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Join the informed, opinionated journalists of The Times' editorial staff in lively discussions at our blog Ed Cetera.

April 28, 2011 at 5:43 PM

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Civil Disagreement: That Chihuly thang

Posted by Joni Balter

Civil disagreements this week with Ryan Blethen and Joni Balter, members of the Seattle Times editorial board is a weekly feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Ryan and Joni often disagree on major issues in our community, state and nation. In editorial board meetings, their shrewd thinking and passionate arguing elevates the discussion and they agree sharpens their own arguments.

Joni Balter: Ryan, I was happy to see the Seattle City Council decided to replace the old ticky tacky Fun Forest with the new Dale Chihuly glass art pavillion at Seattle Center. I know you feel much differently. Let me make my case.


Artist rendering of new Chihuly exhibit.

To me, Seattle Center is neither a greensward-like Central Park, nor a place completely frozen in time. The Fun Forest was truly enjoyable while it lasted. But as an attraction, the fun and the forest were slipping; rent became a problem. The whole center needs an upgrade. In the old days, the Center was an eclectic collection of venues and it remains so today. Chihuly glass adds to the ballet, opera, theater, EMP, the fountain and everything else.

The Chihuly exhibit wll draw many more people to the center and pay a lot more rent. That money can be used to keep the center solvent, not zapping the already strapped city budget. The additional revenue can also help subsidize non-profit groups at the center.

More visitors at the center means more of everything and that's a good thing. Don't forget, the broader plan includes a new children's playground and a new home for KEXP-FM. Cool new additions.

I really like Chihuly and am not bothered by the fact that he shows and -- gasp, sells -- his stuff in Vegas, Venice and many other places. He is a one-of-a-kind talent who has trained many disciples.

There is something odd about Seattle. We downplay wealth, which is part of our charm. But we have also have chip on our shoulder about success, which is less understandable.

Chihuly is known around the world. He has developed and expanded the audience for glass art. He may not be a great guy but his work is stunning. So, Ryan, I will see you at the opening next year, right?

Ryan Blethen: Joni, What you consider “ticky tacky” I cherish. I grew up going to the Fun Forest and have fond memories of staggering on my sea legs - compliments of the pirate ship ride - to the coin toss with hopes of winning a Van Halen mirror. The wobbly legs conspired against my toss and I always went home without a prize. What I did retain were wonderful memories.

The Fun Forest and the Seattle Center have always been a place where Seattleites of all ages and backgrounds could enjoy. I feel fortunate that the Fun Forest was around long enough for me to take my kids there. My wife and I have spent countless hours watching the kids get bounced around on the Frog Hopper, scream with unabashed joy on the roller coaster and chase them around with wet napkins to get the cotton candy stick off of their faces and hands.

No longer. Instead there will be a monument to a man whose work is as ubiquitous in this town as the rain. It’s harder to find a building or space in this city that hasn’t been Chihulyized than places with his art.

I fully understand why Chihuly get’s his temple of glass. It should pay the bills and provide Seattle Center the cash needed to stay vibrant. I get it. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. A part of the Center died when the rides left. A glass palace that will likely draw cruise ship tourist is a terrible replacement.

Luckily the Center still has much to offer. My kids love all the festivals, especially the Bite because they get to eat alligator on a stick. The Pacific Science Center is still great after all these years and KEXP’s summer concerts at the mural have become memory makers for my wife and kids. (I am excited about KEXP moving to the Center).

Change often involves pain. The death of the Fun Forest is just another part of old Seattle, my Seattle, that has been replaced with something new, shiny and gaudy.

RIP Fun Forest.

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