SEATTLE – Every year, more than 2.7 million passengers pass through Seattle’s King Street Station, which is served by Amtrak intercity and Sounder commuter trains, as well as Amtrak Thruway buses. Other visitors stop by to simply admire the historic building – a city landmark located at the crossroads of the vibrant Commercial, International and Stadium districts. The station is probably best known for its soaring clock tower, modeled after the bell tower in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, and grand public spaces featuring glittering mosaics and elaborate plasterwork.
The station’s role as a city gateway and gathering place was strengthened this March by the opening of ARTS at King Street Station, a city-owned, 7,500-square foot flexible arts and culture hub located on the building’s third floor. Intended to enhance the visibility of artists of color, build community connections and promote cultural participation, ARTS incorporates a gallery with movable walls, an artist-in-residence studio, conference rooms and work space for the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture.
“We are thrilled to open a new, inclusive, community-driven artistic home for the city at King Street Station,” said Office of Arts & Culture Director Randy Engstrom. “Seattle is home to a rich cultural community, from Indigenous peoples to those who are just now calling our city their own. King Street Station reflects our voices and values.”
“The location as a transit hub is incredible and being able to exhibit art by and for artists of color is an ongoing goal of the office,” added Erika Lindsay, communications manager with the Office of Arts & Culture. “We also love seeing the many Amtrak travelers coming up and being so excited by the space and exhibition on view.”
ARTS builds on a long tradition of train stations viewed as extensions of the public realm where artwork, ranging from sculptures to murals, is used to tell stories about a community’s past and present – and future aspirations.
Following a multi-year renovation of King Street Station that began in 2008, and which included historic restoration, modernization of passenger facilities, seismic retrofitting and installation of sustainable elements, the city, which owns the structure, sought renters for the upper floors.
As work got underway in 2015 for the inaugural Seattle Art Fair, the Office of Arts & Culture was approached for possible venues. It suggested the top floor of King Street Station after taking a tour of the space with the Seattle Department of Transportation (DOT), which manages the facility. This temporary use, which drew hundreds of visitors, illustrated that a permanent arts space could be successful and make use of available city property.
While the Office of Arts & Culture collaborated with the city’s Transportation and Finance & Administrative Services departments and staff from the Mayor’s Office to design and build out ARTS, it continued to use the third floor for pop-up events, each lasting about one month.
A community outreach effort conducted in 2016 helped determine the gallery’s focus on increasing opportunities for communities of color to present their work. That year, the Office of Arts & Culture conducted three public listening sessions and hosted 16 focus groups.
ARTS’ inaugural exhibit, yəhaw̓, is on view through early August and showcases the work of about 200 contemporary Indigenous creatives. Anyone is welcome to propose an idea for an exhibition, performance, workshop, screening and more.
Designs for ARTS retained the space’s historic elements, such as masonry walls, original windows, an exposed steel structural system, ornamental stairway and terrazzo floor, while selectively adding insulation in the office areas and installing contemporary mechanical and electrical systems.
The result is a space with a raw, industrial appearance that can adapt to a variety of exhibits and temporary uses. ARTS was the first city-funded project to be designed to LEED® v4 Gold for Commercial Interiors standards. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a nationally recognized benchmark for quality design that addresses sustainability issues related to buildings.
The Office of Arts & Culture paid for the $5.6 million renovation project. It receives funding from a 1% for public art provision and an admission tax, which is added to the charge that attendees pay to enter entertainment venues or events in Seattle. Admission tax revenue, the majority of which is transferred to the Seattle Arts Account, was used to cover the renovation budget. This funding will also be used to maintain the ARTS space and provide programming.
ARTS’ presence at King Street Station is another great example of how train stations can be reimagined to meet the needs not only of travelers, but the community at large.
ARTS images courtesy of the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture/Benjamin Benschneider.