Despite Construction, Pioneer Square’s Art Galleries Remain Strong

Long a hub for Seattle’s visual arts scene, the neighborhood gets an new space this spring with the opening of ARTS at King Street Station.

With the closure of the viaduct, the neighborhoods along the Seattle waterfront are set to transform in the coming years. Perhaps none will be more affected than historic Pioneer Square, the original Skid Road and the heart of Seattle back when it was just a logging boomtown in Washington Territory. Little but the name remains. For the past few decades, the culturally defining quality of Pioneer Square has been its density of art galleries.

On the first Thursday of each month, crowds descend to see new gallery exhibitions during the Pioneer Square Art Walk, which was established as the first of its kind in the United States in 1981. Foster/White Gallery on Main Street is one of the few spaces still operating from that time, and it remains one of Seattle’s largest and best-regarded galleries. A block away, the Tashiro Kaplan building is a hive of smaller galleries and artists’ collectives. In short, you can see a little of everything without doing much walking.

Another Pioneer Square stalwart is Davidson Galleries, whose doors face a cobblestone plaza on Occidental Avenue. Founder Sam Davidson began his print business in the basement of that building in the 1970s before opening street-level in 1986. Davidson has a devoted global clientele thanks to its keen but straightforward dealing of historic prints and new works on paper by international artists. It shares space now with Prographica/KDR, whose owner, Eleana Del Rio, relocated from Los Angeles in 2014. Del Rio brought with her a fresh stable of national artists, many of whom work in large-scale painting and multimedia. It’s a compelling contrast with the smaller works on the Davidson side, making both galleries a must-see for art lovers every month.

Around the block, Linda Hodges Gallery has also been operating in Pioneer Square for more than 30 years. On the gallery’s lower floor, Hodges shows work by established Northwest artists such as Alfredo Arreguin and Gaylen Hansen as well as emerging artists like Justin Duffus, Polina Tereshina, and Wendelin Wohlgemuth. Those three received official representation at the gallery after successful debuts in its upstairs BLUR space, where owner Hodges and Gallery Director Dale Cotton curate artwork by unrepresented artists.

Then there is Stonington Gallery, the region’s leading dealer of Native American art. The gallery was founded in 1979, and has been a force in expanding the recognition and appreciation of artworks by indigenous artists of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The gallery has curated shows every month, but is also packed year-round with prints, sculpture, and jewelry.

This spring, Stonington Gallery won’t be the only venue on Jackson to see works by indigenous artists. Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture is opening its exhibition space, ARTS at King Street Station, with the inaugural project, yehawe (roughly anglicized as yeh-HOW). Over 200 indigenous creators will participate, from master artisans and gallery artists to youth. Conceived and curated by Tracy Rector, Asia Tail, and Satpreet Kahlon, the project will celebrate an enormous variety of creative expression and the persistence of indigenous cultures. Before there was Skid Road, the Duwamish and other Coast Salish peoples were here, and Seattle still lies on their unceded ancestral lands.

Erika Lindsay, communications manager at the Office of Arts and Culture, was jubilant when we spoke on the phone about the future of the space. “ARTS at King Street Station was conceived as an innovative, community-powered arts and cultural hub encompassing art, artists, and culture through the lens of racial equity,” she says. Through volunteer King Street Station Advisors, ARTS will be seeking ideas from the surrounding communities, the diverse people and traditions co-existing in the city. The space aspires to become one where underrepresented communities can have a hand in telling their own stories and sharing their visions with a broader audience.

Amid all the change happening in Pioneer Square, there is uncertainty about the neighborhood’s future look and feel. I asked several businesses and galleries about how well the city has been communicating with them regarding construction and the consequent diminished foot traffic. None of them had been given clear answers. Still, when I spoke to Linda Hodges about it, she downplayed the inconvenience, noting that running a gallery has never been an easy business.

“But I’m not a whiner,” she added. The thing at the forefront of her mind was an upcoming spring show of paintings by Gaylen Hansen, who turns 98 in September. Time marches on, but he’s still hard at work, and so are the galleries. SDOT may be making a mess of Pioneer Square, but the community is still making it a place worth being. If you haven’t already, come see it for yourself.