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Art As A Catalyst For Connection: Creative Placemaking And The Future Of Seattle’s Waterfront

NINE dot ARTS CEO and co-founder Martha Widemann

Seattle’s waterfront is undergoing a major transformation. Now that the Alaskan Way Viaduct removal is complete, the city is hard at work rebuilding Pier 58 and Pier 62, constructing a park promenade along the water and more as part of Waterfront Seattle, a $756M project that is set to be completed in 2025. 

Arts and culture will play a central role in the new Waterfront Seattle. Martha Weidmann, CEO and co-founder of NINE dot ARTS, an art consulting and creative placemaking firm that works to transform spaces through art, said she is thrilled. 

“Art has the power to activate neglected spaces with color, light, music, creativity, performances and more,” Weidmann said. “It can change the way people experience, and contribute to, the waterfront while attracting buzz, connection and positive social interactions that result in increased foot traffic and spending at nearby businesses.” 

Weidmann will be speaking at a panel titled “Creating Public Spaces & Fostering Community Engagement” at Bisnow’s Future of Seattle’s Waterfront Event on April 4Register here for the event. 

Bisnow sat down with Weidmann to learn more about the concept of creative placemaking and how NINE dot ARTS is working to create a stronger community in Seattle through art. 

Bisnow: What inspired you to speak at Bisnow’s Future of Seattle's Waterfront event?

Weidmann: I’m inspired by how the public and private sectors work together to strengthen the area and the innovative ideas that result from diverse partnerships. I want to explore how we can leverage art, culture and community to support projects like Seattle’s waterfront development and to create places that incentivize ongoing care and pride from residents. I also hope to discuss what the transformation of Seattle’s waterfront will mean for its future — attracting outside investors, prompting more development, increasing tourism, etc. — and how we can ensure that local perspectives are prioritized in such discussions, in an effort to mitigate displacement of those who’ve called the waterfront area home.

A February Seattle Times article cited the opinion that “downtowns were poorly conceived as 9-to-5 corporate work farms in the first place. Now, 'CBDs' should be reclaimed as 'CSDs' — central social districts.” I agree with the sentiment that we need to rethink CBDs to better support civic engagement and social cohesion, and art is absolutely part of that. It’s a catalyst for connection and revitalization. 

Bisnow: What topics will you be speaking about at the event, and what are you most looking forward to while you're there? 

Weidmann: I look forward to discussing how creative placemaking strategies can uplift Seattle’s creative economy. I will speak about the value of art and culture to foster community engagement and honor the history and progression of Seattle while prioritizing local voices and building goodwill and good press. 

I also hope to share how artwork can enhance the waterfront to encourage walkability, social gathering and even economic development as people are prompted to spend more time and money in the area. According to a study by the Urban Land Institute, return on investment from creative placemaking can mean shorter approval cycles, increased market value and recognition, faster sales or lease-ups, lower turnover rates, and higher community buy-in and ongoing support. This is just one of several studies showing that arts and culture spur economic growth. 

Bisnow: Can you describe your role at NINE dot ARTS and any projects you're working on?

Weidmann: As CEO and co-founder, I oversee NINE dot ARTS’ company vision, business strategy and diverse team development, as well as the firm’s national expansion and growth in our target markets of the Mountain West, West Coast and Southeast. We are optimizing our technology, talent and training capabilities to scale our vision of being the nation’s leading art consulting and creative placemaking firm in innovation, processes, ethics and creativity. 

Currently, I am working on the art program for the mixed-use office space of a major tech company in Kirkland, Washington, which involves everything from large-scale murals to unique styling to interactive, living, plant-based art installations. Additionally, I’m involved in major hospitality, multifamily and mixed-use placemaking projects in Seattle, Kirkland, Redmond, Atlanta, Savannah, Denver, Wichita, Charlotte and elsewhere, where our team is leveraging local art to produce social and economic benefits for developments, communities, municipalities and cities. In Seattle specifically, we’ve been fortunate to partner with developers like Lake Union Partners, Holland Partner Group, Quarterra, Mainstreet Property Group and others to develop a variety of art experiences that both engage the surrounding communities and uplift local artists.  

Bisnow: What does placemaking mean to you and NINE dot ARTS? How are you working in Seattle to create more public spaces and foster community engagement? 

Weidmann: Placemaking is a people-centered process that involves the planning, design and management of spaces, particularly those public spaces that are in between buildings. At NINE dot ARTS, we focus on creative placemaking because we believe art and culture are critical for creating synergies among such places while fostering community engagement and achieving accessibility, activity and connection. Creative placemaking means integrating art, culture and community-engaged design into the planning and development of the built environment to produce positive social and economic outcomes.

Recently we’ve been working with public and private leaders on public art for the Kirkland fire stations. This is a community-driven effort in which local artists have been selected to honor the unwavering commitment of the fire service people and their legacy in the community through art installations that reinforce themes of hope, resiliency and inclusivity. The first installation begins in May and I’m looking forward to seeing these spaces come to life over the next year.

And at the new Midtown Square apartments and plaza in Seattle’s central district, vibrant artwork tells the story of the district’s historically Black community where many people have been displaced. The project is now a national example of the ways in which creative placemaking and public-private partnerships can promote economic development and generational wealth building. We’ve interviewed several leaders from this project on our podcast for those who want to learn more.

To hear more from Weidmann and learn about the transformation of Seattle’s waterfront register for Bisnow’s Future of Seattle’s Waterfront event here

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and NINE dot ARTS. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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