By Brandon Macz
Seattle Art Museum chief operating officer Richard Beckerman spoke Saturday about the privilege and challenges that come with bringing the Seattle Asian Art Museum into the 21st century.
SAM is now in the schematic design phase for its estimated $45 million renovation of the museum inside Volunteer Park, with the hope of starting construction in August 2017. The Asian art museum will be closed for the major renovation, and SAM hopes to reopen the facility in spring 2019.
Speaking from inside the Seattle Asian Art Museum on July 16, Beckerman said some of the major work to update the structure includes replacing old wiring, installing a modern boiler and plumbing, as well as a seismic retrofit not considered when founder Richard E. Fuller constructed the building in 1933.
"I think it's a real privilege to bring this building up to code," Beckerman said.
The use of hollow clay tiles throughout large portions of the museum will require removing a number of walls to put in steel reinforcements and then put the rooms back together, he said. This should be accomplished without affecting the historical molding that is slated for preservation.
SAM will increase its gallery space, and has plans for connecting the museum to the east side of Volunteer Park with a glass-enclosed outside stairwell and a to-be-determined outdoor feature.
"Having that extra space was something high on our list," Beckerman said, adding there is ongoing discussion about the facade's design.
One of the most important upgrades planned for the Seattle Asian Art Museum, in terms of curatorial programming, will be enhanced environmental controls over temperature and humidity. There are a number of museums that won"t lend their pieces to the Asian art museum because it doesn"t meet their safety standards, said Regan Pro, SAM deputy director of education and public programs.
Beckerman said there is funding available that could be used to construct a glass wall around the conservation lab, where technicians work on fragile paper materials, so visitors can get an inside look at the museum's conservation efforts.
There will be a number of technological upgrades to the building, including Wi-Fi access.

 
The city of Seattle, which owns the SAAM building, is dedicating $13-14 million to the renovation project, Beckerman said, with SAM depending on private donors and state grants to cover the rest.
"We feel like we"ll be fairly successful with those," he said.
SAM provided 251 programs at the Asian art museum last year, serving 17,000 people. When the museum reopens in 2019, Pro said SAM expects to provide 350 programs to 25,000 people.
During the two-year closure, the Seattle Asian Art Museum plans to continue providing its monthly Free First Saturday program at the Miller Community Center, Pro said, due to its popularity. A new education center is planned for the SAAM remodel.
"It is bursting at the seams," she said of the Saturday program, 'so having more physical space will be great."
Other programs will be relocated to the Seattle Art Museum downtown and in other buildings. The upgraded SAAM will have a dedicated studio space for school tours, where students see and also create art, and it will also be open to the public.
Resident Ann Condon said she"d like the remodeled SAAM to include a coffee house, where people can take a break and socialize. Beckerman assured her it's on the list.
"We"ve tried it here before," he said, "but it just doesn"t sustain itself."


 
Volunteer Park Trust member Eliza Davidson, who is chairing the task force for replacing the park's amphitheater, said she wanted to know more about how SAM reached its schematic design phase, as it seems like the opportunity to provide community feedback has passed. She added she felt Saturday's meeting was not well advertised.
While the design is far along, Pro said there should still be room to address community feedback in some of the structural elements, and SAM is also seeking ideas for enhancing program offerings.
The next community feedback meeting is 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 20, at Cal Anderson Park, followed by a meeting in the International District 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 10, at Nagomi Teahouse, 519 Sixth Ave. S., Suite 200. The last feedback session will be back at SAAM 1-2:30 pm. Saturday, Oct. 15.