There is no reason that the abandoned Fun Forest site at Seattle Center should become a static display of glass, a one-man exhibit, or a gift shop. A team of local leaders has already come up with something better—better because it combines the best of all possibilities: It's an evolving park, a place where art happens rather than is packaged and presented, and it relies on collaboration. It's called Open Platform, and you should support it at the only public meeting that's being held during the selection process this summer. The meeting is July 7.
The background: Earlier this year, Seattle Center all but signed away 1.4 acres of the grounds and the Arcade Pavilion when it endorsed the Space Needle corporation's plan for a 20-year exhibit of Dale Chihuly's glass art. The installation would cost $12 to $15 to enter and would be walled-in. Public outcry forced Seattle Center to invite proposals for alternatives, and nine were officially submitted last month. Friends of the Green called for a basic park. A group led by Salish artist Roger Fernandes proposed a place for Northwest-native culture, art, and history. Popular nonprofit radio station KEXP—which delivers free concerts and supports Seattle music at no cost to listeners—offered to move in. Those are the most exciting individual ideas (others include a Seattle Museum of the Mysteries and the preservation of the Fun Forest; you can learn about them online).
But Open Platform excels by combining all three of the best ideas.
It would be a parklike green area with a sequence of discrete outdoor "rooms" (cradled by curving benches instead of walls) that could be used for performances, gatherings, and changing displays—of art, of gardening, of experiments in green technology. Open Platform would be governed loosely by a nonprofit organization that would invite performances from nearby Seattle Center organizations as well as non-Center artists and designers.
Like the Olympic Sculpture Park downtown, admission would be free and anyone could use the space. And Open Platform doesn't want to tear down the pavilion—it wants to put KEXP in there, which is another logical collaboration. KEXP could produce live in-studio performances and continuous broadcasting, providing more benefit to locals than a tourist novelty.
Less than 25 percent of Seattle Center's 4.6 million annual visitors are from Seattle, according to an economic survey conducted by the Center in 2006. Seattle Center doesn't need another tourist attraction; it needs something free for the people who live here.
Big, fun brains are behind Open Platform. It's a team effort, not a rich man's project (however well-intentioned). The team is made up of people who are already making art happen around the city—just not all in one place: Lane Czaplinski, who runs beloved performance venue On the Boards; Eric Fredericksen, who runs contemporary art space Western Bridge; Anne Focke, the powerhouse arts organizer (she directed the first Bumbershoot, in 1971); and Lorna Jordan, a Seattle artist who's made stunning and active works locally and in other cities. (One of Jordan's works is an eight-acre park/sculpture in Renton that filters up to two million gallons per day of storm-water runoff from nearby concrete surfaces.)
Open Platform doesn't have money yet. "Hopefully, the city could kick in something, and then there's always fundraising," says Jordan. She cites potential funding from money still available in the city's 2008 parks levy and the sort of philanthropic grants behind other projects the group has worked on.
Meanwhile, money is what the Space Needle/Chihuly museum has over every other proposal. Paradoxically, it's also the only project that would cost more than a few dollars to get into. Funding has to happen somehow. At the Chihuly museum, it would happen at the gate.
Given that Seattle Center has already aligned itself with the Space Needle's project, and that other proposals haven't had time to organize, the selection committee may show a bias toward the Chihuly museum. The museum promises to pay Seattle Center an annual rental payment of $350,000 for the first five years, then $500,000 for the remaining 15 years. "Our project brings money into the city," said Ron Sevart, CEO of the Space Needle, in a meeting in June. "Look at the number of visitors we'll attract to the Seattle Center. This project will make Seattle a world-class destination." But favoring a project for tourism dollars would be a shortsighted, unimaginative, fiscally driven decision.
"We're missing something in terms of a flexible organization that can work in a variety of spaces in this city," says Jordan. "That's the gap our proposal seeks to fill."
Seattle Center's master plan, completed with input from thousands of local residents in 2008, calls for the creation of "the nation's best gathering place," not a quick fix for a budgetary problem. Open Platform's proposal notes that "performances and events inside Seattle Center buildings are often hidden from view." In contrast, Open Platform would create a gathering place for the public, not another pay-to-play attraction.
In order to tap into the vision set forward by the Space Needle's bold mentality at the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle LLC needs to step aside today.