By Sally Bagshaw and Alberta Bleck
Last Thursday evening we hopped on our bikes and headed to Uptown, one of our favorite, fast-growing neighborhoods in the city to discuss Arts & Culture Districts, a designation the City applies to communities with a rich culture and history of art and creativity.
You may be asking yourself, where is Uptown anyway? You’ve been there; you just might not know it by that name.
Uptown is composed of the Denny / Broad / Aurora triangle; the Queen Anne Avenue commercial area; the Mercer/Roy Corridor; the residential area to the west of Queen Anne Avenue; and Seattle Center with its connections to each of these areas.
Behind the storefronts of Uptown, there is a burgeoning Arts community about to find a new voice.
Our mission on Thursday was to attend a meeting facilitated by the Uptown Alliance, a group of local leaders who advocate for the community on subjects ranging from urban planning to homelessness issues. Members of the Alliance include Deborah Frausto, John Coney, Katie Idziorek, Matt Roewe and many more artists, activists, and community members.
The agenda for Thursday evening was “A Conversation about the Uptown Arts & Culture District,” held at On the Boards, a neighborhood venue that puts on innovative dance performances year round. The Arts & Culture District concept is a community driven endeavor which has been shown to increase walkability, street vibrancy, and overall vitality. And it has momentum in Uptown.
When we entered OtB, we joined a room chock full of local Arts & Cultural organizations and representatives, renowned citywide. KEXP, EMP, the Children’s Museum, Seattle Rep, Seattle Opera, Teatro Zinzanni, Pottery Northwest, Seattle Center, SIFF, and the Vera Project were in attendance, to name a few. Needless to say, these are some of the city’s leading art institutions, concentrated in one of the fastest growing neighborhoods. The opportunities are tremendous!
There is no doubt Uptown is home to an artistic juggernaut—the question at hand was how these organizations can join together to bring the art and culture to the streets of Uptown. We are focused on creating life and vibrancy which will make the neighborhood great. This is where an Arts & Cultural District comes in.
The City of Seattle’s Arts & Cultural Districts program originates from the Cultural Overlay District Advisory Committee’s June 2009 report, which recommended Arts & Culture districts as the number one best way to preserve Seattle’s unique arts community.
Councilmember Nick Licata joined the conversation on Thursday to discuss his vision for Arts & Culture Districts. Councilmember Licata was integral to the creation of Seattle’s Arts & Culture Districts program and played a significant role in the first District, established in Capitol Hill in 2012.
Sally then discussed her deep appreciation of the Arts leaders present in the room and admiration of the synthesis of efforts already taking place. Nick and Sally both deeply believe “Seattle’s uniqueness is tied to its creative nature.” To preserve what we love about the city, we must work across genres and generations to protect and promote the arts and culture in neighborhoods.
Matthew Richter from the City’s Office of Arts and Culture next described the tools available to an Arts & Culture District, and reminded us all that improving way-finding and enhancing the visibility of performing arts and visual arts makes a neighborhood not only more enjoyable but increases safety and public interest as well.
Neighborhood character and livability are tied to more than just the hot button issues in the city today, like affordable housing or effective transportation and congestion reduction. In Uptown, the goal is to embrace the cultural heart of the community.
Uptown is at a crossroads. There are big things taking place that will shape the neighborhood indelibly going forward. First, KEXP is currently building its new home in what was Seattle Center’s Northwest Rooms. This expansion will be huge for the music community in this city. KEXP’s New Home is designed to reach more music lovers and break down barriers between listeners, artists, and the neighborhood.
The Opera is also currently undergoing a planning process for their expansion, which will lead to exciting new opportunities for their productions. Beyond that, Uptown holds a number of highly valuable City-owned properties which may be up for reconsideration shortly. It is incredibly important we approach these changes strategically and thoughtfully, to realize the remarkable potential in the neighborhood to be a true heart of the City.
After the opening remarks, everyone headed to four tables with maps and writing implements to discuss priorities. Thus began a flurry of ideas.
Here are some of the recommendations these groups came up with:
- Affordable Workforce Housing for Artists: Multiple stakeholders voiced the priority of creating affordable housing for those who keep the arts running in Uptown.
- Preservation of Cultural Spaces: Uptown should continue to incentivize and support the creation of art spaces through preservation programs and development incentives.
- Uptown Block Party: Based on the Uptown Art Walk concept, the Block Party could connect all the Arts Organizations in a celebratory tour of art venue open houses, bringing people inside the doors of the arts organizations.
- Signage: Way-finding for those who visit the District will be critical and signage can be art in itself. One group proposed creating artistic crosswalks sponsored by neighborhood organizations. Another group proposed activating alleys in an innovative way. The idea of creative lighting for the pedestrian streetscape was also raised.
- Partnerships with local businesses: Partnering with the other economic engines of the neighborhood could yield mutually beneficial ties between the arts and business.
- Busking: Dedicating creative space for those who wish to produce art in the streets.
- Uptown App: A navigating tool to help people find the next great venue.
The next steps for the Uptown A&C District are taking place among community leaders as we speak. The very first step is for the community to create an Inventory of all the cultural spaces (see the Capitol Hill District’s map here). Uptown’s Inventory is currently in the information gathering process. Do you have an organization or space you’d like to register? Contact Deborah Frausto (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Cyrus Despres (email@example.com) or fill out an inventory form online if you wish to weigh in, host a community event, or include your arts organization in the Inventory.
To learn more about Culture & Arts Districts, visit the City’s webpage here.
There will be both time and opportunities for community members to weigh in. I’m asking the Uptown businesses and residents to talk to us. We want to know what YOU want to see in our new Uptown Arts & Culture District. What spotlight would YOU shine? The new Uptown is upon us!