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About sam​

SAM has been the center for world-class visual arts in the Pacific Northwest since 1933. Visit SAM to see a museum carved into the city, as much a part of Seattle's landscape and personality as the coffee, rain, mountains, Pike Place Market, and the Space Needle.

Our three distinct locations celebrate the region's position as a crossroads where east meets west, urban meets natural, local meets global. Our collections, installations, special exhibitions, and programs feature art from around the world and build bridges between cultures and centuries. ​

TAKE ME TO THE ART

Please find information about visiting one of our three awesome locations (hours, parking, prices) here.​

Seattle Art Museum

Seattle Art Museum

In the heart of downtown Seattle, light-filled galleries invite you to wander through our collections, temporary installations, and special exhibitions from around the world. Our collections include Asian, African, Ancient American, Ancient Mediterranean, Islamic, European, Oceanic, Asian, American, modern and contemporary art, and decorative arts and design. Visitors especially enjoy our remarkable Native American galleries and our exceptional collection of Australian Aboriginal ​art.​

Expansion of SAM

The opening of the new Seattle Art Museum in 2007 unveiled a striking expansion designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, which doubled the museum’s public and exhibition space.

Cloepfil’s design seamlessly connects to SAM’s existing downtown facility, which was designed by Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates and opened in 1991. The expansion was designed to highlight the art within and create a center of creative expression and energy in downtown Seattle. Its elegant stainless steel façade responds to its urban surroundings, the light and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, while spacious interiors provide an inviting environment for the experience of art. ​

In conjunction with the opening of the expansion​ and SAM’s 75th anniversary in 2008, the museum has also received an unprecedented series of gifts from prominent museum patrons and collectors. The gifts—nearly 1,000 works from more than 40 collections—significantly enhance SAM’s holdings and reinforce the museum’s dedication to artistic excellence. In a remarkable show of support, entire collections by some of the Northwest’s leading collectors have been committed over time, creating the largest gift in the museum’s history.​

SAM HISTORICAL TIMELINE​​​​

From its early 20th-century roots as the Seattle Fine Arts Society to its growth into a dynamic museum with three distinct venues, explore how the Seattle Art Museum evolved into a vital Seattle institution.​​

1906
The Seattle Fine Art Society, the parent institution of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), is founded.

1929
The Fine Art Society is renamed the Art Institute of Seattle under the presidency of Carl F. Gould, an architecture professor at the University of Washington. The Institute continues searching for a permanent facility while staging exhibitions at various venues.

1931

​​​Dr. Richard Fuller & his mother

The new president of the Art Institute of Seattle, Dr. Richard E. Fuller, and his mother, Mrs. Margaret E. MacTavish Fuller, offer the City of Seattle $250,000 for a museum building. The city agrees to service and maintain the building if the Fullers and the museum accept responsibility for its construction, operation and collection. The Art Deco structure, designed by Carl F. Gould of Bebb and Gould, is to be located in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park. Construction begins.

1933
The Seattle Art Museum (formerly the Art Institute of Seattle) opens its doors to the public on June 29, and attendance during the first day of operations surpasses 33,000. In its first year the museum hosts 346,287 visitors; the city’s entire population is around 365,000. The art on display includes the Fullers’ collection of Asian art, highlighted by Chinese jades and ceramics, complemented by examples of Japanese, Korean, and Indian art, as well as changing exhibitions of living Northwest artists. A gallery is regularly devoted to the display of color facsimiles of European art masterworks, standing in for original art.

1941–1942
With the US entry into World War II, the museum supports the war effort by screening civilian defense films and allowing the use of the museum for the American Red Cross, air raid wardens, and civilian defense instruction. Mrs. Emma Stimson, a close friend of the Fullers, serves as acting director of the museum while Dr. Fuller serves in the US Army.

1944
The museum’s first large-scale traveling exhibition, India: Its Achievements of the Past and Present, occupies twelve of SAM’s galleries for three months, initiating an ambitious changing exhibitions program..

1948
Asian art scholar Sherman E. Lee arrives to serve as assistant director. He will bring treasured works of Japanese art to SAM and will help ​acquire the Samuel H. Kress Collection of European paintings for the museum. 

1951
Mrs. Donald E. Frederick donates the most significant work of Japanese art in SAM’s collection, the early 17th century Poem Scroll with Deer, a portion of a scroll that is considered a National Treasure of Japan. ​

1953

Japanese Exhibition

SAM hosts the landmark Official Japanese Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, receiving more than 73,000 visitors during the one-month run of the show. The exhibition brings SAM an elevated status as a venue for important international exhibitions.

