Salon-Style Series Supports Southeast Seattle Artists and Connects Community

by Mark Van Streefkerk

The Social is a new monthly online program that features Southeast Seattle artists, musicians, and performers. Hosted by the Columbia Hillman Arts and Cultural District, the first episode premieres Saturday, June 13, at 8 p.m. on their Facebook page. The Social will feature music, dance, spoken word, and visual art, all “from a red couch in the 98118.”

Benjamin Hunter, musician, educator, and co-chair of Columbia Hillman Arts and Cultural District, got the idea for a variety show of local talent after seeing his peers perform on Facebook Live for donations. “When COVID struck, I was seeing a lot of my colleagues online doing these busking sessions basically, where they were playing in front of their computer or their phone for an hour every day, trying to make a couple bucks,” he remembered. “That brought up a lot of emotions for me. As a musician I was like, ‘Is this what it’s come to?’”

Instead of watching performers go at it on their own, Hunter wanted to create a more centralized platform and event to support the arts community. Artists who submit work to The Social have “the opportunity to create their own space, and videotape not just their song or their poem or their dance, but have some sort of artistic control over how they want to present themselves, and let us be the conduit for getting that out in the world, maximizing its exposure by joining it with other forms of art,” Hunter explained.

Hunter hopes The Social will carve out a space for pause and reflection that “stimulate a larger part of our soul, and not just fill the void of not being entertained.”

The theme of the first episode is COMFORT/DISCOMFORT, a topic generated in response to COVID-19 quarantine but flexible enough to address issues of privilege and equity brought up by the global protests for Black lives and against police brutality. Included in Episode 1 is the West African music of Djely Aboubacar “Boka” Kouyaté and The Djeliyah Band, Eli Rosenblatt’s explorations of Latin American, African, and Klezmer music, Daemon Arrindell’s spoken word poetry, pianist and songwriter Jen Ayers, dancer Cipher Goings, and Amaranta Ibarra’s visual art.

Presenting visual art can be challenging for streaming, but Ibarra’s pieces are a welcome pause in the programming, recorded with the artist’s commentary in Spanish.

Hunter has worked with most of the artists and performers before, like Arindell, whose “words are thought-provoking, and often can cut like a knife,” and Goings, who was one of the dancers in Black Bois, which Hunter composed original music for.

Members of the Columbia Hillman Arts and Cultural District will take turns introducing each artist. Footage of South Seattle will be shown throughout the program, including street art made during the protests and actions from the last two weeks accompanied by music from Hunter. After the episode debuts Saturday, it will be submitted to The Northwest Arts Streaming Hub, which connects artists and audiences in the Pacific Northwest, to be archived for future viewers.

Artists included in The Social are paid by the Columbia Hillman Arts and Cultural District and will receive 80 percent of donations received during the viewing. The remaining 20 percent of donations will go to the Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County Freedom Fund.

Hunter is hopeful that with the right amount of community engagement, The Social might turn into a biweekly, or even weekly event.

“Art in itself is about sharing oneself, and I think that’s what we’re really trying to capture with this,” Hunter observed. “We rely on it. We didn’t know that we relied so much on it before COVID-19, before we were isolated, before we were lonely, before we couldn’t socialize. All of a sudden, people craved art in a certain way that was more than just buying it.”

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. 


Featured image by Hannah Letinich

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