Capitol Hill symposium to jump start Seattle ‘cultural districts’ includes $10K toward inspired project

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus -- "America's leading authority on creative placemaking projects" -- will give the keynote address

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus — “America’s leading authority on creative placemaking projects” — will give the keynote address

Spaces for the arts — from painting to sculpture to dance — can be an increasingly rare resource on Capitol Hill. A new effort from the City of Seattle aims to make local government a force for artistic good through implementing “cultural districts” to encourage art projects in certain designated areas.

Next Monday, November 18th, the City will host Square Feet 2013, a day-long symposium at Capitol Hill venues focused on generating ideas for what cultural districts in Seattle could look like. The event is free and open to the public, you just have to RSVP.

Leading the effort is Matthew Richter, the city’s Cultural Space Liaison in the Office of Art and Culture. The idea of creating cultural districts has been floating around Seattle for years, but Richter’s hire may be the final push needed to get it done. Generally, cultural districts are small areas where special rules exist for right of ways, art history markers, zoning/building code exemptions, protections for landmark structures, and anything else that may encourage creative people to do their thing.

“Part of my job is to look at this body of law to make things easier for arts and culture to thrive,” Richter said.image_space_sqft_2013

Square Feet will feature three sessions, all taking place on Capitol Hill. The all-day event will kick off at 9 AM at the Hugo House, featuring a “rapid-fire” presentation from artists and developers discussing their needs towards for more cultural space.

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, one of the nation’s leading authority’s on cultural district projects, will give the keynote address at the Northwest Film Forum.

The day will wrap up at the Velocity Dance Studio with The Large Foam Check Challenge. Attendees will be asked come up with a challenge around the issue of creative space, and the city will put up $10,000 towards a project to address that challenge.

The city plans to hold Square Feet symposiums twice a year to focus on different issues around creative spaces, including opening up more city properties to artists.

Richter said even an organic cultural area like Pike/Pine can benefit from the tools offered through a cultural district, especially “to keep Pike/Pine form becoming the next Belltown.”

“What makes the neighborhood worth developing is arts and culture, you don’t want to stand in the way of developing,” he said. “Take as many golden eggs as you can, but don’t kill the goose so there’s no longer any there there.”

In May CHS, reported on the continued push to shape cultural districts in the city with a focus on Capitol Hill:

“You can’t turn the clock back,” Licata told CHS about the renewed effort to forge a new type of arts district on Capitol Hill. “As more development takes place in that area, values will continue to go up.”

A possible new Capitol Hill cultural district, Licata and Engstrom say, could mirror the 2009-formed Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District in creating an area with incentive zoning that encourages developers to both preserve and create artistic and cultural spaces in their projects.

Richter, a former arts editor at The Stranger, was tapped by the city after spending years on the other side of the equation as an arts organizer. He was the founder of ran Storefronts Seattle and founded the now shuttered Consolidated Works arts center. Richter told CHS the move from small, struggling arts organizations to the massive, relatively well-funded city has been mostly positive.

“It’s been totally fascinating, the scale of tools we’re able to play with is exciting and inspiring,” he said.

You can learn more and sign up at the Square Feet 2013 site.

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