A Time of Transformation: 2000-2009
Reports in the 2000s
If the 1990s were a time to “[shine] a light on past accomplishments...while looking to the future” when “Seattle [was] quickly changing and establishing itself as a city of the world,” the 2000s were a decade marked by the “belief that art affirms life-promoting understanding and healing.” Echoes of World War II-era sentiments can be found in the 2000-2001 report as the community struggled to make sense of the events of September 11, but affirmed once again that “during times of uncertainty, the Seattle Art Museum can be a place of refuge and inspiration, bringing forth the best of the human spirit” (2000-2001).
In the subsequent report, 2001-2002, SAM debuted its new vision statement, which remains to this day - “SAM Connects Art to Life.” Director Mimi Gardner Gates elaborated:
Art has the extraordinary power to open new worlds, free us to see beyond ourselves, and make us view the realities of life differently. Not only are museums places for historical discovery and spiritual solace, we are also thought-provoking places full of surprise and wonder. (2001-2002)
The 2003-2004 report outlines three expansion projects, which would rely on community support, in line with this mission:
To realize three extraordinary capital projects—the creation of the Olympic Sculpture Park on the downtown waterfront (opens spring 2006), the expansion of the downtown museum (opens 2007) and the renovation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s infrastructure (beginning in 2008)—SAM is embarking on a major community campaign to encourage a broad-based sense of ownership. By raising awareness of SAM and increasing community support, we will make these ambitious projects a reality. (2003-2004)
Reports strove to define what SAM was, is, and could be for Seattle. Expanding and fostering community support and diversity was of central importance: "Our Vision: SAM will strive to deepen its relationship with the community, forging new relationships with the people, cultures and organizations that celebrate artistic diversity" (2003-2004).
The following year included a reminder and reiteration of the role of the collections themselves in SAM's identity and purpose:
Our collection is the heart and soul of the museum, the core of our identity. We like to say that we are a 'collection of collections,' beginning with our premier holdings in Asian art, which was started by our founding director, Richard Fuller. (2004-2005).
The three "extraordinary capital projects" came to fruition and the "collection of collections" grew tremendously by 2008, the year "the museum marked its diamond anniversary [...] with an unprecedented effort that resulted in more than 1,000 works of art gifted or promised to the collection" (2007-2008). SAM's landmark 75th year was the "first full year operating all three SAM sites—the Olympic Sculpture Park, the downtown Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum" (2007-2008). Unsurprisingly, this caused an increase in operating revenues and expenses.
At the same time, artistic and educational programming also grew, reportedly attracting "over one million visitors annually, including more than 20,000 teachers and students" (2007-2008). In this way, SAM continued to fulfill its role in the community.
With this growth occurring during the backdrop of the economic recession, Director Mimi Gardner Gates noted that "In difficult times, the experience of art is more important than ever—it lifts our spirits, strengthens a sense of community and speaks to our humanity" (2007-2008). Her message is not unlike Dr. Fuller's Depression-era affirmation of the importance of art in difficult times. As such, while the 2000s were indeed a time of transformation and expansion, the decade was also a time during which SAM continued to fulfill the role it always had in Seattle's community: connecting art to life.