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Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum will reopen in February

(Image: Tim Griffith/Seattle Asian Art Museum)

Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum will reopen this winter nearly two years to the month it closed for a surprisingly controversial $54 million $56 million renovation and expansion:

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) announced today that the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park will reopen to the public on Saturday, February 8, 2020, following a 24-month-long renovation and expansion. The museum’s historic 1933 building closed to the public on February 27, 2017 to address critical needs of infrastructure, accessibility, and program space. Now enhanced with a design by the Seattle-based firm LMN Architects (2016 AIA National Firm Award) with landscape architect Walker Macy, the building reopens as a modern museum within an historic icon.

For visitors, the wait has been even longer — the museum closed in preparation for the construction in February 2017.

Crews broke ground on the project in March of 2018 after a long process of community meetings and neighborhood pushback over concerns plans to expand the eastern side of the art deco building into the park would encroach on Olmsted-designed green space’s natural setting.

The $56 million SAAM project was designed by LMN Architects to expand the 1933-built museum more than 13,000 square feet by extending the backside of the building 3,600 square feet into the park. The museum has added more display space to represent South Asia and India as well as addressed infrastructure issues including a climate control system and seismic upgrades while making the museum ADA accessible. 

The lead up to the project included a new 55-year lease signed for the City of Seattle property promising wider access for the city’s schools. The project was funded by a mixture of public and private funds, with a final budget of approximately $56 million, officials said Tuesday. Of this funding, $21 million comes from the City of Seattle, which owns the building. Additional government support includes $1.5 million from the State of Washington and $1.4 million from King County. The remaining funds were raised through private support.

The project team included general contractor and construction manager BNBuilders, and construction and project management services from OAC Services.

Highlights of the overhaul include:

  • A new glass-enclosed park lobby on the east side of the building, creating a visual connection to Volunteer Park
  • Two new portals in the Fuller Garden Court opening onto the park lobby
  • A new gallery, education studio, conservation center, and community meeting room
  • The restoration of Olmstedian pathways in the park near the museum
  • Restoration of three fountains (two exterior, one interior)
  • Cleaning and preservation of the original sandstone façade
  • Cleaning of the façade’s Art Deco metalwork and reglazing of the glass

Officials announced the reopening plans Tuesday and said the overhauled 1933-born museum will come back to life with a free weekend of community celebration:

A free community celebration will welcome visitors to the museum on February 8 and 9, 2020. It will feature two 12-hour days (9 am-9 pm) of programs reflecting the 12 themes of the reimagined collection galleries, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art. Free tickets will be available to reserve in early December.

“This is a pivotal moment for SAM and for the city of Seattle,” Amada Cruz, new director and CEO of SAM said in a statement on the reopening. “With the completion of this project, we unveil new spaces to connect the museum’s extraordinary collection of Asian art to our lives and experiences. I’m grateful to the city of Seattle, the staff and supporters of SAM, and especially to my predecessor, Kimerly Rorschach, for seeing this monumental project through.”


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9 thoughts on “Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum will reopen in February” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

    • It’s a great museum. Can we get some figures on the impact of the expansion? I can’t really understand anyone fighting this expansion. Is it genuine concern for the park or do they fear more people using “their” public park and taking “their” street parking?

      • The no expansion crowd is not even worth engaging…their complaints were utterly ridiculous.

        What is worth noting is that, thankfully, this group and their garbage criticisms were listened to patiently, rejected by those in charge as the ridiculous nonsense they were, and the project went forward with them sidelined.

        It’s good to see that development can’t be completely stalled here, as opposed to places like San Francisco where these anti-change groups seem to win out, over and over again….

      • Go in a CHS time machine and read the comments on older articles about this before this happened. You’d think the world was ending.

      • Thank goodness that reason prevailed over the obstructionists who seemed to have nothing better to do. The expansion is very well-designed, unobtrusive, and adds needed new space for the museum’s collection.

  1. one old lady got mad at me for being for it – and i’m an artist that fucking does the work, does all the art stuff in seattle, I use the park and know it pretty well to know that losing that little means nothing. she kept talking about rich people using it for parties – and i’m like, yeah, have you seen the art world… IN SEATTLE?! it’s always been like that lol

    Seriously – if she used that energy to rile up her “grassroots” friends for less regressive taxation – that would do way more for artists than losing a little bit of land for a way better designed art museum that fucking showcases underrepresented art and artists.

  2. Oh my god this extension is horrible! The park is ruined forever! I’m never going there again! The Olmsted Brothers are rolling in their graves! The entire neighborhood has been destroyed!

    Kidding :-) Thanks SO MUCH to all of the people who worked so hard to make this happen and didn’t let the obstructionists win. I don’t know all of your names, but you are stars in my book.

    Yours,
    A frequent park user, jogger, dog walker, ambler — and art fan.

  3. I’d love to see some before/after photos from the same angles… It seems to me that this is an improvement… before, I seem to recall there was an ugly blank wall and some physical plant machinery, deep shade and a boggy lawn that no one usually used much because it was always wet…