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Originally published August 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 4, 2007 at 1:51 PM

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Projects add "cultural layer" to downtown Bellevue scene

Bellevue has top-flight shopping, corporate giants and a low crime rate, but one thing it is not known for is art. That may be changing...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Bellevue has top-flight shopping, corporate giants and a low crime rate, but one thing it is not known for is art.

That may be changing, thanks to several new developments in the Ashwood neighborhood, in the northeast corner of downtown. The most recent example unfolded Wednesday night, with the opening of a 2,000-square-foot art-exhibition space on the ground floor of the 989 Elements apartment building.

The space, called Open Satellite, will host four artists a year, who will take turns living in a 21st-floor apartment while their exhibits are installed. Olga Koumoundouros, the inaugural artist, used mossy shingles from an abandoned single-family home across the street to create "A Roof Upended," a comment on the modern high-rises that are quickly filling up downtown Bellevue.

A handful of developers are helping to create a "cultural layer" in a city that is still relatively young — and it's first taking shape in and around the Ashwood neighborhood, according to city officials.

The exhibition space "anchors an organically developing cultural corridor in the downtown core," said Mary Pat Byrne, the city's art specialist. "It's all sort of unofficial and developer-inspired."

Bellevue developer John Su has long pushed to make Ashwood a cultural center and included Open Satellite in his building on 112th Avenue Northeast "to create community and opportunities for people to interact," said Linda Abe, Su's assistant development director.

Su is also planning 20,000 square feet of arts-related retail — galleries and studios — in an adjacent apartment building under construction, called Elements Too. The 274-unit building, set to open in fall 2008, will include a public plaza designed for arts-and-crafts shows and weekend fairs, Abe said.

A block away, the Houston-based Hanover Co. is including a black-box theater in its 1020 Tower apartment building, scheduled to open next year.

Developer Kemper Freeman has helped lead the charge for a 2,000-seat performing-arts center, to be built another block to the west. Organizers of the Performing Arts Center Eastside have raised about $22 million of their $160 million goal and hope to open in fall 2010.

Capping off the creative theme is the Bellevue Regional Library, next to Ashwood Park, a building that has won awards for its architecture and is a popular spot for readings and other literary activities.

The Eastside arts community stays connected with groups like the Eastside Arts Coalition, but demand for venues like Meydenbauer Center and the Kirkland Performance Center outstrips supply, Byrne said.

A primary obstacle to the arts community blossoming in Bellevue has been a lack of "places to do things," she said. "We don't have an infrastructure here."

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Open Satellite and other projects will improve communication and bring artists together, said Abigail Guay, the space's exhibitions director. She said she's already talked to the Bellevue Arts Museum and organizers of the new performing-arts center.

"Everyone wants to work together to make [the community] bigger than the sum of its parts," Guay said.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Information in this story, originally published on August 30, 2007, was corrected on September 4, 2007. The article about a new arts district taking shape in downtown Bellevue stated the wrong amount of square footage of arts-related retail planned for the Elements Too apartment building under construction. The owner, Su Development, provided incorrect information. Instead of 50,000 square feet, the correct amount is 20,000 square feet.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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