Seattle Asian Art Museum: Creating Space for New Stories

If you have ever attended Free First Saturdays at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, you have experienced one of SAM’s most dynamic programs for community members of all ages—a program that often brought over 2,000 families to the museum. From dance and music performances to hands-on art activities and films that families could enjoy together, these programs were appealing to so many people that, at times, the museum was filled to capacity.

Now that the Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project is underway, we can start to better imagine the updated building filled with the museum’s lively programming. “Free First Saturdays are an important program for us, especially because we see a lot of families from the neighborhood and beyond attending.  In the expanded building, we will be able to accommodate more people and offer more activities during Free First Saturdays,” explains Regan Pro, SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement.

A larger multi-purpose boardroom and a new art studio space are elements of the expansion that will enable popular programs like Free First Saturdays to welcome more visitors.  Accessibility will also be improved. The museum’s renovated auditorium stage will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and will feature improved sightlines and audio-visual capabilities that will better support the museum’s performances, films, and lectures, as well as the many programs offered through the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas.

The renovated building will also provide much-needed space for K–12 students to engage with the museum’s collections and exhibitions through the Guided Tours & Art Workshops program. The new art studio will give students the opportunity to create art alongside professional teaching artists as part of their visits. Additionally, all K–12 public school tours at the Asian Art Museum will be free, making the program more accessible to young learners from across the community.

Innovative learning opportunities will also be incorporated directly into the Seattle Asian Art Museum galleries. SAM educators are designing a new smartphone experience for students and visitors that will offer a range of perspectives on the collection. Listeners will have the chance to hear from experts on Asian art, as well as local voices from the community, who will share their personal stories and insights. An interactive learning gallery will offer the chance to explore works from the Asian Art Museum’s permanent collection more deeply, and a new community gallery will provide a space to showcase works of art by students and nonprofit youth organizations.

Many of the new programs that will take place in the renovated museum are being developed around the idea of sharing stories. “We’re really centering on the theme of stories—community stories and object stories,” Pro elaborates. “We will be asking people to bring their own lived and learned experiences that connect with the works on view.” As we count down the days until visitors and communities fill the Asian Art Museum once again, we are eagerly awaiting the many stories, old and new, that will unfold within its renovated spaces.

We are grateful to the Freeman Foundation and the Ann P. Wyckoff Endowment for their support of K-12 programs at the Seattle Asian Art Museum; and Delta Air Lines for its support of Family & Community programs.

In the months ahead, we will continue exploring the history and the future of the Seattle Asian Art Museum as the renovation progresses towards the much-anticipated re-opening in late 2019. Learn more about the project!

– Erin Langner, freelance arts writer

Images: Rendering courtesy of LMN Architects. Photos: Jen Au