Photo depicting an exterior shot of MOHAI light up during an early evening.

Black Heritage Society Partners With MOHAI to Host Black Architects and Community Event

by Ronnie Estoque

On Saturday, Feb. 11, the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) will be partnering with the Black Heritage Society of Washington State (BHS) to host a community event titled Building with Purpose: Black Architects and Community Agency from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m at the MOHAI Microsoft Lakefront Pavilion. The event will feature On the Boards curatorial fellow Berette Macaulay, Revere XR founder Yolanda Barton, Vanishing Seattle founder Cynthia Brothers, architect Laurie Allison Wilson, and museum consultant Jackie Peterson. Rachel Spence is a programs manager at MOHAI and helped organize the event alongside BHS President Stephanie Johnson-Toliver.

“We’re grateful to be in partnership with BHS and feel honored to help facilitate conversations around equitable development and the role of Black architects in creating a livable city,” Spence said. “We hope our audience goes away feeling connected to their built environments, and that they feel inspired to fight for community-driven development.”

BHS and MOHAI have been partners for more than 25 years and share archives in the same repository. BHS, founded in 1977, also manages the largest public collection of African American memorabilia in Washington State. Johnson-Toliver has resided in the Central District of Seattle for 30 years and has seen firsthand how development has drastically changed her neighborhood.

“I know that [gentrification]is not an experience that’s unique to the Central District. Around the City of Seattle, outside the immediate community, our region, and then even nationally, where you see this topic coming up,” Johnson-Toliver said. “Where there are historic districts within the city, designated historic districts, there are design reviews for those historic districts, and how do we hold our developers and architects’ feet to the fire following those reviews.”

According to Johnson-Toliver, this event took nearly six months to fully plan. BHS and MOHAI collaborate on an annual Black History Month Program, and MOHAI had also sought to create an event that would tie into their special exhibit titled “From the Ground Up: Black Architects and Designers.

“Stephanie confirmed with the various speakers while MOHAI handled the logistical organizing. Stephanie drove the vision for the content and themes of the program,” Spence said. “Throughout the entire planning process, we stayed in touch and talked through how the program shifted, changed, and deepened as new speakers were added.”

One of the speakers Johnson-Toliver invited to speak at the event was Macaulay, who is a multidisciplinary artist and organizer of UN-[TITLED], an immersive, multidisciplinary theatrical work that dives deeper into the issue of gentrification in Seattle. As a site-specific event, attendees will be experiencing spaces intentionally created at International District Inscape Arts and Cultural Center (a former detention center) and Central District’s Wa Na Wari.

Brothers is one of the research consultants for UN-[TITLED] and has comprehensively documented various restaurants, businesses, and spaces across Seattle that have “vanished” due to development or have “unvanished” and returned. Wilson serves as a consultant guide, and architect Margaret Knight is also assisting with design.

“Dealing with a subject like gentrification is one that is very complicated, and one that I see that implicates everyone. We usually talk about it in terms of the bad guys and the victims,” Macaulay said. “I am seeking how people can have a discussion in between those two points, and how people who normally aren’t in the room together can meet at these contentious points. Because gentrification actually affects everyone.”

The program on Saturday will also feature the showing of Character Matters by Converge Media. A conversation around neighborhood environments will follow, followed in turn by video remarks from Burton on VR as a storytelling and architectural tool. The cost of attending the event is included with the museum admission and is free to both MOHAI and BHS members.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: The exterior of MOHAI at nighttime. (Photo courtesy of MOHAI.)

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