Paul Allen: A Carny, Not a Carnegie
I meant to get something up about this yesterday: So Paul Allen, according to a front-page story in the Seattle Times on Tuesday, is going to put his collection of art on display at EMP—you remember EMP, right? It’s the Experience Music Project, a museum and interactive something-or-other dedicated to rock and roll. The place was kind of a bust, though, and so a couple of years ago Allen crammed The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in the building too. So now Allen is apparently opening a gallery in EMP’s space too, one that will display paintings he owns by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, de Kooning, and on and on and on.
Why EMP? “We saw no better place to put it than a populist institution like EMP,” said the museum’s spokesman, Christian-Philippe Quilici. “We see it evolving into an all-inclusive cultural shrine.”
That’s funny, Christian. Anyone who isn’t drawing a paycheck from Paul Allen sees EMP as a joke.
I’d like to make a bet: Within a week of Paul Allen’s death, the building that houses EMP will be a Taco Time. The building—designed by Frank Gehry, at a construction cost of $100 million—abuts the “Fun Forest,” that lonely, cosmically depressing, and always empty amusement park. (Megan Seling wrote up the Fun Forest in a recent feature). EMP didn’t quite work, so we got The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. That didn’t quite work either, and addition of big-name art might justify the building’s existence for a little while longer—and it might fill the place—but it’s still a bad fit. The space is destined to be a fast-food outlet.
It’s a shame that Allen, a man who clearly wants to leave a mark on this city, has such terrible instincts and/or gets such bad advice.
Hey, Paul: Think less like a carny and more like a Carnegie. That new downtown public library everyone loves? You could have paid for that with your walking around money, and it would be forever known as the Allen Library—you would be remembered, just like Andrew Carnegie is remembered for building Carnegie Hall in New York City. Remember Commons I & II? You bought up properties in and around a proposed public park in South Lake Union. You offered to donate millions of dollars worth of property to the proposed park, and few more millions to an endowment for policing the park. In other words, you offered what amounts to chump change for a man like you.
You wanted the citizens of Seattle to pick up most of the tab for the Commons—a quarter of a billion dollars. There were two votes on the tax package that would have built the Commons. During one of the Commons campaigns, you made a billion dollar profit during a stock rally in one afternoon! If you had made a gift of 1/4 of that day’s take to the city, there wouldn’t have been a need for a public vote. The Commons would have been built and it would have been called Allen Park, and your condos and office buildings going up in South Lake Union would be worth more, and the city would have a large park in its heart, and like Andrew Carnegie, you would be remembered.
But nope. You couldn’t do the right thing. You couldn’t pay for it yourself. You couldn’t make a gift to the city. You couldn’t see that insisting that average folks tax themselves to pay for 90% of a park that would both enhance the city and enhance the value of an insanely rich billionaires real estate portfolio just might create a little class resentment and a backlash in the voting booth. And none of your advisors could see it either. So the Commons went down—twice.
So what have you created, Paul? How will you be remembered? Bill Gates is angling to be remembered for wiping out malaria. That’s cool—if he succeeds, Gates will be remembered right alongside Jonas Salk. But you? You’ll be remembered, if you’re remembered at all, as Seattle’s richest at-risk adolescent, and the EMP/Science Fiction Museum/Bellagio Casino will be gone and forgotten before your body is cold.