Artist Design Team
First Avenue Project
1985-1991

LOCATION
First Avenue between Denny Way and Virginia Streets

FUNDING SOURCE
Seattle City Light 1% for Art, National Endowment for the Arts, community block grants, donations by neighborhood merchants and individuals


Artist Design Team: Jack Mackie, Paul and Deborah Rhinehart, Lewis "Buster" Simpson

The artists of Belltown's First Avenue Project make it easy to experience art-no trip to the museum required. The sidewalk offers an opportunity to engage with functional art pieces including tree support systems, sandstone benches and recycled stone steps in a neighborhood setting. Purple plum trees at bus stops liven up the view for commuters while rough boulders and split-sandstone slabs add interest to an otherwise basic city street. Together these visually appealing elements coalesce into an engaging streetscape which pays tribute to the area's blue collar history while also contributing to Belltown's urban renewal.

The concept originated in 1978 when Buster Simpson, Jack Mackie and Paul and Deborah Rhinehart began to develop and design artwork for First Avenue that would provide a welcoming, aesthetically pleasing environment for Belltown residents and visitors. Work was initially funded through the local community council and area merchants until 1985, when the project received financial support from the city. In succeeding years, the project continued to grow, eventually incorporating 11 bus stops and an urban arboretum. A second phase funded in 1988 allowed for the integration of other artistic elements into the streetscape.

The First Avenue Project maintains an inner-city "laboratory" feel which originally inspired the artists behind the art, fostering a setting that allows for experimentation and discovery in an unexpected, but thoroughly functional manner. The project provides, in the words of artist Buster Simpson, "pragmatic, streetwise solutions," which "appear to 'happen' rather than be imposed from outside."