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A new contemporary art museum will open this year in derelict office building on First Hill

Boarded up windows, graffiti and overgrown vines. For the last year, that was the view for anyone walking, biking, driving or riding the streetcar past the beige midcentury building on the intersection of Boylston Ave, Marion, and Broadway.

Not for much longer. By this fall, the former office building owned by Swedish Health Services will reopen as a contemporary art museum, courtesy of Greg Lundgren of Vito’s and The Hideout and art production company Vital 5 Productions. With Vital 5, Lundgren has organized sweeping temporary exhibitions in buildings slated for development during the Seattle Art Fair in 2016 and 2017.

Last week, Lundgren signed a lease on the First Hill problem property, a midcentury building that belongs to Swedish Health Services and for years operated as a medical office and retail space (selling prosthetics for people with breast cancer) and most recently a storage facility. The building stood empty for at least a year.

“Right now it looks like a haunted house,” Lundgren says of the first floor when CHS met him in the building, dusty and full of knocked-out wooden beams and walls, the windows still boarded up. “I think in a couple of months it’s going to be pretty special.”

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Before the art space, dubbed Museum of Museums, holds an August preview party, membership drive and unveiling of public art outside the property, Lundgren (along with an employee and army of volunteers) will be stripping the building down to its bare core, knocking down walls of small, ten-by-eight medical offices to make way for large galleries.

Museum of Museums is an intentionally and partly ironically grandiose name. But the plans for the building are, in fact, grand. The moniker also reflects the space’s nesting-doll of multiple art spaces and shows. MoM will be home to two galleries where he’ll show rotating installations and exhibitions by artists mostly from the Pacific Northwest as well as a gift-annex-curiosity-annex-vintage-annex-artist shop.

MoM will also host smaller shows of art collections, such as the personal collection of Seattle-based artist/collector Shaun Kardinal. Artist Jennifer McNeely will install a doll-house sized museum with miniature exhibitions and independent programming. One large room, with a separate entrance facing Broadway, will be reserved for pop-ups, classes, and a monthly art bazaar.

Lundgren’s already tapped Bri Luna of The Hoodwitch and Anthony White as curators of temporary exhibitions, and Neon Saltwater and Brian Sanchez will create an immersive installation.

“Originally I was working towards an August opening deadline,” Lundgren says. “To be open during [the Seattle] Art Fair.” But since he contacted Swedish’ art department and later its real estate division about the property early this year, he’s been busy smoothing out the lease terms and permitting. “It’s been a real patience game,” he says.

Lundgren can rent the space below-market-rate until Swedish wants to demolish the property and develop it in the next few years, though the plans are yet to take shape.

The 1946 building, purchased by Swedish in 1991 for $1,250,000, is not yet lined up for development, as the hospital is busy with the development of its Medical Center First Hill expansion (PDF) and working out the future of the Boylston/Marion/Broadway block.

Swedish owns two of the three parcels on the block, with one by another owner in the middle sandwiched by two Swedish-owned properties. Swedish has a master plan for the whole block the property sits on and is talking to third-party partners and the owner of the middle parcel for development options for the block, says Mike Denney, Chief Real Estate Officer for Swedish.

The agreement with Lundgren comes as Seattle is stepping up efforts to encourage owners with vacant properties lined up for development to keep the buildings in use or make sure they don’t become neighborhood safety issues with squatters and drug use by increasing and expanding inspections and vacant building monitoring fees.

But Swedish says this project did not come out of that. “It’s a coincidence,” Denney says. “We haven’t had any of those conversations with the city yet because we have so little vacant.”

Denney said very few Swedish properties are vacant, and that this project is a first for the nonprofit health care provider. As the building sat empty, “we ended up with a security risk in a spot that allowed people to allow in unhealthy behavior,” says Denney, describing the building as “an eyesore.”

“We were looking for a solution, and Greg appeared,” Denney says. He says an art space solves its security issues and added: People “don’t want to look at an empty building, they rather look at art.”

“Swedish understands that art can be healing. And Greg has a passion to bring that to the community. It seems like a natural fit for a challenging situation.”

Lundgren is still securing a couple of permit approvals with the city, so the project could theoretically still be derailed, says Denney.

Meanwhile, Lundgren is ready to open as soon as possible. “I’m not interested in opening a year from now,” he says, a stack of I ❤️ MoM buttons on the table in front of him. The renovation, Lundgren says, will probably cost around $200,000.

Funding for the renovation and operation will come from selling naming rights to the galleries, sponsorship opportunities, an August membership drive and, most importantly, a $10 entrance fee.

Lundgren says he didn’t want to set up the museum like a gallery, meaning he’d be the intermediary taking commissions on sales to survive, or a nonprofit relying on grants and donations.

“The way I’ve always run my art projects is for-profit,” Lundgren says. “I think that there is a viable way to have sustainable arts and culture that doesn’t rely on grants and goodwill. Anytime you have something that relies on goodwill means that in hard times it goes away.”

“I think that if you paint contemporary art, visual art as this helpless child that needs all this assistance or it’s going to die, then I think it’s less attractive for people to spend their money on [it],” he says.

It’s something he’d like to help change. “Part of that is by encouraging people to take chances and try to be arts entrepreneurs. Part of that is to give (artists) that we have here more opportunity,” he says.

“I want more people to embrace local culture. I want people to open up galleries and museums in alternative spaces,” he says. “And I think that maybe MoM is a way of setting an example of how art could be appreciated and consumed in a different way.”

Follow the Museum of Museums, located at 900 Boylston Ave, via Instagram for updates @momartseattle.

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Rachel S
Rachel S
1 year ago

Excellent! Can’t wait to check it out.