Historic Higo Garden HubSeattle, WA
Funding from ArtPlace supports the reactivation of a hidden, historic outdoor space in Seattle’s Nihonmachi (Japantown) as a safe, accessible and sustainable community hub that will serve as a new cultural destination for The Wing’s walking tours and an economic driver for the entire neighborhood.
ArtPlace spoke with Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing), about this project.
With such a rich Japanese American history, Seattle was the perfect site for the Japanese American National Museum’s (JANM’s) 2013 National Conference, which was developed to celebrate and examine the Japanese American story. The Wing hosted two neighborhood tours for over 100 conference attendees that included a specific tour of Nihonmachi (Japantown). Participants learned of early life in Nihonmachi and discovered historic sites such as the Panama Hotel, KOBO at Higo artisan gallery, Nippon Kan Theater and Kobe Terrace Park. A special stop at the Higo Garden was included with staff sharing about the Garden’s significance, the Murakami family and our reactivation project. Once completed, the Higo Garden will become an ongoing feature of The Wing’s neighborhood tours, bringing visitors and customers to Nihonmachi (Japantown) on an ongoing basis to further the area’s revitalization.
Hosting activities for the 2013 JANM National Conference has been a great benefit to the neighborhood and museum overall as it drove foot traffic to many of our businesses that are struggling due to the City’s First Hill Streetcar construction project. Our partnership with JANM demonstrates our neighborhood’s role as a destination attraction and national resource.
Consultations with neighborhood and community stakeholders have been deep and varied for our Higo Garden project, resulting in a space that not only has strong artistic and cultural roots but that also works better from an ongoing safety and maintenance perspective. Two consultations in particular coalesced in a powerful way.
A board member of the neighborhood’s International Special Review District – responsible for reviewing any changes to buildings and public spaces in our neighborhood in order to maintain its historic and cultural character – highly recommended against bamboo due to its oftentimes high need for ongoing maintenance (and as he puts it, “There’s more to us Asians than bamboo!”). We therefore explored removing the existing bamboo in the Garden. Sure enough, to our surprise, hidden behind that bamboo was a basement window of the historic NP Hotel, abutting the Garden’s north and serving as housing for low-income residents. The window connects directly with a common room used by residents there.
By removing the bamboo, we not only would bring “more eyes” onto the Garden to help increase security, but also would bring more natural light into the room for the residents and create a picturesque view for them to enjoy. Sure enough, in consulting with housing project manager Valerie Neng, she recommended several ways to connect the residents to the Garden and increase their feeling of ownership over it. In this light, we’ll be adding interpretive signage about the Garden and its artwork inside the common room to connect the residents with the story of the Murakami family and the neighborhood all the more.