UN-[TITLED] Project Reflects on Gentrification in CID and Central District

by Amanda Ong

From March 23 to March 26, On the Boards will present the UN-[TITLED] Project, a multi-site project at Wa Na Wari and Inscape Arts to immersively engage with gentrification, displacement, community meaning, cultural memory, and healing in the Central District and the Chinatown-International District (CID). The project was conceived, created, and curated by Berette S Macaulay, with the partnership of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Vanishing Seattle, The Sankofa Theater, and Arte Noir. Although her background includes places as diverse as her birthplace of Sierra Leone, the U.K., Jamaica, and Manhattan, Macaulay knew she wanted to create a piece deeply rooted in local Seattle stories.

Macaulay wanted to focus the project on the people who are most often marginalized by gentrification. In addition to theater and movement, the project will include oral histories from residents who grew up in the surrounding areas, many of whom have been displaced further to South Seattle and have witnessed the development of the Central District and CID throughout their lives. The title of the project refers to property ownership as holding the ultimate power under capitalism — to own a property is to have the “title,” and thus, the project is UN-[TITLED]. The project also includes a map that was designed as a “cartography of memory” by architect Margaret Knight. The map reflects on local cultural memory at different sites, as well as the history of redlining in the areas.

“A lot of the people who come from these neighborhoods don’t live in these neighborhoods. They live in South Seattle, they live in the greater Seattle area, they’ve been pushed out to the margins quite literally,” Macaulay said. “There’s isolation there that happens, there’s memory loss that happens. And these are all of the effects of gentrification that the project is questioning.” 

Laurie Allison Wilson (pictured) is one of the first licensed African American women architects in the state. She is a spatial thought-partner and collaborator to UN-[TITLED]. (Photo by Berette S Macaulay)

An immersive series, UN-[TITLED] attends to the effects, the losses, and the economic pressures of gentrification, but also how communities maintain their cultural legacies despite development. The project has been a collaboration between local theater and community artists, such as composer Benjamin Hunter, movement director Nia-Amina Minor, theater artist Tom Pearson of Third Rail Projects, and poet Kamari Bright

Macaulay proposed the project as a part of a curatorial fellowship at On the Boards. She knew she wanted the project to be a multi-site experience and has curated the project at Inscape Arts in the CID and at Wa Na Wari in the Central District, even incorporating the shuttle ride between both sites as a part of the experience.

UN-[TITLED] collaborators meet at Wa Na Wari. From left to right: Margaret Knight (architectural collaborator), Katrina Reid (community member and director, choreographer, and dancer), Benjamin Hunter (composer), Berette S Macaulay (project organizer, curator, and dramaturg), Stephanie Johnson-Toliver (director of the Black Heritage Society of Washington), Tara Tamaribuchi (Friends of Inscape Collaborator and Inscape artist tenant), Cynthia Brothers (director of Vanishing Seattle), and Tom Pearson (experience design and choreographic collaborator). (Photo: Clare Hatlo)

“Because the pedagogy of the project is about community and about sites that are at risk, I knew I wanted to have the contrast of being in a space that was at risk for being lost, that held significant histories for a particular community,” Macaulay said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “And to juxtapose that with a space or a site that was hanging on and serving the community as a site of intervention, a site of resistance, and a site of reclamation.”

While the project hasn’t yet launched, it’s clear that it is expansive, with multiple sites, community partners, and material ranging from oral histories, music, and theater to cartography and art. All facets of the project have centered around community members facing the threat of gentrification. But make no mistake, the UN-[TITLED] Project is aware of its own limits.

“We’re not solving gentrification here, we cannot do that,” Macaulay said. “These conversations and reckonings are not made to be intellectual, they’re made for people to feel things. And then they will know how they’re going to act from that feeling, because it will be a personal activation and motivation.”

While the UN-[TITLED] Project is currently deeply rooted in Seattle and, more specifically, the CID and the Central District, Macaulay plans to take the project to New York next, with the help of her collaborator Tom Pearson of Third Rail Projects. While this feels like a major shift, the themes of the UN-[TITLED] Project and the impacts of gentrification are connections across the country.

“Everybody knows what a memory is of their street block. Everybody knows the smell of apple pie or the sound of an ice cream truck,” Macaulay said. “Everybody knows what it is to have a compass that gets activated because of a memory of where you grew up; even developers know what memory [can do] just as much as dispersed people [do]. And this is what I’m interested in; a shift in that kind of consciousness is more useful than people being pummeled with research information.”

There will be six UN-[TITLED] Project showings between March 23 and March 26. Showtimes and tickets are available through the On the Boards website.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: UN-[TITLED] explores displacement and gentrification in Seattle’s Central District and the Chinatown-International District through theater, movement, poetry, and oral histories. (Photo: Berette S Macaulay; Logo: Stephen Christian at Starcore Productions)

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