Seattle Center
1:01 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Chihuly Garden and Glass opens to the public

Less than two years after the idea was pitched to the public, a new Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition opens today (Monday 11am) at Seattle Center.

It’s located at the foot of the Space Needle, where the kiddy rides and arcade games of the old Fun Forest once drew crowds.

Now, people are standing on tiptoes to peer in through the fence around the outdoor displays, which beckon with flashes of color.  

Peeking in from the perimeter, you can see the Glass House with a cascade of bright red and orange flowers under its roof, spires of bright blue and neon green between the plantings and a giant yellow sun sculpture out front. 

Inside, in what was the fading pink Arcade building, eight new galleries full of Dale Chihuly’s art provide a chronological walk through his career.

Dazzling displays

Special guests from the tourism industry got a preview and seemed unanimous in the verdict that this will be a huge new attraction for Seattle Center.

"I think the galleries are absolutely amazing," said Jennifer Johnson, with the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad. "Everything has such amazing color and light. It's just all so beautiful, really well thought out and put together."

"It's quite an upgrade from the Fun Forest," said Ron Reed, from Ride the Ducks. "You know what's wonderful in addition to the works themselves is how they're staged."

Others said they were amazing by the sheer number and concentration of works on display, and that the chronology of Chihuly's work gave new perspective on an important Northwest artist.

Costs and benefits

It will cost local adults $15 dollars to get in - $18 for tourists -- generating annual rent of $350-thousand for the city initially. After five years, Seattle's agreement raises that figure to $500,000, adjusted for inflation.

Executive director Michelle Bufano says even people who never go inside but visit Seattle Center will benefit from the improvements they’ve made in the area.

”We’ve invested about a million dollars in the public side of improving the walkways and improving the surroundings – including the area around the Mural Amphitheater.”

A trellis of green vines now covers the old fun forest arcade building, which had become a bit of an eyesore…and many people say just the glimpses of the Chihuly exhibits as you walk around the edge of the garden are an added attraction.

Architect Owen Richards says they took care to make sure it will enhance the area, even for people who don’t want to pay the $15 admission fee to get inside.

"At night it's really stunning. It's going to become a real attraction for Seattle Center. And as theater goers are leaving, to be able to come past the Garden and Glass and there's so much you can see just as you're walking past," Richards says.

A unique cafe

And, if you don’t want to pay the price of admission but are interested in the artist, Bufano says you can always visit the new Chihuly bookstore or the collections café – which features 28 quirky personal collections of Chihuly’s possessions…everything from vintage cameras and radios to fly fishing reels and pocket knives, embedded in the tables - and nearly 100 accordions hanging from the ceiling.