Divisive Dale Chihuly Glass-Art "Museum" Approved for Former Seattle Amusement Park

Divisive Dale Chihuly Glass-Art "Museum" Approved for Former Seattle Amusement Park
Dale Chihuly, Seattle's world-famous, eye-patch-wearing glass-art maestro, will be getting a museum dedicated to his colorful doings in his hometown, practically in the shadow of the city's signature Space Needle. The project, which will see the new Chihuly exhibition hall occupy the site of the former Fun Forest amusement park in the Seattle Center park and entertainment complex, received the final green light from the Seattle City Council yesterday. The plan, however, is not without its critics.

The idea for the Chihuly exhibition hall was the brainchild of the wealthy Howard Wright family, which owns the Space Needle, and the new institution will be run by Center Art, LLC, a company put together by the Wrights for the purpose of operating the new vitreous attraction. It is to be a for-profit tourist draw, featuring a permanent installation of Chihuly glass works, to be run without a curator. The idea has been bedeviled by the suspicion that it is a crass gambit to gin up revenue for cash-strapped Seattle Center, rather than a real museum project.

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Seattle Center is already home to the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum, a pricey project bankrolled by Microsoft mogul Paul Allen that has consistently struggled to draw an audience. Fears that the park is yielding to a second half-baked vanity museum with the new Chihuly initiative were first raised in a Seattle Stranger article by Jen Graves published when the museum's plans were released last year, who quoted Norie Sato, an artist who sat on the design commission that originally heard plans for the new museum. Chihuly's vision for the project gave cause for concern, Sato said: "It just wasn't a big enough idea. It was sort of the attitude 'I'm just going to put all my stuff in here.' I didn't think the whole thing had been thought through well enough, really."

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In the final stretch before the museum achieved approval, more concerns that the museum would be little more than a monument to a big ego surfaced, with Chihuly's camp demanding a "non-compete clause" that would forbid the sale of any rival glass artists in the Seattle Center. This provision was voted down by the city council.

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The final, approved plan incorporates a promise of a $1 million donation from Center Art LLC to develop a new children's playspace as well as "an enhancement of 39,000 square feet of public walkways and landscaping around the exhibition site" to accompany the new institution — perhaps an acknowledgment that, according to Graves' report, the number one thing that Seattle residents wanted to be added to the Center was new green space, not a new paid attraction.

The Chihuly museum is set to hold its inaugural exhibition on April 21 of 2012, in time for the anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair that saw the debut of the Space Needle.