The $49 million renovation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is worth every penny, but what is off-putting is the protest by some neighbors who oppose the project. The proposed expansion would increase the museum’s footprint by roughly 3,600 square feet.
AS a person of color, it is easy to feel isolated and pushed out in a place as large — and white — and rapidly changing as Seattle. As an Asian American, it’s also easy to feel as if our “place” in Seattle is supposed to be Chinatown-International District.
My mother is from Japan and one of her closest Japanese friends lived on Capitol Hill, near Volunteer Park. Our family visited often and inevitably my siblings and I would find ourselves sliding along the marbled hallways of the Seattle Asian Art Museum and peeping up at artifacts that felt rooted in our DNA. These are among my first memories not only of my childhood but of feeling that I was welcomed in parts of Seattle north of Uwajimaya.
When I was in my 30s, I helped burymy friend Patrick next to the park at Lake View Cemetery. I buried him because, being a gay black man, he’d been disowned by his natural family. I buried him at Lake View because the area was one of the few neighborhoods in this city where he felt embraced.
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Decades later, I am the father of a special-needs daughter who is even more multiracial Asian than I am. It is difficult to introduce identity and meaning, as well as a sense of solace and belonging, into such a challenged life. One of the few places Mika has found those has been the Seattle Asian Art Museum. We have been frequent visitors during all of her 22 years, and I’ve often seen in her the same wonderment and kinship I felt when I was growing up.
I have lived in that neighborhood and, though I don’t live there now, consider myself a lifelong member of that community because of the attachments I’ve just described.
While saddened by the prospect of our special place being closed for as long as two years for renovation, I feel compelled to urge support for an overdue modernization of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The ADA, environmental and seismic improvements not only are essential, but fit into the vision and culture of Seattle as a leader among greening cities.
The artwork at SAAM is linked to my culture and that of other Asian Americans in Seattle, which is one of our country’s prominent gateways to Asia. It deserves to be preserved and exhibited in ways consistent with best and modern practices and science. As evidenced by our city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative and other policies, Seattle also has been at the forefront of efforts toward inclusion. That status feels out of kilter with the kind of fearmongering and get-off-my-lawn-ism steered at the SAAM renovation by some neighbors.
Some have opposed the project, arguing for the life of trees. I support the project, arguing for a piece of myself, my family and my community.
The “encroachment” on green space is too negligible to be considered a serious source for opposition. The improvements will help a building that has stood out for decades for its Art Deco design to better blend into a park atmosphere. What nominal green space is lost is a just exchange for a cultural anchor and increased sense of relevancy.
I don’t take lightly the impact that traffic and visitation might have on neighborhoods. However, during decades of visiting and living in that area, I’ve not seen the levels of imposition that have been claimed. In fact, Mika and I always have found easy access and parking at Volunteer Park, even on some of Seattle’s infrequent, Chamber-of-Commerce summer days. Moreover, I’ve lived for most of my life near two heavily used areas, Seward Park and the site of the Seafair hydroplane races, and never begrudged sharing those spaces. The city belongs to all, and so do its parks.
For the sake of community, for people like Patrick, who struggle to belong, and for people like my daughter who continue that struggle, please support what cannot be considered anything other than an enhancement and needed update to the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park and the neighborhood that surrounds it.