Say what you may about Paul Allen, the billionaire who died in 2018, but he was a bona fide city prince. Meaning, he made the kind of big investments in Seattle's culture that recalled Medici's arts and science patronage in 15th-century Florence. Allen was as close as 21st-century Seattle experienced to a spirit of that kind. This is why, 10 years ago, Seattle had the most technologically advanced cinema in the world, the Cinerama; and why it entered the present millennium with a museum designed by the architect of the world-famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Frank Gehry, and, initially, devoted to the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix. (The MoPOP building was inspired by a Fender Stratocaster guitar Hendrix famously set on fire during a 1967 concert.) And in 2014, our Medici backed the Seattle Art Fair, a project that, at the time, had the popular Art Basel Miami Beach in its sights.

The fair closed a year after Allen's death and returned in 2022 under the complete management of a founding partner, the New Jersey-based Art Market Productions. Cinerama, which closed a year and a half after the prince's passing, was recently saved by SIFF. And the MoPOP Museum, formerly the Experience Music Project, found, due to its location and its obvious cheesiness, a lifeline (or, better say, immortality) as a new member of iconic Seattle: the Monorail, the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center.

And the future appears to be bright for these cultural institutions. On July 26, MoPOP announced that it "received thousands of one-of-a-kind artifacts, props, posters, handbills, illustrations and other objects from the estate of Paul G. Allen": Darth Vader’s helmet, the hat worn by the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, the jacket Prince wore in Purple Rain's motorbike scene, and so on and so on. All of this will join a permanent collection that has an international reputation.

Though the Seattle Art Fair will certainly miss the prince's legendary buying sprees (which turned out to be a blessing and curse for some local artists—more about this in a moment), it opens today with what appears to be a big splash. Not only does it have 80+ exhibitors from around world, but it will be complemented by other art events, such as the impressive Forest for the Trees, which opens today, runs the same days as the Seattle Art Fair, and is held in a building, Pioneer Square’s RailSpur, not far from the fair's gigantic Lumen Field Event Center. 

As for the Cinerama, which, due to copyright issues, will sadly lose its name when reopened later this year, there is now talk about SIFF, the cinema's present owner, receiving assistance from the public purse. 

 Moira Macdonald writes

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis said he is proposing that Seattle City Council award a grant of $950,000 to SIFF specifically for Cinerama. The funds came, Lewis said, from a windfall in the city’s 2022 admission tax. The admission tax is a 5% charge added to the ticket price that attendees pay to enter many entertainment venues or events in Seattle... Likewise, King County Councilmember Joe McDermott said that he is proposing that the county council award SIFF $1 million to support Cinerama. He said that this would be an allocation of existing federal and state funds received during the pandemic, which needs to be spent by the end of 2024. 

And here we reach the point of the post. This money from the public is, to be honest, already sketch. It may or may not happen. And though it would help, if realized, it certainly isn't the kind of money that drives big art. Because the city itself has always had a small impact in this regard, we have been dependent on the accident of a billionaire who happened to love culture in its popular and higher forms (the former more than the latter, for sure). And this billionaire is now dead, and unlike the Medici family (Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici, Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, Lorenzo de' Medici), Allen's family has discontinued our prince's patronage. Vulcan Arts + Entertainment closed its doors in 2020. Allen's billionaire-class art collection was basically dumped during a two-day auction in New York City. And the art he bought from local artists, at the Seattle Arts Fair and other venues, was sold in the dark. Meaning, no one knew the works had been bought and owned by Paul Allen. Ignorance of this crucial fact sometimes fucked artists by crashing the value of their works.  

With the prince's death, we are now looking at a future with no big announcements in the arts. Sure, Seattle has had other rich patrons in the past, but it has seen nothing at the scale of Paul Allen. Indeed, when one compares his collection to Martin Selig's, you realize the big difference between having a little over $1 billion (Selig) and over $20 billion (Allen's wealth at the time of his death.) As a city, we are, at present, only sustaining or continuing what Allen left behind. The Seattle Art Fair opened in 2015. This event might be the last of its kind for Seattle precisely because its model for big art is the Medici one. But Florence's culture can be forgiven for its dependency on the benevolence of its biggest bankers. The city did not have anything like the government we have now. If the Medici's didn't support Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci, and all of the famous rest, you were pretty much shit out of luck. (The church was not an ideal patron.)

But here we are in a region with a GDP that's over $400 billion, but our public purse is so puny, only filled with what amounts, for big art, to pennies. Seattle is now condemned to wait for the accidental kindness of another billionaire, which is unlikely to happen. And nor can we expect the public purse to ever come close to Allen's generosity. When it comes to the government, there is a budget that must be balanced, cuts that are in order, costs that must be reined in. Seattle was lucky to have Allen, but it looks like its luck ran out in 2018.