Seattle Art Museum held one of its monthly community meetings today about the Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project. We handed out our Position Statement outside the building. It clearly made an impression, since SAM CEO Kim Rorschach opened the event by holding up a rain-spattered copy of the Position Statement and saying that it was misleading and contained several falsehoods. During the Q&A period, I had a chance to ask what was wrong with it. Kim said that Seattle Art Museum will be posting their own information in rebuttal. She questioned phrases we used such as SAM being “heavily subsidized”, but did not cite any specific factual errors. If we learn of any, we will correct them.
Here are a few other observations and thoughts about the meeting. I did not count the attendees but I would guess 40 to 50.
Notably there was no one present from the City of Seattle (except one person who disclosed being a City employee, but was commenting only as a member of the public). At one point an audience member asked if anyone from the Parks Department was in the room, but there was no reply. This was totally a SAM event.
There was a good long Q&A period which I always appreciate. Out of about 24 speakers I counted 10 opposed to the project or the process, 10 in favor, and a few in the middle. So it is safe to say that there continues to be significant debate about the merits of this plan, among the people participating in SAM’s community meetings. To be clear, no one expressed opposition to anything regarding the seismic upgrade and HVAC work. It is all about the additions.
As with the previous meetings there was very limited outreach. No notices have gone out yet to residences in the neighborhood. The City put out a strange press release on October 13, announcing the meeting less than 48 hours before it occurred, and listing among the goals: “adding vital gallery and education space with a modest expansion”. This echoes the exact language SAM staff use to sell the project. I would prefer to see the City government act less captive.
But even if this process included good outreach, something more would be required. I appreciate the person at the meeting who stood up and said that there is a difference between public outreach and public engagement. Outreach is letting the public know about something that is going to happen anyway (but maybe small changes can be made). Engagement is actually listening to the public’s needs and opinions. This project has gone too far without true public engagement. Let’s pause to make sure we are doing the right thing, and discuss what a responsible process would look like. Volunteer Park is a special place and we should be careful with it.