In this profile on the changing nature of Seattle’s Downtown during the mid-90’s, Speakeasy is profiled for its alternative artistic programming.
A Dose Of Culture — You’ll Find Art, Theater And More In The Heart Of The City
By Janet I-Chin Tu
LET’S GO downtown.
No, no, no – we’re not making you go to work or go shopping.
We’re going to get ourselves a little culture. Some art. Theater. Poetry.
Downtown?!?, you say.
Well, if you haven’t been downtown in a while, it may surprise you how much artistic activity is going on. Sure, the Pioneer Square First Thursday Gallery Walk has been happening for years. But now theaters are coming back. And Belltown, home to many new apartments and condos, has come alive with its mixture of cafes, bars and Laundromats (yes, Laundromats) offering not just live music and good eats, but also gallery space, theater venues and literary readings.
“Whereas people used to go elsewhere for their theater, or art, and then somewhere else again for dinner or drinks, now downtown’s becoming really well-rounded, with arts venues and evening businesses like restaurants,” said Downtown Seattle Association Marketing Director Lucinda Payne. “That the arts are choosing to come back downtown has to do with the revitalization of the area as a whole.”
A key turning point came in December 1991, with Seattle Art Museum’s move from Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill to its current location downtown.
“SAM’s choice to come downtown was monumental,” Payne said. “It wasn’t a pretty site that they chose. It was a very gutsy move on its part, and it was also a very symbolic choice. SAM chose to be in a central location to service the entire community.”
In addition, the establishment of the 5th Avenue, AHA!, Annex and Belltown theaters, the renovation of the Paramount Theatre last year, and the upcoming move of A Contemporary Theatre from Queen Anne to Union Street and Seventh Avenue in September, will once again establish downtown as a vibrant theater district. The Seattle Symphony is also moving downtown, with its new Benaroya Concert Hall scheduled to open on Third Avenue and University Street in September 1998.
In the meantime, there’s still more than enough arts downtown to keep a culture vulture happy for weeks.
If you’re interested in theater, there are obviously the big, splashy Broadway-type productions playing at the mainstream theaters: the 5th Avenue Theatre and Paramount Theatre. The Moore Theatre hosts name-act bands, musical performances, dance companies and some children’s productions. Cabaret de Paris in Rainier Square offers intimate cabaret acts, and Mystery Cafe Dinner Theatre at the Bon Marche presents an audience-participation mystery Friday and Saturday evenings. For more cutting-edge tastes, the Annex Theatre presents original musicals, off-beat, irreverent dramas and improv. The AHA! Theatre presents published, known works on its main stage and more experimental commissioned works on its smaller stage, as well as late-night sketch comedies, parodies and improv. Belltown Theatre Center has original, contemporary, classical and improvisational works. Market Theatre at Pike Place Market presents improv and experimental productions. Broken Theater in Pioneer Square offers both classics and improv; and nearby Velvet Elvis Arts Lounge Theatre presents films, bands, and fringe/off-Broadway productions.
Pioneer Square, of course, is known for its First Thursday Gallery Walk. From 6 to 8 p.m. the first Thursday of each month, local art galleries – most of them in Pioneer Square – give the public the first glimpse of that month’s new exhibits.
Depending on the weather, crowds can range from a few scattered dozen into the hundreds. It’s a nice introduction to the city’s galleries, which are usually fully staffed on those nights. And the attitude and attire are usually Seattle casual.
The buzz around the gallery scene these days centers on Meyerson & Nowinski Art Associates, a 5,000-square-foot gallery that opened April 24. Robert Nowinski, the millionaire founder of Immunex, and Chris Bruce, former Henry Art Gallery curator and art director for Meyerson & Nowinski Art Associates, are expected to bring in modern masterworks, as well as works by Northwest contemporary artists.
Other notable galleries downtown include:
— Davidson Galleries: Contemporary painting and sculpture; contemporary print and drawing center; antique prints.
— Foster/White Gallery: Contemporary Northwest artists – paintings, studio glass.
— Friesen Gallery of Fine Art: International, national and regional paintings, glass and sculpture.
— G. Gibson Gallery: 19th- and 20th-century fine-art photographs and related fine art.
— Greg Kucera Gallery: Paintings, sculptures and prints by contemporary Northwest and nationally recognized artists.
— Grover/Thurston Gallery: Works on paper, paintings and sculpture by contemporary Northwest artists.
— Kurt Lidtke Gallery: Paintings and prints by emerging Northwest artists. — Linda Cannon Gallery: Painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography and works on paper by emerging Northwest artists.
— Linda Hodges Gallery: Mostly paintings by contemporary Northwest artists.
— Lisa Harris Gallery: Paintings, works on paper, sculpture and photography by contemporary Northwest and West Coast artists.
