December 7

The Art of the Matter

Galleries and public art add to the beauty of SLU

It only takes a few minutes of strolling around South Lake Union to notice a theme: There’s an abundance of art here. That’s largely thanks to Vulcan Real Estate, which is in charge of developing nearly 60 acres in the heart of the neighborhood. Starting in 2003, the company has commissioned and installed 20 works from Northwest artists with the goal of sparking conversation, providing a sense of place, and bringing interesting aesthetics to SLU. “There are public art pieces for all tastes,” says Greg Bell, senior curator at Vulcan.

Complementing those are three spaces dedicated primarily to art, including new-to-the-scene Pivot Art + Culture and longtime gallery Winston Wächter Fine Art. At the third, MadArt, visitors see more than the finished product—artists work on their pieces in the space for several months. “People very rarely are invited in behind the scenes to see somebody making the work,” says Alison Milliman, founder of MadArt. “There’s often trepidation for the person walking down the street because they’ve never been invited in like this before.” Milliman bought the building she’s located in about four years ago, just before the boom of Amazon workers arrived. “I grew up in Seattle, and I could see the change,” she says. “There was a real strong sense for us that there was going to be a really interesting, creative, top-notch group of the next generation moving into this neighborhood to work.”

While tech and art may not seem to have a lot of crossover on the surface, Milliman sees plenty of similarities. “They’re always trying to solve a problem or create something or take an idea and turn it into something,” she says. “Because one is more tangible than the other, it’s easy to think we’re really different, but quite honestly it’s the opposite of that.” This is a realization that’s been discovered through the conversations MadArt facilitates between artists and the public, which are generally fruitful for both sides.

With growth of SLU showing no signs of slowing, the arts scene should continue to thrive. “As the tech industry flourishes in the area, it would seem natural that more opportunities for the visual arts will follow,” Bell says, and Milliman points out that a higher population could potentially mean more demand for galleries. No matter what form it takes, with a neighborhood emphasis on aesthetics and creativity, expect art to be a part of the fabric of the community for a long time to come.”

Here are some of the neighborhood’s artistic highlights:

The Allen Institute for Brain Science
601 Westlake Avenue North
Seven alphabets—Hebrew, Latin,Cyrillic, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, and Roman—went into the making of these white stainless steel sculptures from Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, located in a public plaza off Mercer Street. The scrambled text expresses the idea that we can live together even without a common language. Passersby are able to walk inside the mirrored figures, becoming part of the “conversation” from a different perspective.

There Is Another Sky Headquarters
515 Westlake Avenue North
Covering a public plaza between Westlake and Ninth Avenues, this glass canopy from Spencer Finch brings the concept of a forest into the city with overlapping geometric shapes in shades of green, yellow, and gold.

Letterpress at Lunch
School of Visual Concepts
2300 Seventh Avenue
Love the look of vintage letterpress? Make like Johannes Gutenberg and take printing into your own hands. Even if you’ve never mixed inks, operated a hand-proof press, or agonized over selecting the perfect typeface, you can get a crash course in this art form during Letterpress at Lunch, a workshop from the School of Visual Concepts. “People who just want to try it but don’t want to make a big commitment can walk out with posters they’ve designed and printed,” says Larry Asher, co-director at SVC. It happens once a month on Fridays from noon to 2pm; visit for the current schedule. More comprehensive letterpress classes are available.

Pivot Art + Culture
The Allen Institute for Brain Science
615 Westlake Avenue North
A flexible concept space located on the ground floor of the newly constructed Allen Institute for Brain Science building, Pivot Art + Culture opened in late 2015 with 3,000 square feet of gallery space. Backed by Vulcan Real Estate and fueled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s mission to make art accessible to the public, the gallery has hosted a wide range of exhibitions, from The Figure in Process: de Kooning to Kapoor 1955-2015 to the upcoming A Closer Look: Portraits from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection—true to its name, it pivots to explore a variety of concepts. Visit to see what’s next.

Winston Wächter
Fine Art
203 Dexter Avenue North
A mainstay in the neighborhood for more than two decades, Winston Wächter has had a front row seat to the evolution of South Lake Union. “I’ve watched the entire transformation,” says owner Stacey Winston-Levitan. “There was no Amazon, no Whole Foods, no condominiums.”

Come and get a front-row seat yourself, this time to amazing pieces, at the highly respected fine art gallery. It features contemporary art of all kinds, complemented by artist talks and openings. Past exhibits have included encaustic painter Tony Scherman’s take on “difficult women,” kinetic sculptures from sound artist Trimpin, and the black-and-white drawings of storyteller and dreamer Ethan Murrow, who will have another show from May 10 to June 30.

Three Women
2200 Westlake
2200 Westlake Avenue North
Outside Whole Foods Market, three larger-than-life cast-aluminum statues stand: a girl, a young woman, and a mother with her baby. Interestingly, the rosy-cheeked figures created by Japanese-American ceramic sculptor Akio Takamori are all roughly the same size, and none make eye contact.

325 Westlake Avenue North
Stop on the other side of the big windows facing Westlake Avenue and explore the places within MadArt. Until December 3, artists Gail Grinnell and Sam Wildman weaved together an expansive, textiles-based installation made from hundreds of yards of spun polyester that had been drawn on, dyed, cut, and incorporated into the architecture of the building. Collaborating with artist Eric Olson, they’ll host a series of public programs that look at the complexities of information sharing. Expect performances, lectures, and more that dig deeper into the themes posed by the surrounding artwork. The installation will be on display from December 4 to January 28. From February 4 to April 22, LET’S Collective will hit a bright note, constructing and exhibiting LED light boards. Beginning in early May, University of Wisconsin–Madison professor Jennifer Angus will get to work on columns and walls of intricately patterned insects, with the installation on display from late July to late October. While you’re here, don’t miss taking a peek in the bathroom, which has a little unexpected art of its own.

BFA Expo 17
Cornish College of the Arts
2000 Terry Avenue
From late April to mid-May, take a peek into the future of art with this exhibition from graduating seniors from Cornish’s interdisciplinary art program. Among the impressive pieces, you’ll find works that cover installation, painting, print, performance, photography, digital media, video, sculpture, and writing. Get more details at

Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)
860 Terry Avenue North

From the salvaged timber of a historical schooner, Seattle artist John Grade created Wawona, which looms large at more than 60 feet tall in the grand atrium of MOHAI. It took 10,000 hours to create the 11,000-pound sculpture, crafted from an old-growth Douglas fir tree.

Story by Haley Shapley, Cornish Photo by Mark Bocek, Pivot Photo by Haley Shapley, Three Women Photo by Amber Fouts, Wawona Photo Courtesy MOHAI, Winston Wachter Photo Courtesy Winston Wachter

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle