Artist Studios Seek to Inspire “Hillman Renaissance”

by Marcus Harrison Green

The Harlem Renaissance by A.V. Motley Jr
The Harlem Renaissance by A.V. Motley Jr

Once it was the scourge of otherwise grand surroundings; the geographic pariah that made the city that sired it cringe at being forced to claim paternity of the warped offspring. The almost ceaseless violence that flooded its streets seeped into the psyche of all its inhabitants and tinged all social contact with fear. Those who warily called it home used the word as mere euphemism for a repository of destitution, anxiety, and horror. A neglected silo absent of opportunity and hope, with commerce reduced to the peddling of human flesh to satisfy the indulgences of carnal desires and urban opiate to compensate for the lack of more ambitious ones. That it was beyond rehabilitation seemed incontrovertible fact. That it was unworthy of it accepted gospel.

But a curious thing happened on its way to perpetual squalor, artists who straddled the worlds of literature, music, poetry, and dance found refuge in its borders. Their presence was felt only gradually at first, the pace of their activity moving no faster than honey’s trickle, but inevitably the indelible work they spawned proved a more transformative tool than any found at a foreman’s disposal, as they helped to craft what became recognized as America’s epicenter of cultural opulence.

And while history grows ever ignorant of Harlem’s dimmer days, preferring to rely tales from its golden era during this Harlem Renaissance period, it is the focus on this earlier era, that has inspired a laudable attempt at luring artists to the Hillman City neighborhood.

To be clear, even at its worst, Hillman City – often referred to by uninformed South Seattleites as: “That junction between Rainier Beach and Columbia City”- never matched the complete desolation found in Harlem prior to its metamorphosis, however it does share more with the area during that time frame than just commencing its name with the same consonant, as for some time economic stagnation and derelict scenery had come to define the area’s prospects.

Recently, however, a proliferation of new businesses, co-operatives, and restaurants have littered the blocks of the unsung neighborhood, and while their influx into the community has certainly sparked a long sought optimism in its residents, it’s total renaissance remains incomplete. This is something that Jerri Plumridge, SEEDArts Director, hopes to remedy as she borrows the same formula that lifted New York’s most famous borough out of its depravity during its artist fueled resurgence, in opening up SEEDArts Studios in the heart of Hillman City.

“We believe that art can act as a tool for transformation and we think having artists of diverse disciplines housed in Hillman will help to revitalize this area,” says Plumridge who had been working to establish an artist studio in South Seattle since the early 1990’s.

The SeedArts Studios, which will be housed right above the the Collaboratory on Rainier Avenue South and compliment the Columbia City Gallery and the Rainier Valley Cultural Center as South Seattle art hubs, will feature 22 artist workspaces , each replete with full spectrum LED lighting,a large window, new flooring and fresh paint, but it is the opportunity for collaboration amongst artists and the neighborhood that houses the facility that most excites Plumridge.

“There’s a lot of movement going on (in Hillman City) at the moment and we really want artists here who can be a part of that and help build on what’s already been established here. We want this place to be looked at as nexus of creativity in the area, and want art that is inspired by, produced and presented in this area.”

The artist units-ranging in price from $200 to $500 depending on the size – have already sparked interest from creative types from all over the region looking to be on the upper floor of an impending watershed moment in the Seattle arts world.

“The response has been outstanding,” says Plumridge, as applications continue to flood in (prior to the conclusion of the submission period at the end of the month). “As brilliant as artists are, we don’t just need them to make wonderful art, or write tremendous prose…We need them to use some of their creativity in creating Hillman as a vibrant place that, yes, can rival Harlem in its day!”

For more information about SEED Arts Studios call 206-349-6480 or email studios@seedseattle.org

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