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Lest Capitol Hill artists be scattered like roaches, symposium looks for Seattle art space answers

Art needs space, and in a place like Seattle, that space is exceedingly hard to come by. This week, dozens of artists, venue owners, and developers put the art space conundrum in their sight to, as one attendee put it, prevent the “roach-like scuttling” of artists every time an old building gets torn down. -5

Squared Feet 2013 was a day-long symposium held Monday in three Capitol Hill venues, organized by the City’s Office of Arts and Culture and the office’s newly hired Cultural Space Liaison, Matthew Richter.

During the first session of the day at the Seattle University’s Lee Center for the Arts , representatives from arts organizations gave “rapid fire” spiels on their space needs.

Researcher Anne Gadwa Nicodemus gave the day’s keynote address at the Northwest Film Forum. According to event organizers, Nicodemus wrote the definitive paper on “creative placemaking.” She said arts organizations looking for space should work to change the paradigm from “‘yes sir could I have some more,’ to thinking about what assets you bring to the table.”

Nicademus discussed how other cities and states have developed cultural districts and some of the challenges they’ve faced (e.g. getting the city to define “original, one of a kind works of art” for sales tax exemptions).

Perhaps the most interesting part of the day came during the final session at Velocity Dance Center. Attendees were asked to put forth dream projects that the city’s art czars could tackle, with a $10K grant to be awarded for the best idea.-3

The winner of the “Big Foam Check Challenge” (big foam check not included) went to a proposal to hire hire a consultant to draft a formal policy that would create cultural districts. One idea of how it could work: Each neighborhood drafts a list of cultural space needs, then new developers can add items from that list into their developments. In return the city could offer zoning and building incentives.image_space_sqft_2013-1

Other ideas included:

  • A Chamber of Culture. Create a membership-based arts organization to include an online clearing house for resources and advocacy.
  • Develop a plan for dedicated arts shuttle or bus network to travel between areas with a lot of arts venues.
  • A coordinated match making effort to partner all the disparate capitol campaigns among arts organizations.
  • Develop a certification program for real estate brokers, landowners, and developers to better meet the needs of the arts community.

So while the symposium did not answer if Seattle cultural districts will happen or what they may look like, it seemed to be a solid first step.

Here are a few more notes from the day:

  • OAC is currently on a quest to inventory all of the cultural space in Seattle. So far they’ve counted 2.8 million square feet, but suspect that’s only about half of what’s out there.
  • Taking advantage of one of his few remaining spotlights as mayor, Mike McGinn gave some opening remarks on the importance of supporting arts education and cultivating future art-appreciators.
  • The Fetherston Gallery left Capitol Hill for a new space in Georgetown. Jane Burns, who displays at the gallery, said Fetherston wanted to stay, as did their landlord, but they couldn’t afford the rent. She asked the group to consider tax incentives for landlords to house art tenants.
  • Michael Seiwerath of Capitol Hill Housing spoke about 12th Avenue Arts and the need to see art and artists as assets to new projects. “Instead of arts being the problem, arts was the motivation for creating a new space and activating the whole block,” he said.
  • Here’s a good opportunity for some civic minded neighborhoodies: Town Hall Seattle is looking throughout the city for 7-8 venues to hold its events for a year when renovation on its First Hill home starts in 2015. The idea is people would form a group that would advise Town Hall on their neighborhood’s programming. Town Hall hopes the groups will persist when we return to mothership in 2016.
  • The Theater off Jackson is continuing is years long search for a new venue.
  • A handful of Odd Fellows building refugees continue to seek stronger roots since they left the building. Reel Grrls wants to move out of their current Central District home, preferably into a space with no leaky roof. Freehold Theater also wants a new space. A rep from Velocity Dance said the studio’s rent had gone up 300% after moving out of Odd Fellows to 12th and Pine. Rent now eats up 22% of Velocity’s income. “You cant increase earned income if you can’t increase capacity. It’s a catch 22,” she said.
  • Nicodemus discussed the issues of fairness that develop around creating cultural districts. “Who’s in and who’s out?” she said. “What does it mean to label one neighborhood as creative and artsy and another one as, what, boring?”
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