When local billionaire Paul Allen announced that his company Vulcan was creating the inaugural year of the Seattle Art Fair, everyone in the city was abuzz with excitement. Where would it be? Who was going to exhibit? Would it bring out of town art collectors into Seattle? Would it shine a spotlight on the creative brilliance that ran deep throughout the Pacific Northwest?
It was that last question that inspired local curator Greg Lundgren to create a satellite exhibit specific to showcasing a broad and ambitious portrait of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest—a region defined as Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. No one knew if the Seattle Art Fair was going to successfully draw the art dealers, patrons and writers to the Emerald City, but it was a risk worth taking—if the spotlight was shone on our city, Lundgren didn’t want our region’s artists to be spectators to the fair—he wanted to underline that we had a world-class inventory of our own.
The Seattle Art Fair was to be held in the Century Link Convention Center located on the southern edge of downtown Seattle. In the economic boom that Seattle is undergoing, finding a large uninhabited space can be a tall order. Lundgren approached a couple dream spaces but time was ticking by and he still hadn't nailed down a lease. The summer was approaching. There was so much work to do. And then a bit of magic happened. Lundgren ran into Dan Milhalyo and Annie Hann, the artist/architect team that comprises Lead Pencil Studios well as long standing friends (Lundgren and Milhalyo were in grade school together). Expressing his frustration at not nailing down a space, Dan and Annie casually mentioned a space that he might check out as an alternative. It was close to the convention center and as far as they knew, open to the possibility of short term cultural programming. It was the top floor of King Street Station. Who knew King Street Station even had a top floor? Turns out hardly no one—it hadn’t had a tenant in over six decades.
Dan and Annie emailed pictures of the space and passed along their contact at Seattle Department of Transportation—managers to the building. Lundgren reached out, continued his research of the space and his excitement grew. King Street Station was built in 1902 and inspired by the San Marcos Clock Tower in Venice, Italy. It was also designed by the same architects that were responsible for Grand Central Station in Manhattan. And it housed 22,000 square feet of open space, with soaring ceilings and hand-forged metal beams. It was, or at least could become, the perfect exhibition space. And the Seattle Art Fair was less than three months away.
Lundgren reached out to Matthew Richter, who manages and facilitates art spaces for the city’s Office of Arts&Culture. Matt made a few phone calls, met with SDOT, and within the week Lundgren was negotiating the terms of a temporary lease. And after lawyers and insurance agents and city officials all had their say, a deal was struck, and Lundgren had the keys.
With only six weeks until the Seattle Art Fair he called on Sierra Stinson, Kirsten Anderson and Sharon Arnold - all ambitious, smart, well connected and independent Seattle-based curators to co-curator the event. What was it going to be called? Out of Sight. And then the real work began. In that time Vital 5 Productions built out 500 feet of temporary walls, installed 900 feet of track lighting, painted and re-imagined and upgraded the electrical grid. Lundgren, Stinson, Anderson, and Arnold pulled together 110 artists to exhibit that first year. It was a marathon, but one that paid off. It brought them all to near exhaustion, but it succeeded in it’s mission—to show that the Pacific Northwest was brimming with talent.
—Greg Lundgren, June 2016