This is Benedict Heywood, director of Pivot Art + Culture, gregariously opening the door to the new space just a few weeks ago.
This is Benedict Heywood, director of Pivot Art + Culture, gregariously opening the door to the new space just a few weeks ago. JG

Pivot Art + Culture, Paul Allen's new nonprofit arts institution opening in 11 days in South Lake Union, will close in March and be used only occasionally as a gallery, sources close to Pivot say.

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In other words, Pivot will not be an ongoing arts center after all.

After confirming with multiple sources, I called Benedict Heywood, director of Pivot, to ask him what's going on. I was hoping he would tell me it's all just a rumor. He didn't call me back.

Instead, the PR firm representing Vulcan emailed to say they were responding on behalf of Heywood.

"Responding to the questions you asked Ben — The exhibition will be on view from December 5 through February 28. The next show has not yet been determined," wrote Fitz. & Co. senior vice president Meg Blackburn.

I pressed again on the question of whether Pivot will be ongoing or only short-term, and whether any shows are in the planning stages.

"Future exhibitions aren’t yet confirmed, so I don’t have any information about that to share," Blackburn wrote.

The idea that Pivot would be only short-term is a complete surprise, and a turnaround from what Vulcan said it intended with the center.

In a press release on October 13, Vulcan described Pivot:

Pivot Art + Culture was founded in July 2015 by Vulcan Inc. as a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts institution focused on engaging with audiences in the Pacific Northwest and internationally through an ongoing program of exhibitions, projects, and installations of contemporary and modern art. Located in the Allen Institute building at the corner of Westlake and Mercer in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, the 3,000-square-foot exhibition space will be devoted to contemporary art and culture in the widest possible sense, featuring work from private and public collections in Seattle and other parts of the world, as well as pieces from the Allen Family Collection. Pivot Art + Culture welcomes visitors from the neighboring technology and the biomedical community, artists, art enthusiasts, patrons and collectors, Seattle residents, and visitors from afar.

The "inaugural" exhibition is Figure in Process: de Kooning to Kapoor, 1955-2015, still scheduled to run from December 5 to February 28.

"Exhibitions in 2016 will include a mixture of solo artist exhibitions and group exhibitions, curated by artists and international curators," the release described.

Heywood, a British curator who relocated his family from Minneapolis to Seattle when he took the job as director of Pivot, was dreaming of a vibrant future last month, talking about which internationally acclaimed works of art would look best in the 2,600-square-foot new gallery. He said then that Pivot would organize five to six exhibitions per year.

Sources close to Pivot say the staff, which includes a registrar and Heywood's assistant curator, Sarah Margolis-Pineo, only recently learned that Allen no longer wanted Pivot to be an ongoing center.

Pivot's own website this morning uses different language from the press release a month ago. "Pivot Art + Culture is a concept space located in the Allen Institute building by Paul G. Allen and his company, Vulcan Inc," it says.

What "a concept space" means, maybe only Paul Allen knows. But it looks like he's cut off his dedicated arts and culture center before even launching it. I feel bad for the staffers. And dumb for hoping for better.

Hey, maybe he could turn on a dime again and change his mind back.

But that's the problem. This is a reminder that this project, as well as any natural excitement we would feel for its potential, are at the mercy of one person.

I keep hearing the words of former Seattle Weekly writer Roger Downey, who asked as I was writing about Pivot last month, "Who is Paul Allen this week?"