On October 16 at Westbank’s First Light Presentation Gallery in Seattle, five creative leaders contributed to a conversation around the theme “What Makes a City Beautiful?,” moderated by GRAY’s editorial director, Tiffany Jow. Panelists included Michael Braun, director of sales and marketing at Westbank; Clara Berg, Curator of Collections at the Museum of History and Industry; Judith Rinehart, founder of the recently opened J. Rinehart Gallery; Kelty McKinnon, landscape architect at PFS Studio; and artist John Hogan.
The evening kicked off with a VIP cocktail reception in First Light’s Presentation Gallery, where guests enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres while experiencing features from the forthcoming First Light, a new residential tower slated to break ground later this year in Seattle. Designed by architect James KM Cheng, the structure will be completed in 2022 and will include artworks throughout by Seattle-based glass artist John Hogan.
Later, guests gathered in the gallery’s adjacent exhibition space for a lively panel discussion. Westbank’s Michael Braun introduced the conversation’s subject—beauty—and its connection to First Light and Westbank’s broader mission.
“I think the most important thing is standards,” Braun said on the subject of creating structures that contribute to a beautiful city. “Things can happen really fast. You can put up a bunch of office towers for a lot of new companies, and all of a sudden have a couple blocks of office towers that are not doing much for anyone. Not everything needs to be the Eiffel Tower, but it’s important [to] make a building that contributes to the environment that you want.”
When asked about how citizens can help promote the development of a city they want to live in, Hogan said, “We have exciting, creative, progressive development in [Seattle,] and we should be really proud of that.” The artist continued, “Remember that we can participate in that, and take ownership of the direction it’s going. If you’re frustrated by certain things about [the city’s evolution], interact with one another and figure out how to make sure that it’s going in a direction we can be proud of, and be as progressive as Seattle has always been.”
“I think [Seattle has] everything,” said Rinehart. “We have the natural beauty, we have a city that’s pushed to bring art into public spaces. We have some of the best architects in the world that build amazing buildings here.”
McKinnon spoke about what beauty means in her practice as a landscape architect. “What’s the kinesthetic experience of moving through a space? How is your body moving through the typography?” McKinnon asked. “The design of a space is actually not dictating, [but] expanding what those possible sensations are, and how you engage with a space in a very rooted and local way.”
As a curator, Berg explained she finds beauty in the ordinary. “Sometimes for us at museums, it’s really exciting to get offers of ordinary things [for our collection] because [most] people [don’t] save their work dresses or their mechanics jeans,” she said. “I love the high fashion stuff we have in [the Museum of History and Industry’s] collection, but there are things that were made in factories here in Seattle, like weekend clothes and cotton stuff worn by teenagers. There’s so much less of it out there. I really enjoy the [beauty in] the ordinary.”
“The subject of beauty in cities is deep, complex, and extremely relevant for Seattle,” said GRAY’s editorial director, Tiffany Jow, after the conversation concluded. “As the panelists were quick to establish, beauty is so much more than aesthetics; it comes through in experiences, behaviors, and emotions, too. Designers create these things through the buildings, objects, and spaces they produce. As our conversation made clear, it is important to recognize the significance of what is seen, and unseen. Beauty is all around us, if we only take the time to look.”