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Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections

Growing Pains: 1980-89

Annual Report Cover (1985-1986)

1985-1986

Reports in the 1980s

After a series of new directors and chairmen of the board during the 1970s, the 1980s ushered in an period of growing pains and transitions. The sparse aesthetic quality of the annual reports in this time reflect a focus on other priorities: planning for a new downtown location; seeking a more permanent director; balancing the budget within a climate of broader “economic woes across the United States” (1981-82). The 1982-84 report is sole exception to this string of plain, colorless, and simply-typed and bound reports. The first and only biennial publication in the series, this publication appeared in full color, and highlighted comprehensively the activities and major acquisitions over the two-year period.

One of the most significant events of the decade was the acquisition of the Katherine White Collection, made possible thanks to an anonymous donation of $2,000,000 (1980-81). Noted to be "one of the most important private collections of African art in the world," Katherine White and her family "felt that Seattle could provide the best home" to "some 322 African sculptures, 975 decorative art objects, 205 African textiles and 241 ethnic sculptures" (1980-81). In the words of President Hauberg at the time of the acquisition:

The White Collection is literally the most important single collection which the Seattle Art Museum has acquired since Dr. Richard E. Fuller began to build our outstanding Asian art collection nearly fifty years ago. (1980-81)

"Under the stewardship of Pamela McClusky," the collection was moved in-house in 1981 in order to prepare for the first exhibition, Praise Poems: The Katherine White Collection, which would be mounted in 1984 (1980-81, 1984-85). Continuing the trend of national recognition for excellence, the exhibition catalogue "received design awards from the Art Association of America, the Art Directors Club of New York, and the American Association of Museums" (1984-85).

Around this time, a substantial fundraising campaign took place to raise $10 million dollars to pay for the new art museum “in the heart of downtown Seattle,” which was deemed a “bold and risky enterprise” (1984-85). By the next fiscal year, the hard work was paying off:

Light at the end of the tunnel! After ten years of unremitting effort and frustrating disappointments-that is what we see at last as we reach the final stages in the creation of the new art museum in the heart of Seattle. And what a bright light it is to be-with a major increase in the permanent collection exhibition space-to bring Seattle's art out of the dark! (1985-86)

Indeed, the campaign was quite successful; the advertising message "that '97 percent of Seattle's art is in the dark'" compelled the public to vote in favor of museum funding in an autumn election, and ultimately, "Fundraising for the new museum exceeded expectations, with a year-end total of $13.3 million" (1985-86). To facilitate the disbursement of these funds, the Board of Trustees and the mayor approved a charter to create the Museum Development Authority of Seattle (MDA) by September 1985. As part of the charter agreement and the approved public funding for the new building, the following responsibilities were outlined:

The museum will be responsible for operating the new facility as a public art museum and as the museum's primary location in the city of Seattle. The museum must provide educational and other public programs, provide a significant portion of its collection for display, and provide reasonable public access to meeting rooms or other public spaces in the museum building. (1985-86)

Fortunately, this was nothing new; SAM had already been committed to public access and display of the collections since its inception (limited only by lack of physical space, a problem that would be remedied with the new downtown location), and already had significant educational and public programming on the calendar each year. Now, the commitment was simply formalized through the MDA charter.

1985-1986 was the final published report before the grand opening of the new building in downtown Seattle in 1991. One can only speculate what led to the lapse in annual publication, but perhaps the Board and Directors were completely occupied with the construction of the new downtown building, the first undertaking of such substantial construction since the original opening of the Volunteer Park location in 1933. Whatever the reasons, with the new building funded and ready for construction, there was much to look forward to in the decade to come.