

At the same time, however, I confess that I am not convinced that we should site such a museum at the Seattle Center. The center is one of those special places that, perhaps more than any other, serves as the heart of our city. When we needed to come together to mourn–as we did after the September 11 attacks on our country–we gathered at the Seattle Center. When we've wanted to honor the fallen, we have united at the Seattle Center. When our newest citizens take their pledge of allegiance on July 4, they do so at the Seattle Center. Those 74 acres are the legacy of Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair, our own Central Park.

And although we have sited many attractions there, including the Space Needle, the Science Center, Seattle Opera, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, as well as outstanding professional theaters and the Experience Music Project, the Center still offers passive, park-like areas where people can stroll, connect with community, and appreciate art and nature. That there are not more acres of greensward is regrettable.

To place another paid attraction at the Seattle Center would be a mistake. Even though the benefits of leasing—a half million dollars that would support the Center—are tempting,  it would be a mistake not to think about the long term. While we are currently in a recession–a deep and troubling setback–that won't last indefinitely. When times are better, I worry that we would look differently at the museum. Would we see one more paid attraction, one more structure replacing a spot of greenery and ask, “What were we thinking?”

It’s also important to consider the museum in light of the Seattle Center Master Plan, the plan that was drawn up by a broadly based committee of citizens and approved by the Seattle City Council. That plan calls for more public open space, more spaces for family-oriented attractions such as seating areas, and a water feature that could be converted into a winter ice-skating rink. The Center ought to offer more activities for all ages, including active play for young people. This need is even more urgent in light of the replacement of the Fun Forest attractions.

It is my hope that Seattle will indeed be home to a Chihuly Museum, dedicated to the glass artistry that is so evocative of our Puget Sound region, in one of our signature Seattle neighborhoods. Lately I’ve been thinking about Pioneer Square and the sad fact that the Elliott Bay Book Store no longer is a draw in that historic community. Could a Chihuly Museum be sited there, perhaps near Occidental Park ?

Siting such a special attraction is something that bears discussion. Too often we take for granted the talents that are unique to our region.

Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of its Budget and Finance Committee. She was a columnist and chronicler of Seattle life for many years at both of Seattle's daily papers.
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