3 must-visit Ballard museums and art galleries

This piece is from our latest This City Block series, which highlights stories from Ballard.

Once a bustling industrial enclave, Ballard — long known for its concentration of fishing boats, lumber mills and shipyards — has evolved into one of Seattle’s most creatively and culturally engaged communities. Still a stronghold for independent boutiques, coffee shops, music venues and restaurants, Ballard’s commercial core (the area west of 15th Avenue Northwest and the streets on either side of Northwest Market) is peppered with another flourishing commodity: art spaces.

From the large, globally recognized National Nordic Museum to small, singularly run storefront galleries, the options for viewing art are many, and the neighborhood’s long-running monthly art walk (the event, launched in 1997, takes place every second Saturday from 6-9 p.m.), buoys exploration through the spirit of connection and a shared appreciation for Ballard’s creative core.

Here, we look at three standout spaces, each with new spring shows featuring work by Pacific Northwest artists.  

National Nordic Museum

A longstanding Ballard institution, the National Nordic Museum is the country’s largest museum dedicated to the culture and history of the Nordic region (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faeroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland, and the Sápmi region). Formerly housed in the red-brick, decommissioned Daniel Webster Elementary School, the museum moved to its current purpose-built location on Northwest Market Street in 2018. Operating around a touchstone set of values — connection to nature, sustainability, social justice and innovation — the National Nordic Museum offers a robust calendar of rotating exhibitions underpinned by a permanent collection (comprising more than 80,000 objects ranging from fine art and historic artifacts to oral history interviews, archival material and books) that investigates the legacy of the Nordic and Nordic American experience in the United States. 

“Our roots as a major, community-oriented cultural organization are something we care deeply about,” says Leslie Anderson, the National Nordic Museum’s chief curator overseeing collections, exhibitions and programs. “Today, you might see that manifesting through [the museum] bringing together thought leaders from Nordic countries with thought leaders in the Pacific Northwest on topics related to climate change or design. We want it to be a place where visitors can gain an understanding of contemporary ideas and topics relevant to the Nordic regions and explore the past through a critical lens with the power to effect change.”

The museum’s current exhibitions highlight this cross-regional mix, with a solo show featuring the collages, paintings and ceramics of contemporary Saint Croix-based artist La Vaughn Belle (through April 7) and Ballard artist Ginny Ruffner’s “Project Aurora,” a 20-foot wall of shimmering light programmed to undulate like the Aurora Borealis, which closes June 2. 

“Ginny’s work really connects with the museum’s core values of innovation and connecting with nature,” Anderson says of the work, made up of thousands of tiny, colored LED lights. 

Also showing is the recently opened “Nordic Utopia? African Americans in the 20th Century” — an exhibition looking at the African Americans, specifically writers, visual and performing artists, who visited, studied, lived and worked in the Nordic countries. On view through July 21, “Nordic Utopia?” tells the story of those looking to escape racial segregation and prejudice in the United States and find a new ground fertile with creative freedom.

National Nordic Museum, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; 2655 N.W. Market St., Seattle; tickets start at $10; (206-789-5707; nordicmuseum.org

The Vestibule

Now in its second iteration — the first of which was part-exhibition space, part-Airbnb — the Vestibule is a contemporary gallery in a brick building dating to 1915. 

Inhabiting the windowed storefront of a former grocery store, the Vestibule is the brainchild of Kascha Semonovitch and John Snavely, a couple who met in college on a field trip to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 

In 2022, a year after closing their first Ballard space, the couple opened what Semonovitch calls “Vestibule 2.0” to support creators through installation opportunities and cross-disciplinary events. 

“Our focus is 3D and installation art from the greater Pacific Northwest,” Semonovitch says. “We want to be a micro-cultural center, so we have poetry readings, panels and art that is interactive or changes over time.”

Two years later, the space hosts a monthly exhibition, with its current show, “Spring, Time” (through April 13), inviting artists to play with the relationship between the body and time. The eight participants (seven of whom are Northwest-based) present a surreal springtime tableau — Yeon Jin Kim’s video work has colorful creatures subverting food-chain expectations, Chris Copeland’s grass-growing machine blurs the lines between natural and built environments, and the spider-like machine in Kyung Jin Kim’s “Wishful Thinking” marks clay tiles that are glazed and fired. 

“I’m interested in time, philosophically,” Semonovitch says, “but I want to stand back and show what artists can bring to the table. When we put out this call asking about time, it was interesting to see a theme forming — we received a lot of submissions about the animal body and technologized body.”

The Vestibule, Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; 5919 15th Ave. N.W., Seattle; free; thevestibule.org

Das Schaufenster

German artist and gallerist Anna Mlasowsky has never been one to play by the rules. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and museums and galleries around Seattle started boarding up their windows, Mlasowsky decided to open hers up. At the time, she was living in a Ballard building with an empty storefront — a small space she figured could provide artists the opportunity to continue showing their work when so many prospects were disappearing. The result, Das Schaufenster, a German word meaning “viewing window” or “looking at window,” is a noncommercial gallery still in action today. 

“I had been frustrated with the opportunities that exist for artists,” says Mlasowsky, known for her experimental work with glass. “Often, a curator will have a vision for an exhibition and curate an artist’s work into a context they may not be comfortable in. I desired to create a space that included what I wanted to see in a gallery, such as freedom for the artist. Until the pandemic, I never had the time to pursue that.”

Operating on the corner of Northwest 61st Street and 14th Avenue Northwest (about a block from The Vestibule), Das Schaufenster has hosted group and solo shows since its opening, featuring work by artists from 27 states and 16 countries. (This year, Mlasowsky is focusing on Seattle-based artists.) As an immigrant, Mlasowsky finds it important to support creatives from outside the United States through gallery space and sponsoring artist visas. As a gallerist, she takes more of a hand-over-the-keys-and-stand-back approach.

“My curatorial mission is to have no curatorial mission,” she says. “This space is a platform for artists to do whatever they want.”

For April’s exhibition, “Language Forms,” Mlasowsky brought in Polish American artist and linguist Sylwia Tur, who presents a mix of old and new work that focuses on turning language into sculpture. 

“Sylwia plays with geometric forms that are an abstraction of letters in the alphabet with geometric shapes,” Mlasowsky says. “In combination, they make words in Polish, English and gibberish.”

Das Schaufenster: 6019 14th Ave. N.W., Seattle. All art is viewed from outside, free of charge, and art is viewable 24/7; annamlasowsky.com/dasschaufenster

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