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October 28, 2014

City starts program to boost cultural districts

  • The first Arts & Cultural District in the citywide program will be Capitol Hill.
  • Rising real estate prices and new development have made it more difficult for artists and arts organizations to stay in Seattle.

    These groups make in-city neighborhoods distinctive and attract businesses and residents.

    A 2009 report commissioned by the city noted that dozens of arts organizations lost their home when the OddFellows Building on Capitol Hill was renovated the year before. In 2011, more than 100 artist studios were lost when the 619 Western Building in Pioneer Square closed.

    On Monday, the city announced a new citywide program to help stem the tide of disappearing arts spaces.

    The Arts & Cultural Districts program will designate districts with the goal of preserving and increasing the amount of space for arts and cultural uses.

    The program received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to come up with a “placemaking toolkit” to help with small projects and programming.

    Matthew Richter, cultural space liaison at Seattle's Office of Arts and Culture, is heading the program.

    The toolkit will include advice on wayfinding, parklets, street performers, historic markers, sidewalk kiosks and pop-up spaces in vacant storefronts.

    One part of the program includes a new building certification system like LEED, but for cultural spaces. It's called BASE, or Build ArtSpacE.

    The first district in the program will be Capitol Hill.

    The city doesn't plan to set specific boundaries for the districts, preferring instead to recognize general areas that are dense with cultural activities.

    Arts & Culture spokeswoman Calandra Childers said the Pike-Pine corridor is a good example of a neighborhood that's already culturally robust.

    “We want to put a name on it and make sure it doesn't disappear,” she said.

    New districts will be named over time, perhaps one a year. The city wants to take enough time to develop programs and see how well they work. The long-term goal, the city says, is to provide ideas and examples of ways neighborhoods can identify and promote their cultural niche.

    The city is also considering working with developers to provide zoning incentives such as additional height in exchange for cultural amenities.

    City Councilmember Nick Licata said in a statement that he also wants to work toward having districts support affordable housing for artists.

    Creation of the new program comes from recommendations by the Cultural Overlay District Advisory Committee, which completed its report in 2009 that mentioned the OddFellows Building.

    Designating new districts won't be a top-down affair. Community groups are expected to offer proposals for new districts.

    Childers, the city spokeswoman, said part of the funding will come from grants.

    As more districts are named, the program isn't expected to become more expensive since most projects, such as kiosks or art historic markers, only need to be funded once.

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