In a funny bit of symmetry, I began writing about Seattle art in the days when Pioneer Square seemed to be losing its grip on the local art scene, and now I'm leaving Seattle just as that neighborhood is starting to look very bright indeed. Although neither that inauspicious beginning nor this maudlin end function as anything so handy as a clean break; in 1998, SOIL hadn't yet left Pioneer Square, the Shoe Building hadn't yet been turned into luxury condos (activity there was as lively as ever, and even if the artistic output of those inhabiting it was often subpar, there were still a few decent artist cooperatives), and the battle over the art and crafts sales on First Thursday hadn't yet been waged.

And now, similarly, the "new" Pioneer Square hasn't quite materialized, although there are good signs: Billy Howard has moved Howard House from Belltown to a new, large space near the Smith Tower, and the Toshiro-Kaplan Building has not only tempted SOIL back from Capitol Hill and brought Garde Rail from Columbia City, but has also returned working artists (in circumstances however ideal) to the neighborhood--an important development if Pioneer Square is going to avoid feeling as rarefied as an art theme park, or a mall. And, it should be said, Jim Harris and Greg Kucera have, at their respective galleries, held aloft the lamp of culture during the slow years. Still, it's interesting that none of the other neighborhoods' attempts at art nights ever really caught on, never drawing the kind of diverse crowds that First Thursday does. In the absence of a vigorous enough art economy, such as you find in New York, Pioneer Square (as it turns out) was the logical choice for an art neighborhood all along.

In among the best new news about Pioneer Square is the opening of a gallery, called Platform, this September. At the moment it's an unfinished space on Third Avenue South on the first floor of the Toshiro-Kaplan Building, but the four artists--Blake Haygood, Steve Lyons, Carol Bolt, and Dirk Park--who have come together to create Platform see potential for bringing new life to what Park calls "the Occidental trench."

"For the amount of work that's being produced in Seattle," said Park, "there's not enough activity." By this he means gallery activity, collector activity, critical activity, and Platform intends to address at least two of these (and the third is always helped by having something to write about). It's true: The whole base of galleries and collectors (and critics) needs to expand; more art has to be generated and seen and thought about and bought before we'll be seen as anything but a provincial, glass-dominated outpost. Platform's owners plan on supplementing the kind of activity that gallery shows provide with a publishing venture (they're already producing a limited-edition portfolio of multiples by 16 artists) and a permanent flat-file collection--an innovation, used by galleries across the country, that keeps artists' two-dimensional work available for viewing, thus presenting a reasonable way for a beginning collector to become familiar with an artist's work.

Rather than using the model of the loosely organized and goodwill-generated artist cooperative, Park, Bolt, Haygood, and Lyons are taking art seriously as a business, putting their own resources on the line (and, in Haygood's case, giving up representation with another Seattle gallery). There is something about this element that makes the four of them seem fearless, and untethered to the usual ways of running a gallery, to kowtowing to the Henry and SAM, to showing only what they think the market will bear. "We're self-funded, which allows us to take risks," Lyons told me recently. "We're exploring a new ethics of art." Bolt added, "We take the business seriously, but that's not why we're in it."

Each of Platform's four owners is an interesting and strange artist in his or her own right, which bodes well for the kind of work that they're willing to show. Platform's opening will feature work by two non-Seattle artists, Carlee Fernandez and Keith Yurdana, but the first year will include solo shows by such Seattle artists who have been long overdue for gallery representation as Brian Murphy, Scott Fife, Susan Robb, and Saya Moriyasu. So it's not surprising that for Lyons, starting a gallery was a matter of simple impatience: "At a certain point I said, 'I'm not going to wait around anymore.'"

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