— MIA Gallery: Paintings, sculpture and jewelry by local and national artists.
— William Traver Gallery: Studio glass, paintings and sculpture by contemporary, mainly Northwest, artists.
Of course, the big art institution in the area is the Seattle Art Museum. The museum’s strengths include Northwest Coast Native American, African, Asian and Northwest contemporary art. And happily, to coincide with the Gallery Walk, admission to the museum is free the first Thursday of each month.
For a more alternative spin on art, try the Center on Contemporary Art in Belltown. This nonprofit organization has curated and juried shows featuring local, national and international artists.
And while you’re in Belltown, check out the Speakeasy Cafe and Sit & Spin, two venues that host eclectic arts events and serve as surrogate living rooms for the community.
Sit & Spin, a combination Laundromat-cafe-live theater-art gallery, opened in Sept. 1993, with the goal of providing a venue, funded by a cafe and Laundromat, where grassroots artists could display their art. Sit & Spin has a 189-seat theater for rock concerts and theater productions. Improvisational poetry is held at 9 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month (sign-ups at 8:30 p.m.); the art space features emerging visual artists; and there’s live music Friday and Saturday nights.
The Speakeasy, which opened in June 1995, made its mark as one of the first Internet Cafes in the region, with PCs scattered throughout the airy, woodsy cafe, and Internet accounts that customers can purchase by the month. But in addition to high-tech communication, the Speakeasy also focuses on communications through other media: visual arts, spoken word and music. There’s “Subtext Poetry,” a group that hosts poetry readings at 7:30 p.m. the third Thursday of each month. 8 p.m. Wednesdays are devoted to “Other Sounds” – improvised music and music that wouldn’t normally be played at nightclubs. Every Friday at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., the cafe shows silent films with live musical accompaniment. Live jazz music usually plays on Thursday and Friday evenings; post-modern jazz musician Wayne Horvitz plays on Mondays; and pop, lounge or ethnic music usually plays on Saturdays. The cafe also hosts regular theater productions of original work.
“I’ve certainly noticed a revitalization of the area in the last two years,” said David Russell, art director at the Speakeasy. “People are starting to live here again. As opposed to in the past where people leave downtown to go home at night, now it feels more like a neighborhood.”
— AHA! Theatre: 2222 Second Ave.; 728-1375
— Annex Theatre: 1916 Fourth Ave.; 728-0933.
— Belltown Theatre Center: 115 Blanchard St.; 728-7609.
— Broken Theater: 163 S. Jackson St., third floor; 517-7581.
— Cabaret de Paris: Crepe de Paris, Rainier Square, 1333 Fifth Ave., 623-4111.
— 5th Avenue Theatre: 1308 Fifth Ave.; 625-1900.
— Market Theatre: 1428 Post Alley; 781-9273.
— Moore Theatre: 1932 Second Ave.; 682-1414.
— Mystery Cafe Dinner Theatre: Cascade Room, sixth floor, The Bon Marche, Third Avenue and Pine Street, 324-8895.
— Paramount Theatre: 911 Pine St.; 682-1414.
— Velvet Elvis Arts Lounge Theatre: 107 Occidental Ave. S.; 624-8477.
— Center on Contemporary Art: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. 65 Cedar St.; 728-1980.
— Davidson Galleries: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday. 313 Occidental Ave. S.; 624-7684.
— Foster/White Gallery: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. 311 1/2 Occidental Ave. S.; 622-2833.
— Friesen Gallery of Fine Art: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. 1210 Second Ave.; 628-9501.
— G. Gibson Gallery: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. 122 S. Jackson, St. 2200; 587-4033.
— Greg Kucera Gallery: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. 608 Second Ave.; 624-0770.
— Grover/Thurston Gallery: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. 309 Occidental Ave. S.; 223-0816.
— Kurt Lidtke Gallery: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. 318 Second Ave. S.; 623-5082.
— Linda Cannon Gallery: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. 520 Second Ave.; 233-0404.
— Linda Hodges Gallery: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. 410 Occidental Ave. S.; 624-3034.
— Lisa Harris Gallery: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 1922 Pike Place; 443-3315.
— Meyerson & Nowinski Art Associates: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. 123 S. Jackson St.; 233-1700.
— MIA Gallery: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. 512 First Ave. S.; 467-8283.
— Seattle Art Museum: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, except 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays. Free admission first Thursday of each month. Suggested admission: adults $6, seniors and students $5, children 12 and under free. 100 University St.; 654-3100.
— William Traver Gallery: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m. weekend. 110 Union St., second floor; 587-6501.
— Sit & Spin: 2219 Fourth Ave.; 441-9484.
— Speakeasy Cafe: 2304 Second Ave.; 728-9770.