In defense of the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Since Feb. 27, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, located near Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill, has been closed for restoration and expansion of the building. The restoration will increase the museum’s footprint by about 3,600 square feet. Some people, particularly those neighboring the museum, argued against the expansion because they are worried about how it will impact the environment. Locals also opposed the expansion because it will take up space in the park.

“Many museums around the world are keeping the same footprint while expanding underground. We think this is also possible for SAAM,” said the 2017 Think Again SAAM and Protect Volunteer Park Team. However, posted on the SAAM Frequently Asked Questions page is an explanation as to why that isn’t an option for this particular museum stating “It is not possible to expand below the building because excavating under the landmark building’s foundations would put the historic building at risk. Other concerns include the difficulty of waterproofing an excavated space from one side, and the fact that the lower ceiling height of the existing first level of the museum would not satisfactorily accommodate the needs of gallery, education, or public spaces.”

While I am a strong supporter of minimizing our geographic footprint, I am also a strong supporter of cultural education. Originally when SAAM was created, it focused mainly on art from North Asian countries like China and Japan. Since then, the number of Asian-Americans from South Asian countries living in the Seattle area has increased significantly. Because of this, the new SAAM will feature South Asian art as well as North Asian. Expanding the museum will not only help to increase the knowledge of Asian culture for all groups of people, but will help bring a minority to light and give Asian-Americans more sense of belonging and appreciation in an area that is home to mostly Caucasians.

Domenic Morea, the director of communications at the Seattle Art Museum explained that increasing people’s knowledge of Asian culture is very important. “Now more so than ever we are very connected to Asia by business and by the Asian population in the area increasing,” he stated. “We want to reflect and not overlook any part of the Seattle community.” The goal of SAAM is for people to walk away with a better understanding of Asian culture and how our country works with Asia.

Morea then explained another reason for the expansion besides the additional gallery space. “Right now, the building doesn’t have a dedicated education space, which is challenging because education’s a major part of our mission as a museum” explained Morea, “It’s important because we want to always be able to provide that kind of service and not have to share the space with other unrelated programs.”

“Constructed in 1933, [SAAM] still uses the original furnace. While heat is provided to the building, the museum does not have air conditioning or a climate control system, which limits the amount of collections being made available for display,” wrote Brandon Marcz, a writer for the Capitol Hill Times, in February The new renovations will allow the museum to show more collections than how the current building is set up.

The expansion and renovation of SAAM is overall a positive change. A much larger quantity of people in the Seattle community will benefit from these additions. People’s knowledge of different areas of Asian culture will increase due to the larger amount of gallery space and education area. While the expansion will take up some space in Volunteer Park, the 3,600 square foot development will only consume about 0.17 percent of the total area of the park. It seems like in this situation there are more good benefits than there are bad.

The museum is currently closed and has been since Feb. 27 “in order to begin removing and storing collections, equipment, and furniture,” said Genesee Martin, a writer for the Capitol Hill Times. The renovation is scheduled to take about two years to complete.