1959
The museum holds two of its most ambitious and important retrospectives to date: Mark Tobey Retrospective and Paintings and Drawings by Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh’s nephew, V.W. van Gogh, attends the latter show, along with a record 126,110 visitors.

1962
The Seattle World’s Fair, held at Seattle Center, brings a heightened artistic awareness to Seattle and a greater appetite for modern art, paving the way for more diverse displays of art at SAM.

1963
SAM hosts an exhibition of Washington State artists in the former United Kingdom Pavilion from the World’s Fair, making use of the venue on a trial basis.

1965
On June 6, the museum officially opens the Seattle Art Museum Pavilion at the Seattle Center as an active venue for modern art and other changing exhibitions. The inaugural exhibition is The Responsive Eye, an Op Art exhibition assembled by William Seitz of the Museum of Modern Art and sponsored by SAM’s Contemporary Art Council.

1969
The National Council on the Arts (later the NEA), the Seattle Foundation (which Dr. Fuller helped to found), the City of Seattle, and Dr. Fuller finance the acquisition and installation o​f Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun in front of the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park. It is the NEA’s first commission in Seattle.

1973
Dr. Fuller retires from the museum after serving forty years as director. He remains involved in both Director Emeritus and President Emeritus roles.

1974

Jacob Lawrence & Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence

The museum hosts its first retrospective of the work of American master Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, moved to Seattle in 1970; they will live and work here for the next thirty years.

Willis F. Woods is named director of SAM.

1976

Andy Warhol

Exhibition activity at the Seattle Art Museum Pavilion ramps up after the founding of the modern art curatorial department in 1975. In 1976, Museum Week celebrations include a visit from Andy Warhol concurrent with an exhibition of Warhol portraits. 

Founder, benefactor, and long-time museum director Dr. Richard E. Fuller passes away on December 10.

1978

Treaures of Tutankhamun

Treasures of Tutankhamun, shown at the Flag Pavilion at Seattle Center, forever alters the museum’s profile, bringing increases to staff and new emphases on exhibitions and publications. The six-month show attracts nearly 1.3 million visitors. The exhibition’s popularity and financial success fuel the plans and preparations for a permanent downtown facility.

Willis Woods steps down as director.


1979
Arnold H. Jolles takes over as SAM director.

1981
The SAM collections expand with an unexpected gift of African art from collector Katherine C. White and through the support of the Boeing Company, an extraordinary combination of private philanthropy and corporate support.

1986
Arnold Jolles steps down as director.

1987
Jay Gates joins SAM as its new director.

1990
Jonathan Borofsky’s 48-foot-tall Hammering Man is commissioned by the City of Seattle with the support of the Seattle Art Commission’s 1% for Art program, the Virginia Wright Fund, and the Seattle-based group PONCHO—Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural, and Charitable Organizations. Though officially part of the City of Seattle’s art collection, Borofsky’s large-scale sculpture is positioned at the entryway to the new Seattle Art Museum and quickly becomes a symbol of the museum.

1991

Northwest Coast Native Art

The new building downtown, designed by Robert Venturi, opens its doors on December 5 and hosts over 10,000 visitors on the first day. John H. Hauberg donates his celebrated collection of Northwest Native art, forming the foundation of the museum’s holdings in Native American art. The Volunteer Park building closes for renovations.

1993
Jay Gates steps down as director.

1994
The rededicated Asian Art Museum opens on August 13 with a day of festivities that includes tours, folk art workshops, and performances by local dance and music groups, bringing more than 6,000 visitors to the museum. The new space allotted for Asian art allows for many more of the approximately 6,000 Asian art objects to go on display. Mimi Gardner Gates joins SAM as its new director.

1997
SAM unveils the special exhibition Leonardo Lives: The Codex Leicester and Leonardo da Vinci’s Legacy of Art and Science, featuring a rare manuscript of Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific observations and sketches, lent to the museum by Bill and Melinda Gates. The exhibition draws a quarter of a million visitors.

1999
SAM, in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, raises $17 million for the purchase of future sculpture park property on Seattle’s waterfront. Jon and Mary Shirley endow the park with a $20 million gift that will allow the park to be free to the public; they name the park the Olympic Sculpture Park. This is also the beginning of a capital c​ampaign that will eventually raise $22​0 million with more than 10,000 gifts—the largest cultural fundraising campaign in the history of the city of Seattle.

