Seattle again: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on The Frye Museum & development

from Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore:


I’m haunted by the Frye Art Museum’s decision to sell its parking lot to a developer that will build two 33-story luxury (“market-rate”) apartment towers. The Frye is a free art museum, as stipulated in the 1954 will of Charles Frye, who made his fortune in the glamorous meatpacking industry (followed by real estate speculation). At least he left us a free museum, right? His taste in art wasn’t too good, but now that the Frye has become a contemporary art museum, his collection is thankfully crowded into one room that can easily be avoided. (I do like that portrait of a peacock, though.)

The Frye is a great resource—I mean, because it’s free, it’s pretty much the only museum I go to on a regular basis. And, when there’s something really tremendous there, like C Davida Ingram’s recent video installation, I can go back three times, just to appreciate all of its layers. (My favorite quote: “Hipster irony is a compensation for lack of soul.”)

But, back to real estate, it appears that the Frye has chosen a developer that believes in public art—but, what about public housing? Public art without public housing is just a distraction from structural oppression. In a city currently being destroyed by real estate speculation, why must the Frye partner with a for-profit developer in order to continue “expanding our revenue base” (as quoted in Jen Graves’ article in The Stranger).

With assets already totaling $55 million, and $6 million in rental income (in 2014) from the properties the Frye already owns, wouldn’t it be a better investment to partner with an affordable housing developer? (If ethical civic engagement by wealthy institutions can be considered an investment—that’s what they tell us, right?) Imagine if the Frye helped to create 450 new units of permanent low-income housing, instead another 450 units of glittering unaffordable crap? What an incredible artistic statement this would be.

But, no—the plan calls for two more high-rise luxury towers, with walls that look like canvas, so that newly-arrived tech employees can vomit their art onto us through open windows. If only the art industry would produce something else.


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