Despite its reputation for stormy weather, Seattle adorns its fecund terrain with a surprising variety of outdoor art. The Emerald City is, in an abstract sense, a piece of beautiful jewelry dotted with unique (and sometime bizarre) gemstones across its many gay-friendly neighborhoods.
Home to some of the world's biggest companies -- like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Boeing, etc. -- Seattle has been afforded a thriving arts culture, driven by the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). Several permanent and colorful temporary installations lend to the city's eccentric character.
More recently, Seattle earned prestige for SAM's amazing addition of the Olympic Sculpture Park along the northern waterfront in 2007. The nine-acre park is home to eighteen major works, including pieces by famed artists Richard Serra, Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and Mark di Suvero. The park is open daily during daylight hours, and makes a perfect midday haven when strolling between downtown, Belltown, and Queen Anne.
To compliment its artistic sensibilities, Seattle is one of the world's most welcoming to LGBT travelers. Here's a tour of the town's best public art, as sprinkled across my favorite areas.
The gayest of the gay neighborhoods in "Jet City" (more of that Boeing rep!), Capitol Hill is a great destination for its restaurants, nightlife, and walkability. It's a bit of a hoof uphill from downtown Seattle, but once you're there you're in for a full day.
First stop: Cal Anderson Park, located in the heart of the Hill at 11th Avenue between Pine and Denny. Built in 2005 on top of what used to be an open-air reservoir, this park features Douglas Hollis's mountain-shaped water feature that also serves as part of the filtration system, and which partly fills connected reflecting and wading pools. Originally designed by famed landscape designers Olmstead Brothers, the landmark park also is home periodic art installations.
Head north to Capitol Hill's luscious Volunteer Park -- home to Seattle's Pride festival each June, but quite gay-proud all year long. There you'll find SAM's satellite Seattle Asian Art Museum (under renovation until 2019), housed in a gorgeous Art Deco building. Across from the museum is the iconic granite sculpture Black Sun, by Isamu Noguchi. Impressive in its own right, the donut-shaped artwork also was perfectly placed to view the top of the Space Needle through its hole.
There's no shortage of queens atop this vast neighborhood that occupies one of Seattle's great hills. So take the No. 2 bus or hike it up Queen Anne Avenue to Kerry Park, where you can take in perhaps the greatest view of the Space Needle and downtown's gleaming skyscrapers. Doris Chase's 15-foot-tall black steel Changing Form sculpture adds some culture to the vista -- its geometric cutouts revealing cool sightlines to the city and Puget Sound sprawled out below.
The Mecca of quirk in a city of quirkiness is Fremont -- self proclaimed "Center of the Universe." Tucked on the north side of Queen Anne Hill, you'll find some of the most noteworthy Seattle sculptures in this all-inclusive hub of happy hippies.
Richard Beyer's Waiting for the Interurban, at Fremont Avenue at 34th Street, is a city icon composed of six concrete figures appearing to wait, and wait, and wait for a bus that may never arrive. But they get more than their share of attention with locals continually dressing them up.
Two blocks away at N. 36th Street and Evanston, it gets a little more strange, when you come across the 16-foot-tall bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin. Vlad was imported from Czechoslovakia in 1989 by a local resident who mortgaged his home to buy and transport the piece.
Stranger still is the creepy, giant Bridge Troll that lives nearby under the Aurora Bridge at N. 36th Street. Created in 1989 by a quartet of artists for the Fremont Arts Council, the 18-foot, shaggy-haired concrete troll holds an actual Volkswagen Beetle in his left hand, its silver hubcap serving as a glaring eye. Fortunately, no matter what he sees, he'll never tell.
For more Seattle art listings and events, check out:
- City Arts: www.cityartsonline.com
- Seattle Art Museum: www.seattleartmuseum.org
- The Stranger: www.thestranger.com
- The Seattle Weekly: www.seattleweekly.com