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Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is setting new standards for public art

Nov. 01, 2021
4 min read
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is setting new standards for public art
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While cleaning and disinfecting efforts increased at airports around the country – and the world – due to the COVID-19 crisis, most other activities ground to a halt.

Many airports canceled or put on hold facility improvement and construction projects. Others used the rare quiet times in mostly empty terminals to do touch-ups and to speed up project timetables built around the need to not interrupt the flow of passengers rushing to make their flights.

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At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), the art collection - and local artists - got a COVID-19 boost.

Over the course of the crisis, the Port of Seattle, which operates SEA airport, invested $76,000 in 17 artworks by 15 different Pacific Northwest Artists. Ten of the 15 artists are women, and seven of the 15 artists are people of color. Better yet, the airport purchased existing, recent work, which meant those artists were able to make sales during a period when new commissions, art gallery shows, and many other opportunities had all but dried up.

Like most airports, SEA and the Port of Seattle had to do significant belt-tightening during the pandemic but recognized – and acted on the fact – that supporting artists was good for the local economy.

Related: 5 reasons why Seattle should be your fall vacation destination

Airports usually use capital improvement project (CIP) funds for public art acquisitions and commissions, says Tommy Gregory, the airport’s Senior Art Program Manager, but “in hopes of creating a ‘stimulus’ like opportunity” he got support from various airport and Port Commissioners to approve the use of expense funds for the purchases.

The new artwork now graces the walls of the airport’s Interfaith Prayer & Meditation Center, the Sensory Room, the North Satellite Nursing Suite, and several other spots in the airport.

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"As Above, So Below" Photo Courtesy Port of Seattle

SEA was also able to continue with renovation of SEA’s North Satellite during the pandemic. John Grade’s 40-foot high and 85-foot wide “Boundary” sculpture, made from Alaskan yellow cedar, was installed as part of this project, as was Krista Birnbaum’s “Canopy.” Birnbaum’s piece uses preserved mosses and stylized branch forms to create a piece that evokes the topographic maps found in National Park Visitor Centers.

"Boundary" Photo Courtesy Port of Seattle

Related: Pretty but pricey: Seattle’s newest luxury Hilton the Hotel 1000 – LXR Hotels and Resorts

"Canopy" Photo by Krista Birnbaum. Credit: Rafael Soldi,

Elsewhere in the airport, some older pieces were cleaned and moved to keep them safer and easier to see and enjoy. Most notable is Michael Fajans’ “High Wire” (1993), a one-hundred-eighty-foot-long photo-realistic airbrush painting that depicts a vaudeville magic act in eleven steps.

High Wire art on Concourse A Photo Courtesy of Port of Seattle

Originally installed at eye level, “this piece was in a very precarious location within Concourse D,” says Gregory. “We felt it was necessary to do a full cleaning because it did take on a lot of unfortunate coffee stains, dust and the like.” The work was restored and moved to Concourse B, where it now stretches out along a high wall, allowing travelers walking along the concourse to see how the magic trick unfolds.

"Night Flight" by Lousie Nevelson in the mezzanine of the Airport Office Building at Sea-Tac. Photographed 18 October 2013.

While many airports now have great art programs (Looking at you, SFO, PHX, MIA and many others), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport set the standard for airport art programs long ago. In 1968 it was the first public airport to start an art collection. Now, in addition to work by many well-known and emerging local and regional artists, the SEA art collection includes some very valuable pieces by internationally known artists such as Frank Stella, Louise Nevelson, and Robert Rauschenberg that you might otherwise have to go to a major art museum to see.

Featured image by Port of Seattle
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023