On the corner of Broadway and Boylston Avenues in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood sits a historic building with deep ties to public health.
In the mid-1940s, Swedish Medical Center, a Providence affiliate, commissioned a building to serve as a separate medical facility on the hospital’s campus. The building included exam rooms and x-ray labs and specialized in OB-GYN care. After decades of serving the community, the building closed and sat unused for years. Hazardous materials and waste accumulated, and a building once described as architecturally ahead of its time turned into a public health risk.
But local business owner Greg Lundgren was able to look beyond those problems and see a building with solid original construction. “It has good bones,” says Lundgren. In 2018, Lundgren approached Swedish about partnering to restore and refurbish the site into a contemporary art and culture space – the Museum of Museums – with a focus on health and healing.
“The idea is that, through our partnership with Swedish, the museum can be a place where patients and their families engage with the arts as part of the healing process and really connect with the First Hill community,” says Lundgren.
Scientific studies have shown that exposure to art helps patients heal and cope with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. The Museum of Museums aims to be a safe, modern and culturally diverse place where that healing can occur.
After finalizing a deal with Swedish to take over the building in 2019, Lundgren and his team moved quickly to obtain permits and draw up plans. For months, Swedish and the museum team worked together to transform the space by removing more than 110,000 pounds of waste, construction debris and asbestos from the premises, installing new electrical and plumbing systems and replacing broken windows to bring in the natural light. Every step of the way, small ways to make the space eco-friendly are factored in, paying homage to a Pacific Northwest ethos.
Lundgren describes this process with genuine excitement in his voice, thrilled to be able to integrate health, art and community into one space. Lundgren says: “When you’re opening a new art space like this, there is a real opportunity to start from scratch and be thoughtful about how you plan collections, design the space and host events.”
From repurposing as much building material as possible to curating a collection of local artists’ unique wares for the museum gift shop, Lundgren and his team are being intentional about making a positive impact at the local level.
The partnership with Swedish is an opportunity for the museum to speak directly to the hospital community through arts and culture. And that, more than anything, is what Lundgren is excited about. He says: “I want the museum to offer an experience that brings joy and wonder into people’s lives, especially during tough times.”
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