The Short-Sighted Dismantling of Artwood, A Quiet and Long-Running Utopia in North Seattle
by Jen Graves
on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 2:07 PM
The art studio that was once a classroom.
Artwood is a great story. There's a terrific full narration of it, with lots of pictures, in an old Seattle Times piece here.
But the basics are: Artwood is a tiny artist community in Lake City that used to be an elementary school. The school, designed by Northwest modernist architect Paul Thiry (it was landmarked in 2012), opened in 1959. In 1981, it closed due to miniscule enrollment. The city began renting this woodsy place to artists, who decked it out, setting up studios and homes in the classrooms and the library, stringing lights and installing sculptures and murals the courtyard and the lunchroom and auditorium and garden. They raised children and pets who ran in the halls. They made art that was shown everywhere from galleries and museums to stalls in Pike Place Market. They came in all stripes.
That has gone on for 32 years. The school was only open for 22. In 32 years, not one studio has sat empty. Artwood is this city's most enduring, quiet art utopia. Today there are 13 live-in residents and 11 non-residential studio tenants. It's one of the few affordable housing projects for artists in Seattle; there's always a wait to get in. You can find out more about Artwood's environment and artists (and their kids and pets) on its Facebook page.
And back in the year 2000, the artists led the effort to create a beautiful adjacent park and playground on a two-acre asphalt field. It's called Cedar Park, and it's the only neighborhood park in this part of the city.
Photo by Lance Wagner
Welcome to Artwood.
Now, the city wants to use the building to temporarily house students while another nearby school, Olympic Hills Elementary, is enlarged. The city also plans to plop four portable classroom buildings and possibly some parking spaces in the park, and to fence off the public park. Populations are shifting again and the district needs more classrooms on the north side of the city. But Artwood residents are pleading with the city to take a look at other options—to consider finding a place for students that doesn't involve dismantling a long-useful and vibrant civic entity for the sake of temporary convenience.
The school board gave tenants notice to vacate, but have also admitted that they have not yet "done their due diligence" on "additional research on other sites," said Diane C. Wright, an Artwood tenant who works at Pilchuck Glass School and studies Tiffany glass. "If nothing else, we would like other taxpayers in Seattle to know how their tax dollars are being used... The price tag to reconvert this building is $10 million to create a temporary site for elementary school children."
Photo by Lance Wagner
Cris Bruch, the sculptor, is another tenant at Artwood. He's had "ten good years" living and working there. "Dunno where we'll land," he said.
These artists aren't crying whining or crying bloody murder or asking for special treatment. They're asking the city to be smart, and to think long-term.