New Gallery Portends Possibility

A preview of An Empty Vase

Dirk Park is getting in on the ground floor. Literally.

This month the local gallerist is opening Prole Drift, a new storefront exhibition space in the slow-growing Japantown section of the International District. It’s not the first time Park has taken such a big artistic risk. In 2004, he helped found Platform Gallery before leaving the next year to launch the Seattle-centric Aqua Art showcase at Art Basel Miami Beach with his wife, painter Jaq Chartier.

“I hadn’t been thinking of opening a regular gallery space,” Park said recently over a hot chai in Japantown’s Panama Hotel Café. “But the space just seemed to cry out for somebody to do it.”

Squeezed between an empty storefront and a long-standing barbershop, Prole Drift is small and reminiscent of a gallery on New York’s Lower East Side. The ceilings stretch to 16 ft., but the main gallery’s footprint is a modest 250 sq. ft. 

Yet its location, not its size, makes this space unique. Japantown is a somewhat derelict historical neighborhood that lacks the rich gallery history of Pioneer Square or the emergent cool of Capitol Hill. Whereas gallery space might rent for $20 to $30 per square foot in those neighborhoods, Park says that $12 per sq. ft. is the going rate in the ID. Lower rent combined with the neighborhood’s streetcar plans and new high-density residential zoning mean opportunity to Park.

“This has the potential to be a very dynamic, arts-oriented neighborhood,” he said. “Most other spaces in the city have gotten to that critical mass where ground floor space is at its highest possible market rate. If it’s just $500 per month to rent, it gives people opportunity.” Prole Drift’s first show, titled An Empty Vase, opens on Sept. 1 and will feature works by Matthew Offenbacher, Gretchen Bennett, Tim Cross, Nicholas Nyland, Chauney Peck and Jenny Heishman. Park will host a sneak peek of his gallery on Aug. 13 during Japantown’s monthly Nihonmachi Nites event.