2000
Olympic Sculpture Park

​Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi of Weiss/Manfredi Architects are selected as lead designers for the Olympic Sculpture Park. Also, Jon and Mary Shirley donate Alexander Calder’s The Eagle (1971), a landmark art acquisition for the future Olympic Sculpture Park. Until the sculpture park is finished, The Eagle rests in front of the Asian Art Museum.

2007
The Olympic Sculpture Park opens in January as downtown Seattle’s largest green space, highlighted by stunning works of modern and contemporary art.

Seattle Art Museum

The Seattle Art Museum downtown reopens in May, welcoming more than 32,000 people during a 35-hour marathon opening weekend. The expansion, designed by Portland-based Allied Works Architecture, nearly doubles the available exhibition space.

2008
SAM celebrates its 75th anniversary with an ambitious art acquisition initiative. The results: over 1,000 gifts (full, partial, or pledged) from more than seventy donors bring the​ collection to nearly 24,000 objects.

2009​​​
After having overseen the inaugural year of the Asian Art Museum, the opening of the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the downtown museum expansion, accomplished director Mimi Gardner Gates retires.

Derrick Cartwright takes over as SAM director.

2010
Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris breaks SAM’s record for the most popular exhibition in the history of the downtown ​​Seattle Art Museum, attracting more than 400,000 vi​sitors and boosting membership to a new high of 48,000 during its showing in Seattle.

2011
Derrick Cartwright steps down as director.

2012Kimerly Rorschach, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO

After an extensive international search, Kimerly Rorschach is chosen as the Seattle Art Museum's new Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. Prior to joining SAM, Ms. Rorschach served as the Mary Duke Biddle Trent and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University​​​.

2013​

MIRROR by Doug Aitkin

​SAM unveils Doug Aitken’s MIRROR, an interactive art installation on the façade of the downtown building.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


2014
SAM acquires 85 works from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection that together raise the profile of the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection to an unprecedented level. Echo, a dramatic 46-foot-tall sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa that is donated by Barney A. Ebsworth, transforms the shoreline of the Olympic Sculpture Park.


2017
SAM celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Sculpture Park and the downtown expansion. The Asian Art Museum closes for necessary building renovations, with plans to reopen in 2019.

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum resides in our original 1933 Art Deco building in the Olmstead-designed Volunteer Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Our renowned collection of Asian art has grown from its foundations of Chinese and Japanese art, and now includes works from India, Korea, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, the Philippines, and Vietnam. This gem-like historic landmark offers a rich dive into some of SAM's renowned​ traditional masterpieces along with contemporary Asian art.

Asian Art Museum

The museum was designed in 1933 by Carl Gould, a Paris-trained Seattle architect, and is now a heritage site for the city. Gould created a sequence of small and large rooms that are ideal environments for the exploration of ​art. The building was renovated from 1991 to 19​​94 and renamed the Asian Art Museum.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park

This award-winning nine-acre park on Seattle’s waterfront is free and open to the public. The sculpture park offers monumental contemporary sculptures and breathtaking views of t​he Space Needle, Olympic Mountains, and Puget Sound. Stroll along a 2,200-foot path that zigzags from the pavilion to the water’s edge to tour the park and its surroundings.​

Olympic Sculpture Park History

Indigenous peoples have inhabited the Pacific Northwest for at least 12,000 years. Oral histories place them here since the beginning of time, when the Changer Beings were sent by the Creator to shape the landscape, distinguish the humans from the animals, and provide humans with what they need to survive.

The Olympic Sculpture Park evolved out of a mutual commitment between SAM and the Trust for Public Land to preserve downtown Seattle's last undeveloped waterfront property. In 1999, the museum purchased property on Seattle's central waterfront from Union Oil of California (UNOCAL) with private and public funding. To make the future park complete and accessible to the waterfront, SAM later acquired an additional property (10 Broad St.) with the support of the City of Seattle and King County and leased part of the Alaskan Way right-of-way. WEISS / MANFREDI Architects of New Y​ork​ were selected as the ​lead designer for the park. Their design vision expressed a dynamic integration of landscape, architecture, and urban design.​ The park opened to the public in January of 2007. ​

Video of the making of the park »

Time lapse of construction of the park »

Olympic Sculpture Park Timeline

1775–1800
Spanish, French, and British explorers arrive on the Northwest Coast.

1786
Chief Seattle is born (estimated date).

1790–1840
Europeans, Americans, and First Peoples engage in the fur trade.

1851
The Denny party lands on what is now known as Alki Point and found the first non-Native settlement in Seattle. They are aided by the Duwamish people.

