A Seattle power lunch, a fishing trip in Mongolia and a brainstorming session in a Manhattan bar all helped lead to the Olympic Sculpture Park. Here are some of the movers and shakers, and creative and support teams, who made it possible.
Jon and Mary Shirley
In 1995, Seattle Art Museum trustee and former Microsoft president Jon Shirley and his wife, Mary, looked out at their growing outdoor sculpture collection and asked the question: “Where is this all going to go?”
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More than a decade later, with the opening of the Olympic Sculpture Park, their question is answered.
The Shirleys’ first step was to turn to patrons Virginia (“Jinny”) and Bagley Wright, whose extensive art collection also includes major outdoor artworks. Jinny Wright liked the idea and said: “Let’s get Mimi [Gates, the director of SAM] and have lunch.”
Since that fateful meal, the Shirleys have donated $30 million to turn their dream of a sculpture park into an enduring reality. Their primary goal was to purchase land and then fund an endowment to ensure the park’s future and maintenance of its artworks. In addition, the Shirleys have given a number of sculptures to SAM for the park’s opening and purchased Alexander Calder’s “Eagle” as a centerpiece. As the park’s primary benefactors, the Shirleys were offered naming rights. Rather than draw attention to themselves, they chose to honor the spectacular mountain range that dominates views from the park.
Bagley and Virginia Wright
The Wrights have a long history of arts patronage in the Northwest and strong ties to SAM, where they have both been trustees. Bagley was a board president and acting director at SAM and founding president of Seattle Repertory Theatre. Jinny founded SAM’s Contemporary Art Council, was a founding member of Seattle Art Commission and helped initiate Seattle’s public art program. Outdoor sculpture is one of her passions. She is behind the nationally known collection at Western Washington University as well as major artworks in Seattle, including Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk” at the University of Washington and Michael Heizer’s “Adjacent, Against, Upon” at Myrtle Edwards Park.
The Wrights have been primary movers in park planning and fundraising, donating several major sculptures to the park as well as $13 million to SAM’s capital campaign, which covers the park and expansion of the downtown museum.
SAM trustee Ann Wyckoff has chaired the board committee overseeing the park’s development and also is a multimillion-dollar contributor. Granddaughter of Paccar founder William Pigott, Wyckoff persuaded her friends, relatives and Paccar to contribute, too, so that the park’s pavilion could be named in honor of the company. Wyckoff’s daughter Martha, a board member of The Trust for Public Land, brought SAM and the trust together when she and Mimi Gates spent time together on a fishing trip to Mongolia.
Other major donors to SAM’s capital campaign
$25 million and more: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
$10 million to $25 million: Jeffrey & Susan Brotman, Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.
$5 million to $10 million: Robert M. Arnold.
$2.5 million to $5 million: Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Thomas W. & Ann M. Barwick, City of Seattle, Barney A. Ebsworth, The Kresge Foundation, Sally & William Neukom, Norcliffe Foundation, Sam & Gladys Rubinstein, state Department of Ecology, state Department of Transportation.
Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi
Stuck in the conundrum of how to design a park divided by a city street and railroad tracks, New York architects Weiss and Manfredi — partners in life as well as work — repaired to their favorite Manhattan bar. In the process of doodling and brainstorming, Weiss took a business card and tore it diagonally into a zigzag shape. “It’s really this, isn’t it?” she said. That shape is the core of the plan that won SAM’s design competition in 2001 and is winning worldwide recognition for the architects — and for Seattle.
Known for integrating art, architecture and landscape, the Weiss/Manfredi firm has also designed the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, N.Y.; campus buildings at Barnard College in New York and Smith College in Massachusetts; and a Women’s Memorial and Education Center at Arlington National Cemetery.
THE SAM TEAM
Mimi Gates, director
Gates describes her role in the park as that of a conductor, “waving the wand.” Director of SAM since 1994, she didn’t hesitate when the Shirleys and Wrights approached her about creating a sculpture park: “My concern was always to make sure that the great art in Seattle private collections stays here.”
Later, on a fishing trip to Mongolia, she mentioned the park idea to Martha Wyckoff of The Trust for Public Land. That chance conversation led to securing a rare parcel of downtown real estate.
Before coming to Seattle, Gates (then Mimi Gardner Neill), was a director of the Yale University Art Gallery. An Asian art specialist, she holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale. In 1996, she married Bill Gates Sr.
Chris Rogers, project manager
Before SAM hired him to head the sculpture park project in 1999, Rogers worked eight years as a project manager for The Trust for Public Land. With a background in art history and a master’s degree in forestry from Yale, Rogers has managed the park’s land acquisition process, design and construction. As SAM’s director of capital projects and government affairs, Rogers also is the museum’s liaison with public agencies. In his spare time, he serves as board president of the performance venue On the Boards.
Lisa Corrin, former head of curatorial department
As contemporary art curator and head of SAM’s curatorial department from 2001 to 2005, Corrin selected the art and artists for the opening of the park, helping craft its mission and identity. Corrin has since left SAM to direct the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass. Her successor, Michael Darling, took over as contemporary art curator in July 2006 and will make his mark as park programming unfolds in future months.
Michael McCafferty, exhibition designer
If you appreciate the way the artworks at the park are placed, thank Mike McCafferty. As SAM’s lead exhibition designer, he supervised siting, mounting and earthquake-proofing the sculptures, which were brought in by crane, semi-truck and even helicopter. An artist himself, McCafferty has worked at SAM for more than 31 years.
Renee Devine, program manager
Devine worked with artists to make sure their complicated projects came together without a hitch. That included helping with a two-year search for the perfect nurse log for Mark Dion’s vivarium, rounding up local illustrators to draw flora and fauna for wall tiles, and checking out special coatings for Teresita Fernandez’ “Seattle Cloud Cover.” Devine holds master’s degrees in fine art and art history, and has worked at galleries on both coasts.