There’s a vault under the Seattle Municipal Tower where the city stores hundreds of art pieces

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Nearly every time Seattle has built or renovated something in past 40 years, the city has used 1% of the project’s cost to buy art — and usually that art is displayed on site.

There’s the skyscraping installation next to the new Denny Substation that looks like a transmission tower mashed up with a tree, and there’s the tangle of orange rebar outside North Seattle’s new dump that’s supposed to conjure the topography of Wallingford. There are about 400 works like that.

But art can’t be displayed at some capital projects, like electric work overhead and sewer work underground. So Seattle also uses money set aside under its 1% For Art law to buy paintings, photographs and sculptures that decorate city offices and are stored in a dedicated, vaultlike room below the Seattle Municipal Tower.

Jammed with works serious and whimsical, large and small, the secret chamber was where newly elected City Councilmember Andrew Lewis and his four legislative assistants showed up earlier this month to nab pieces for their digs at City Hall.

Though most of the 3,000 pieces in Seattle’s portable art collection are displayed in offices, the works are rotated over time and about 300 are kept in the storage room on any given day, waiting patiently to be selected by a discerning city employee.

“This is actually going back to (Councilmember) Lisa Herbold,” Blake Haygood warned as Lewis eyed a quilted map of America adorned with antique motel soaps from every state (the piece had been taken down to allow repainting in Herbold’s office).

Haygood is Seattle’s art curator, and he’s worked with the collection for 19 years.

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