1910
UNOCAL (Union Oil Company of California) establishes a petroleum transfer and distribution facility on what later becomes the Olympic Sculpture Park.

1911–1934
Seattle constructs a waterfront seawall from Washington to Broad Streets.

1975–1999
UNOCAL ceases petroleum operations at the future Olympic Sculpture Park site, closes,​ and spends 10 years on cleanup efforts.

1999
SAM, in collaboration with the Trust for Public Land, raises $16.5 million in private funding for the purchase of the UNOCAL site. Jon and Mary Shirley pledge to endow the park’s operations, ensuring it is open and free to everyone, and help name the park.

2001
Out of 52 designers from around the world, WEISS / MANFREDI Architecture is selected as lead d​esigner for the park.

2002
Weiss/Manfredi unveil the park's design and model on May 14.

2004
92,986 cubic yards of dirt is removed from the site of SAM's downtown museum expansion project, and is transported to the park for use as recycled fill.

2005
In the summer, construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park begins.

2006
Park construction and art installation are substantially completed.

2007
The Olympic Sculpture Park opens to the public on January 20, 2007.

DESIGN​

The Seattle Art Museum resolved to return the site as much as possible to a functioning ecosystem, while providing a unique setting for outdoor sculpture and public recreation. This was no small task given a century of change amidst the state’s largest urban environment. The project’s lead designers, Weiss/Manfredi, developed an innovative Z-shaped configuration to connect three parcels into a series of four distinct landscapes. This design afforded a wide range of environmental restoration processes, including brownfield redevelopment, salmon habitat restoration, native plantings, and sustainable design strategies.

Weiss/Manfredi Architects designed a continuous and constructed landscape for art. They envisioned transporting art outside the museum walls and bringing the park into the city's landscape. The resulting topography offers environmentally diverse settings for viewing art, the city of Seattle, and Puget Sound.

Their design for the park grew out of a desire to embrace the city’s energy and creat​e collaboration between art, landscape, architecture, and infrastructure. Weiss/Manfredi transformed three separate sites, creating an unfolding landform sculpted to rise over existing road and train lines.

Lead Designer Site Design/Architecture: WEISS/MANFREDI, Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism, New York, Principals: Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi 

Full Team:
Structural and Civil Engineering Consultant: Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Landscape Architecture Consultant: Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Consultant: ABACUS Engineered Systems, Lighting Design Consultant: Brandston Partnership Inc., Geotechnical Engineering Consultant: Hart Crowser, Environmental Consultant: Aspect Consulting, Aquatic Engineering Consultant: Anchor Environmental, Graphics Consultant: Pentagram, Security and AV/IT Consultant: ARUP, Catering & Food Service Consultant: Bon Appetit, Kitchen Consultant: JLR Design, Retail Consultant: Doyle + Associates, Architectural Site Representation: Owens Richards Architects, pllc


The Art

Father and Son

The Olympic Sculpture Park features works from SAM's collection, sculpture commissioned specifically for the park, loans, and changing installations. The artistic program reflects a range of approaches to sculpture, past and present, and is designed to respond to evolving ideas about sculpture in the future.

​View the artworks at the Olympic Sculpture Park and watch a video of Richard Serra discussing his monumental work, Wake.

Landscape 

The Olympic Sculpture Park has four distinct landscapes that reflect the native ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. They provide a diversity of settings for art and introduce an array of plants and birds found in the Puget Sound region.

The Valley
Adjacent to the PACCAR Pavilion and the Gates Amphitheater, the valley is an evergreen forest most typical of the lowland coastal region, featuring tall conifers such as fir, cedar, and hemlock, and flowering shrubs and trees associated with moist conditions. Living examples of ancient trees once native to Washington, such as the ginkgo and majestic metasequoia (Dawn redwood), are also found. Flowering perennials, groundcovers, and ferns define forest edges and pathways.​

The Henry & William Ketcham Families Grove
The grove is a forest of native aspen that defines the park’s transition from city to shore. Although most closely associated with the dry landscape east of the Cascade Mountains, these plants are also found in dry coastal sites in the Puget Sound region. The grove, with its understory of native currant and iris, dramatically reflects the changing seasons, in contrast to the valley's continuously green backdrop.

The Barry Ackerley Family East Meadow and the Kreielsheimer North Meadow
Father and SonOn both sides of Elliott Avenue, meadow landscapes with expanses of grasses and wildflowers meet the bordering sidewalks to achieve the “fenceless” park that SAM conceived from the start. Both the meadows and the grove were intended as regenerative landscapes that provide flexible sites for sculpture and artists working in the landscape.

