What’s Good in Seattle: The ARTful DODGER Way, October 2015

Posted on October 19, 2015, 8:00 am
13 mins


When I was presented with this month’s editorial theme, “Artful Dodger,” the first thing that came to my mind was the 1968 movie-musical Oliver! I was instantaneously transported to my youth, reminiscing on favorite childhood memories of my sister and I snuggled up watching the movie with our cousins in our small TV room. I vividly remembered some of the choreography and scenes. Even though it has been years since I last heard these songs, I was able to sing most of the words—or at least hum the tunes.

But what does this have to do with fashion, art and culture? We don’t exactly have a theme park dedicated to Dickens and his work. (That would be Dickens World, which opened in Chatham, England in 2007.) So let’s think about art…. and procuring it…. and experiencing it…. in a clever way…. as would the Dodger!

Books and Art: Get Them Both Through the Seattle Library

As a youth, Dickens faced extremely dark times. He was sent to work in an old, crumbling, rat-infested, boot blacking factory to earn money to help support his family after his father’s imprisonment for incurring bad debts. In retrospect, Dickens marked it as the moment he said goodbye to youthful innocence, being “so easily cast away at such a young age.” He lived with feelings of abandonment and betrayal, saw violence and squalor, and all this became evident in his works, which reveals an advocacy for the poor. Dickens was also working out the embarrassments of class and poverty that he faced in his adult life, even after becoming successful. Oliver Twist was one of his earliest novels and was inspired by how Dickens felt as “an impoverished child forced to get by on his wits and to earn his own keep.” Jack “The Artful Dodger” Dawson is thrifty, cunning and quick—an adult in a child’s body in adult clothing. One has to wonder if Dickens identified more with Twist or Dawson, or if they are two sides of the same little Dickens.

In writing this article, I felt an urgency to reread Oliver Twist. As I leafed through the pages, the plot came rushing back to me. Reading is one of my most treasured pastimes and each new season brings a new favorite place to read. As the summer weather wanes, I look forward to cuddling up by the fire on these brisk autumn days, cherishing the feel and sound of the pages turning as I progress through my novel. My library at home is arranged by color, and that in itself looks like art to me. It makes me happy, even if Melvil Dewey would not approve.

But that brings me to our own Seattle Public Library. The library system has evolved not only in terms of technology to deliver content, but also by embracing its role at the heart of the community center, offering a range of events and activities for all ages. In 2009, the Seattle Public Library completed a decade-long strategic project of building renewal and expansion. There was a voter-approved capital campaign for four new branch libraries while 22 branches were either renovated or replaced, bringing the total to 26 citywide, each with their own artful charm. This of course includes downtown’s Central Library, whose glass and steel structure with “floating platforms,” was designed by Rem Koolhaas (Netherlands) and Joshua Ramus of OMA Architects in partnership with LMN Architects, Seattle. It has become one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in the region.

For those who want to engage with art on a budget, the library system is one of the best places to start looking. They offer free artists workshops and classes in each branch. When you sign up for a library card, you are also afforded many benefits such as The Museum Pass, which allows you to use your Seattle Public Library card to reserve and print out free admission passes to participating Seattle museums. The Museum Pass program is sponsored by The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

Participants can reserve a pass to an individual museum once every 30 days, and may use one pass per week. The program reservation system requires the cardholder to enter their Library card number and choose a specific date. To read more details and reserve a museum pass, visit: www.spl.org/museumpass. Participating museums include:

  • The Burke Museum
  • The Center for Wooden Boats
  • Experience Music Project
  • Henry Art Gallery
  • The Living Computer Museum
  • The Log House Museum
  • Museum of Flight
  • Museum of History and Industry
  • Nordic Heritage Museum
  • Northwest African American Museum
  • Seattle Art Museum
  • Seattle Asian Art Museum
  • Seattle Aquarium
  • Wing Luke Museum

Acquiring Art Incrementally—or Renting!

We won’t go picking pockets as the Artful Dodger to acquire those things we desire or need, but being thrifty helps in both the best of times and the worst of times. But even beyond the cost of buying art that one considers priceless, the sense of permanence and commitment in collecting art is daunting. It is an investment of time and space, not just money, and choosing art is an art in itself, which takes practice for most of us.

