Union calls for boycott of Seattle's Chihuly glass museum

SEATTLE -- When the city agreed to let the Wright family build a museum dedicated to glass-artist Dale Chihuly on prime public real estate at the Seattle Center, it was supposed to get a $1 million children's play area in return.

In the nearly two years since the City Council approved the lease, Chihuly Garden and Glass opened underneath the Space Needle to great fanfare, but little to no progress has been made on the play area.

Now, hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 8, which is currently in a dispute with the Wright family's Space Needle Corporation over labor practices at the Needle, is calling for a boycott of Chihuly Garden and Glass on behalf of local artists and the community.

Artists at Play, the 1.5-acre public play area to be designed by local artists, was supposed to mitigate the loss of the Seattle Center's Fun Forest when Chihuly Garden and Glass was built.

Under the museum's lease, the Space Needle Corporation would put $1 million toward a play area, plus another $1 million toward its maintenance over the next two decades.

When the terms of the lease were announced back in 2010, Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said the playground would create a more family-oriented Seattle Center by being a place children beg to be taken and parents and grandparents are happy to go.

But, progress on the play area seems to be nonexistent.

"I don't feel comfortable taking my small child into the glass exhibit, and I also cannot afford the admission prices," mother Lulu Roque said in a Local 8 press release. "Unfortunately, they built over potential open space and the Fun Forest, so the exhibit is not benefiting families like mine at all."

But according to Chihuly Garden and Glass, the museum always planned to wait until after the Seattle Center's 50th anniversary celebration to start work on the play area.

Museum spokesperson April Matson said Chihuly Garden and Glass is working toward selecting an advisory committee for Artists at Play and is also currently trying to finalize a Seattle Center location for the play area.

As part of its boycott, UNITE HERE Local 8 is also calling out Chihuly Garden and Glass for its failure to get to work on a 1,700-square-foot gallery for Northwest artists.

"It is really disappointing to see that the Chihuly exhibit was built with no place for other aritsts' work to be displayed," local artist Shea Conley said in a Local 8 press release. "Chihuly Garden and Glass does little to support local artists, but they profit off our public land."

But while a gallery for local artists was included in the lease at one point, it was removed from the final version, Matson said.

Local 8 also has its own reasons for calling the boycott. According to the union, Space Needle workers were assured banquet jobs at Chihuly Garden and Glass would go to them. Instead, they claim the Space Needle is subcontracting the jobs to the lowest bidder.