In June, the New Foundation announced plans to open two major arts buildings in Pioneer Square in the next two years.

That is not happening. The foundation will not be opening here:


The foundation will be opening in the former James Harris Gallery space instead:

HERE The New Foundation will open in the space under the left arch, and plans to operate there for three years, starting October 2.
  • HERE The New Foundation will open in the space under the left arch, and plans to operate there for three years, starting October 2.

Yesterday, the New Foundation signed a three-year lease in the former James Harris Gallery at 312 Second Avenue South, according to New Foundation director Yoko Ott. Doors open with a celebration during Third Thursday Art Walk on October 2.

Ott is mum on what caused the change in plans—gunshy, she says—but said the future will still include a larger project on the previously announced property, which is co-owned by New Foundation president and founder Shari D. Behnke (with her husband).

"The Behnkes own that whole property [pictured at top]—building and parking lot—and Shari does have the intention to do something there," Ott says. "She just doesn’t have the information to talk about it yet. She got news that affected things pretty dramatically, and she realized we needed to have a course correction."

What is the New Foundation?

I was confused. And it's still not entirely clear what it will become. But I asked Ott to sit down and finally, once and for all, explain things to me.

For the next three years, the foundation will offer public and private presentations at 312 Second Avenue South, occasionally including an exhibition. October 2's event is still TBA but won't be an exhibition.

The New Foundation began in the summer of 2011, when Behnke and Ott began having discussions about joining forces. Behnke is a philanthropist, Ott a programmer. Both have been around the block and were tired of the old ways. They wanted to create something unconventional and needed. What do Seattle artists need?

Connections, for one. With each other and people outside the city.

"The main driver behind the foundation is being relational," Ott says.

They formed a foundation, and divided activities into two halves at first:

1. The Artist Program.
The foundation buys works by selected Seattle-based artists—so far, six of them—for museums around the United States. These are works that curators identify they want to purchase but maybe don't have the acquisition funds to pick up.

"It's a broken system" the way it is, Ott says. "Museums end up taking things they don't really want because they're brokering a relationship [with a collector]." The foundation supports curators' choices. Since the program was rolled out in June 2012, it has placed about eight works so far in institutions ranging from the Frye Art Museum and Seattle Art Museum to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Orange County Museum of Art, and the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore.

To help artists work also with non-collecting institutions, the foundation provides financial support for exhibitions and publications, too, not just the purchase of work. (One example: a recently closed show for Leo Berk at the Institute of Visual Arts in Milwaukee.)

2. The Education Program.
This is the more traditional arm of the foundation, Ott says, because it gives grants to visual artists, arts writers, and curators to pursue research and development that may include travel or tuition. About a dozen grants and fellowships have been awarded so far. The awards aren't project-based and emphasize helping people get outside Seattle for study.

"These programs are all about tackling the infrastructure," Ott says. "It's discouraging that a city our size has only one master's-level program [in art]," for instance.

In response, the foundation's Education Program also provides major support for The Nebula Project at UW, which brings artists for lectures, provides money for graduate-level courses that include travel, and funds artist-taught classes.

After the launch of those two programs, the foundation expanded to include two more:

3. The Host Program.
Two or three times per year, the foundation flies in influential curators from around the country for an average of four days to visit the studios of Seattle artists, all expenses paid. Those who have visited so far: Anne Ellegood at the Hammer Museum in LA, James Voorhies of the Carpenter Center at Harvard, Jenny Moore of Chinati (then of the New Museum), Eric Crosby at the Walker Art Center, and Amanda Hunt of the Studio Museum in Harlem (then of LAXART in LA).

4. The Public Program.
This one's just beginning to develop, hence the October 2 opening in Pioneer Square. No other events have been announced yet.

The foundation's first public event happened in February. It was quiet, small, in the basement of UW in a room with the world's lowest ceiling, and great. It was a selection of Harun Farocki films screened for free, followed by a lively conversation. The second event was a musical performance by Lonnie Holley at Chapel Performance Space on August 4; I didn't make that one (anyone?). (More events were scheduled for this month but had to be canceled because of the change in plans.)

The public program is still under construction, Ott says. In addition to the variable presentation venue at the former James Harris Gallery, she wants to create a periodicals library, of art journals, magazines, and quarterlies.

And that's what we know for sure.