The Seattle Art Museum offers options for all art lovers that make the process easier. Whether you are just starting out or you are an experienced and avid collector, you will enjoy the choice to purchase, rent or rent-to-buy art from the SAM Gallery. When I moved to Seattle 27 years ago a friend told me about the Seattle Art Museum’s, “Rental Loft,” where you could rent art on a three-month basis and, at the conclusion of your lease, you could opt to buy the piece. I still have two framed photos that I rented and eventually purchased.

The rental/sales gallery has moved into the museum itself but still offers the same great services. I spoke with artist Elizabeth Lopez who works at the gallery and whose work is also showcased. She was extremely knowledgeable and is passionate about helping people find the right artwork. Lopez explains, “SAM offers contemporary original works from Northwest artists and our goal is to make our artwork accessible to all types of customers, from emerging collectors or established collectors, to visiting tourists and businesses.”

The rental gallery features almost one hundred artists at a given time and includes paintings, drawings, mixed media works, limited edition prints and photographs. Retail purchase prices for art range from $300 to $7,000 and the rental fee is 10 percent of the purchase price for a three month rental.

As an artist, Lopez appreciates the museum’s support of local artists because it, “boosts their careers by increasing their exposure and aids in finding audiences for their work. Another great aspect about the rentals, is that half of the rental fee goes to the piece, which helps the customer, and one-half goes to the artist.”

The “rent before you buy” option allows you to live with a favorite piece before you make a final purchase, and is exclusively for SAM members, who also enjoy easy 16-month, interest-free payment plans. Becoming a member is easy. You can sign up, “on the spot,” at the gallery to enjoy all member benefits at an affordable price, or you can sign up at ticketing desks at the museum itself or online, at seattleartmuseum.org. You can also call 206.654.3210.

The SAM Gallery is located on the street level of the Seattle Art Museum, inside the SAM shop on 1st Avenue between Union and University streets. You can start by browsing artists online.

Enjoy regular exhibitions and lessons

The Seattle Art Museum also provides arts education for students and teachers, as part of its mission to, “[build] a community of life-long learners.” Craig van den Bosch is the Museum Educator who leads the School and Educators Program at the Seattle Art Museum. Van den Bosch is an artist in his own right with a passion to make art accessible to all students in all neighborhoods.

“There are countless programs that are created for this purpose,” he says. “School tours and workshops are available at the museum and price reductions are available for Title 1 schools that need financial support and who qualify. The museum will provide two buses per class at a reduced fee, to make tours possible where transportation is otherwise unavailable.”

SAM also offers an “Art Goes to School Program,” where a teaching artist will go out into any public school and teach an hour-long class consisting of a class discussion and art making. This program is also offered at a very reasonable fee, at a reduced rate or sometimes free of charge for qualifying schools. The King County Youth Program website will help you learn more about the engaging programs offered by SAM and others that support and enrich the lives of young people.

The Seattle Art Museum also includes a wide-ranging Teacher Resource Center which offers many lessons and curriculum suggestions, such as “The Elements of Art,” “Arts of Asia,” “Families” and “Northwest Coast/Native Americans,” to name a few. These lessons are available to educators on an ongoing basis, but van den Bosch and the SAM staff can also customize lessons based on class curriculum.

“By the year 2020 we hope to have arts professionals embedded in each and every school,” he says. “We want art to be afforded to all students and are forming a partnership between Seattle Public Schools and many other arts organizations.”

Of course, we can’t talk about art that is free and available to the public without mentioning The Frye Art Museum, which requires no admission year-round. Its current show, Genius / 21 Century / Seattle includes many free events, screenings and festivals over the months to come.

Young and old, rich or poor, this is an artful city with plenty of things to do if you know where to look. Even if you can’t invest in donating to the arts, you can invest your time, curiosity, and enthusiasm, and we all benefit from it.


Lois Castelli-Leff is a Long Island transplant, 28 years in Seattle. She has a degree in fashion merchandising from FIT and BA in textiles and merchandising from SUNY at Oneonta. Her work experience includes fashion sales and styling at Macy's NYC and Nordstrom. She held regional sales executive position at both Perry Ellis and Anne Klein and has an extensive background in showroom sales, trade shows and fashion show production. Her community service includes serving as an art docent through the Frye Art Museum and speech coach at Our Lady of Fatima, choreographer for the Magnolia Theatre, and is a member of the Katie McKay Circle. Lois founded her business, Senti, in 2010 producing glass crosses. She has three beautiful children and a dog, Baci.