Dear Mayor Murray and SPAR Director Aguirre:
I oppose the expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) onto currently open space in Volunteer Park.
As a daily visitor to Volunteer Park, I encounter the glories of the Park as well as many current unmet, major Park needs.
The City’s decision to ignore those needs while demanding that taxpayers face the double jeopardy of loss of Park land and $29 million is ludicrous. The failure of transparency, the failure to account to the public for SAAM”S current expenditures now totaling near $2.5 million for “planning and outreach, the budgeting of additional millions of public funds is dismaying. “Alternative facts” describing the current Park and the proposed SAAM expansion by the City, SAAM, and SPAR advocates are grotesque mockeries of the democratic process. Here are a few examples:
|Current park environment||SAAM Plans||“Alternative facts”|
|Protection and maintenance of Volunteer Park||Excellent direction by current SPR director: 4-person current parks crew vigorously maintain a vast, area and provide encouragement to superintended volunteers for needed upkeep and planting||Insertion of two towers which would sacrifice the example of broad vistas valued by landscape architects for centuries||SAAM: Characterization of the two 5-story and 6-story concrete/ towers as “modest” by CEO Rorshach of SAAM and by SAAM’s Architect Miller|
|Defense of Park’s integrity||Excellent historical exhibit in the water tower. Long history of efforts for protection against land grabs in the Park.||Ignorance of heritage of the history of American landscape architecture||SAAM: Characterization of Volunteer Park as “dead, unattractive, unsafe.” by CEO of SAAM and by Architect Miller|
|Provision of Access to visitor’s basic needs||Insufficient: A total of 4 public toilets in the Park results in long waits in line:
these mothers and children who wait patiently are the very people who are funding the Park. Parks declares insufficient funds to provide more toilets, often fails to require exhibitors to provide porta-potties.
|Refusal of SAAM CEO to consider refurbishing the SAAM building’s current bricked-up exterior toilets to accommodate the very tax payers from whom they are demanding $29 million and the continuation of $2.5 million support to subsidize free annual rent and maintenance.||SAAM: Characterization as “too difficult” a task to provide additional toilets for the very folks who are to be charged with a $29 million expenditure.
False characterization of current museum as “friendly” to park visitors who enter the museum to use indoor toilets.
Characterization of annual support as “small” by SAAM CEO
|Plantings and Design||An excellent landmark plan designed by the Olmsted firm and commissioned over a decade ago by a capable, licensed landscape architect.||Ignorance or purposeful denial of: a current park design and an acknowledgement of landscape architecture as an “art.”||SAAM: Characterization of Volunteer Park as in need of re-designed vegetation and taxpayer’s funds spent on designs for piles of large rocks, incompatible “flower” beds.|
|Protection of park vegetation||Many large Park trees in fragile state as part result of lack of sufficient funds for watering them in summer||Ignorance or purposeful denial that massive weight of towers and transportation of building materials and construction will harm vegetation.||SPAR and SAAM characterization of the bulldozing of the root systems of large trees as “safe” and as “approved by experts.”|
|Needs for current funding||Insufficient funding: e.g., for currently needed critical Parks projects||SAAM claims a “connection” is needed by museum visitors in order to interact with the Park. Thus the need for insertions of massive glass walls and decks in one of the two monumental expansions.||This “alternative fact” of the inability of visitors inside the building to “experience” the Park denies logic. Are we to believe that a simple act of walking outside on Park land cannot provide that “connection?”|
|Outreach||Refusal of SARM to allow a dialogue with citizens: “two minute” statements allow not conversations or discussions.||SPAR delegates to speak at SAAM “outreaches” insult tax payers by fending off questions and deferring to SAAM CEO.
SAAM declares that lectures on the expansion are sufficient discussion for the “public.”
|SAAM CEO ignores citizens’ questions and instead fills in time with lists of “alternative facts” many of which are listed in this chart.|
|Planning||$2 million in public funds spent in 6 months by SAAM: No citizen input for planning||SAAM declared “outreach” was, by the time that the $2 million was already spent was to include only people with “expertise.”||SAAM: Dog-and-pony shows by SAAM and a lack of sinage for or outreach to public mocks any reasonable expectations of transparency|
|New gallery space and other needs||What is the net gain of rooms to display art at SAAM?||SAAM’s expansion plans provide minimal net gain for the display of art. Glassed in rooms are not a venue for most of the collection: daylight damages paper and other media||SAAM CEO characterizes the garden court as a “dead end room” and plans to insert 18’ doors and remove most of the current sculpture.|
|Race and Social Justice?
|All residents need the opportunity to enjoy passive, open spaces within Seattle. Volunteer Park’s original design has already been compromised over the decades since it was designed and||SAAM’s outspoken advocates include a member of one of the world’s ten richest families as well as other wealthy patrons. Does the former often wait for a chance to eliminate in Volunteer Park? Does she need the park’s calm lawns on a hot summer day or will the luxe of one of her estates be sufficient to suit both her aesthetic and urinary requirements?||SAAM characterizes the territorial expansions as “minor” but minor to whom? Apartment dwellers whose major expenses are for rent of hot apartments and who will lose land and trees in the Park? Or to Park visitors who lack the funds to enter a City-owned building occupied by an unwelcoming business which they support with millions of dollars for free rent and maintenance?|
Please allow me to remind you of two recent quotes by from the highly-regarded retiring director of the Frye Art Museum, Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, discussing the funding of museums as well as what I would characterize as a criticism of “alternative facts” also known as lies. (Stranger Sep 26, 2016):
“The Frye is the only museum in Seattle that has always had free admission, which makes it a place that all people can visit regularly, not just on a special occasion. In this election season, it’s clear to see that people are convinced that the world is built to serve a select few. We are in a dangerous place because of that…”
“I have a colleague—I will not say the name of the colleague or the institution—but somebody who has gone to great lengths to make their institution look really dreadful because they’re in a huge fundraising campaign. They’ve done it brilliantly. But I don’t want to do that.”