Seattle’s Space Agency


The Cultural Space Agency, a values-based, arts-oriented real-estate development company, aspires to become a significant presence in the city’s landscape. Since its establishment in 2020 as a public development authority, the agency has undertaken cultural real-estate projects that address the needs and aspirations of communities disproportionately impacted by institutional racism. Its mission is to promote community wealth by investing in cultural spaces and fostering collaboration with commercial real-estate developers and cultural community stakeholders. It has met with a fair amount of success.

Matthew Richter, the originator and co-founder (now senior adviser) of the Cultural Space Agency, cites insights from an early inventory he conducted during his time giving birth to CSA. The data revealed that while approximately 70% of Seattle’s residents identified as white at that time, 94% of the cultural spaces were categorized as white cultural spaces. In effect, 30% of the city’s population was represented at just 6% of its cultural spaces.

While working as the Cultural Space Liaison for the Seattle Arts and Cultural Affairs Office, Richter fielded numerous calls from individuals facing landlords who refused to rent, presumably for racial reasons. Unlike with residential leasing, which is protected by fair housing laws, there is no specific protection against this kind of discrimination in commercial leasing.

Richter and his team began designing solutions. One involved creating an entity that trusts artists and communities of color, including Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities. This approach ultimately led to the establishment of the Cultural Space Agency.

Since its launch in 2020, the Agency has been involved in several projects. It secured the ground floor of King Street Station on Jackson Street in Pioneer Square, establishing “Station Space” last year as a youth arts empowerment lab. The space collaborates with organizations such as Totem Star, Rhapsody Project, Red Eagle Soaring, and Wh!psmart. Through a lease negotiation with the City, Station Space will operate rent-free for the next 60 years. It’s geared toward providing creative and cultural space for youth groups, targeting underserved Indigenous people and communities of color.

“There is a lot of energy around it,” Richter said. “You go down there now and there’s, like, music classes happening in the music room, rehearsals happening in the theater, recordings happening in the studio — all at the same time. It benefits so many people.”

Richter describes the agency he founded but no longer runs as an “intersection,” a dynamic hub where various elements converge to create a vibrant tapestry. Unlike traditional real-estate entities focused on making money, the Cultural Space Agency is chartered to focus on cultural enrichment for diverse audiences.

The Agency is driven by a group of BIPOC stakeholders known as The Constituency, comprising approximately 60 members and drawn from leaders in culturally diverse communities who hold significant positions in fields such as commercial real estate, arts and culture, community development, philanthropy, and finance. Richter says their role involves advising on projects.

They aim to foster inclusivity, amplify underrepresented voices, and provide creative and cultural spaces for youth groups. Fundraising is essential for their initiatives, and Richter says there are currently about 20 projects underway. The agency has raised about $26 million from donations. “The Space Agency doesn’t sit on big piles of money,” Richter observes. “Wherever the money comes in, that’s the project that happens.”

Olisa Enrico, executive director of the Cultural Space Agency, told me that one of the huge challenges in securing long-term cultural space is capacity, and a new program called Beyond the BASE will be key to raising support. That program marries community needs with expert resources. Members of the Constituency undergo specialized training to form a professional consultancy, advising on all aspects of cultural space development.  

Considering that Cultural Space Agency projects are deeply intertwined with emotions, personal experiences, and community impact, success is not quantified in financial terms. Its new metrics include social influence, community engagement, and artistic vibrancy. Richter says he assesses success through relationships, particularly evaluating whether trust is established during project collaboration and whether ownership and agency are strengthened within projects. Here, “agency” refers to the ability to make choices and act, signifying both personal empowerment and organizational confidence.  

“The measure of most real-estate organizations is ‘Do you own more real estate?’ But the measure of the cultural agency is ‘Does it pass that ownership to other organizations every year?’” Richter explains, citing as an authority Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.

Having a diverse background as an artist, educator, and administrator, Enrico cited the significance of collaboration and relationships for cultural leaders aiming to create meaningful change. She said that success is tied to building strong connections. “The only way those doors got opened for my organizations and the Cultural Space Agency was through building collaborative relationships,” Enrico said.

Mao Hashio
Mao Hashio
The author is a student at the U.W's News Lab program. 


  1. Matt Richter is a fine community asset, and I hope these times of dropping rents will enable more cultural spaces. I recall fondly how Matt helped me to find the first home for Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum in the downtown YMCA, where we spent the first years before moving Folio to the Pike Place Market.


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