The Shore
At the shore and newly created beach, plantings support habitat for salmon recovery, enhance public access, and generate interest in the Puget Sound’s unique shoreline ecosystem. The naturally developing tidal garden features kelp, algae, and other intertidal-zone plants that are revealed and concealed with the changing tides.

Discover the park’s native plants »

ECOLOGY

The park’s innovative design achieves a wide range of environmental restoration goals, including brownfield redevelopment, creation of a salmon habitat, extensive use of native plantings, and the capture and use of rainwater on-site.

The Land
The park’s “restorative engineering” introduces a three-foot-thick layer of engineered soil that reduces runoff quantity beyond that of normal soil, which allows rainfall to percolate and drain out to Elliott Bay. This engineered soil replicates the site condition before urban development and prevents draining water from needing treatment as storm-water runoff. Plantings of dense tree canopies, understory vegetation, and ground covers contribute to the retention of rainfall above the soil surface. This design also reintroduces habitat complexity to the site by restoring the original topography, which creates microclimates and offers more diversity for plant and animal life.

The Shoreline
ShorelineA key part of SAM’s original vision was to restore the shoreline to a pre-urban state and create near-shore habitat, providing refuge and foraging grounds for juvenile Chinook salmon migrating from the Green/Duwamish River. The park accomplished these goals by relocating riprap rock from the shoreline to develop a pocket beach with native shoreline plantings. By creating a shallow sub-tidal habitat bench, SAM stabilized the weakened seawall and improved the salmon habitat in the Puget Sound estuary.

Monitoring
Thanks to the support of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership and the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, and in partnership with Seattle Public Utilities and the King Conservation District, SAM has implemented a five-year beach restoration monitoring program. Research studies conducted by the Wetland Ecosystem Team at the University of Washington focus on fish, invertebrates, riparian vegetation, and submerged aquatic vegetation surveys, as well as physical beach profiling. Results of the shoreline enhancements indicate that there has been rapid development of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Learn more about this research.​​

Visionary Partners

In late 1999, the Seattle Art Museum and The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced the successful purchase of the former UNOCAL fuel storage and distribution facility as the site of a future sculpture park. TPL’s expertise in conservation real estate and its mission of creating open space for people were a perfect complement to SAM’s interest in developing a site for public art and sculpture. The acquisition of the six-acre UNOCAL property, which also included an offshore submerged tidelands parcel, initiated a vision for the park’s future boundary that would extend to the Elliott Bay shoreline and make possible the seamless integration with Myrtle Edwards Park.

A year later, with leadership funding from the City of Seattle and King County, SAM and the Museum Development Authority were able to purchase the former RC’s Billiard bar at the corner of Elliott and Broad Streets. This one-third-acre property was permitted for a 12-story residential tower that would have severely impacted the park's otherwise unobstructed view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, and it would have limited pedestrian access into the park and the public waterfront.

The final parcels needed to create the nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park were added in late 2005 when the City of Seattle transferred the former surface parking lot within the Alaskan Way right-of-way to the Department of Parks and Recreation as a park boulevard. This approximately two-and-a-half-acre site was leased to SAM for two consecutive 25-year terms, so it can be developed and managed in a consistent manner as part of the Olympic Sculpture Park. Now complete, the waterfront parcel features shoreline plantings that support salmon restoration, an extension of the Elliott Bay Bicycle Trail to Broad Street, and a new pedestrian boardwalk that offers a stronger visual and physical connection to Puget Sound.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

SUSTAINABILITY AT SAM

At its three locations—the Seattle Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park—SAM integrates many of the latest environmentally responsible building materials, systems, and management practices as part of its ongoing commitment to protect our environment. In keeping with SAM’s promise to contribute to the development of a vibrant, healthy, growing community, the museum aligns the organization’s mission, programs, and operations with sustainability goals.

SAM is proud to support a healthy and sustainable green space by:

  • Operating the Olympic Sculpture Park to meet Salmon-Safe standards for land management.

  • Organizing volunteer work groups to perform regular beach cleanups.

  • Conserving resources in administrative practices (electrical, water, printing, and recycling).

  • Practicing pesticide-free grounds maintenance and using green cleaning products.

  • Providing compost and recycling receptacles for visitors.

  • Utilizing a Maxicom irrigation system for efficient water use.

  • Encouraging public transportation, biking, and carpooling by staff and visitors.

  • Hosting innovative programs that explore the relationship between art and the environment.

  • Partnering with the Seattle Aquarium to host beach naturalists on the beach during low tides.​​​​