Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Kristin Leong’s #AZNxBLM Project Draws Together Black and Asian American Artists

by Roxanne Ray

(This article was originally published by International Examiner and has been reprinted with permission.)


By now, most people have heard — or at least heard of — TED Talks. More recently, this Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) nonprofit foundation launched The Mystery Experiment, which granted $10,000 to 300 inspired participants, and in February, local KUOW community engagement producer Kristin Leong was awarded one of these grants.

The funding was a big surprise to Leong. “When TED shared their call for people to apply to be part of their Mystery Experiment, they were very vague about what the project was all about or what it would require of participants,” Leong said. “There was no mention of money at all.”

But that didn’t stop Leong from applying. “I replied to their mysterious call because I’ve had such a supportive and inspiring experience over the last four years as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator and because I believe in TED’s mission to amplify innovative and audacious ideas,” she said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into!”

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FICTION: Freedom Spring

by Kathya Alexander


The daffodils dance in the front yard like tornadoes. Red roses climb, wild, to the roof of our house. This Mother’s Day is alive with hope and with morning. ‘Cept for the slash that is running cross my Mama mouth. 

She kneading the dough for the biscuits for breakfast. She got the radio on, tune to WOKJ. That’s the radio station where my brother, Quint, is a DJ. They talking ‘bout the Freedom Riders, colored folks and whites riding buses down South from Washington D.C. to New Orleans. All of them is students. My Mama say, “This how these chir’en choose to spend they spring vacation? They ought to be home with they mamas.” Then she whip the dough like it’s the thing made her mad.

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Debuting Juneteenth, ‘Unmute The Voices’ Highlights Composers and Musicians of Color

by  Jasmine J. Mahmoud


I began playing violin at age three, and growing up I participated in orchestras from elementary through high school. These orchestras were highly diverse, with students from a variety of racial and economic backgrounds. And yet, the composers we performed — from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Debussy — were almost exclusively dead white men.

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Jourdan Imani Keith Releases Podcast Series Exploring the Link Between Orcas and Women

by Chamidae Ford


Seattle Civic Poet Jourdan Imani Keith, in partnership with Jack Straw Cultural Center and her cohort, Women and Whales First, Poetry in a Climate of Change, is releasing a limited podcast series by the same name. The series will feature seven episodes which will be released every Saturday, beginning on Juneteenth. 

The goal is to “bring awareness to the intersection of Orca Awareness Month and ancestral legacy,” Keith said.

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Multidisciplinary Artist Shontina Vernon and the Power of Story

by Beverly Aarons


Some birds aren’t meant to be caged — not by tiny steel bars and not by tiny forced narratives woven around their lives like intricate vines with pointy sharp thorns. As I listened to multidisciplinary artist Shontina Vernon tell me about her art — and by extension her life — during our telephone interview, I thought about how society’s carefully woven metastories threaten to confine us all like beautiful but trapped birds with very few of us daring an escape. Shontina Vernon is the one who got away.

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Drew Hobson: Let the Games Begin

by Kathya Alexander


When Drew Hobson got the opportunity to audition for a video game in 2012, he was thrilled. A self-described comic nerd, he was working with a children’s touring company when the theater’s director heard a video game company was having a hard time finding an African American voice for the lead character in a new game. The director immediately thought of Hobson. So Hobson recorded the audition on his home equipment and sent it in. 

“And I got the lead role. And it was amazing ’cause the lead role, where you start out at the first part of the game, and you can play all the way through the game, is African American.” 

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PONGO POETRY: My Once Upon a Time

Pongo Poetry Project’s mission is to engage youth in writing poetry to inspire healing and growth. For over 20 years, Pongo has mentored poetry with children at the Child Study Treatment Center (CSTC), the only state-run psychiatric hospital for youth in Washington State. Many CSTC youth are coping with severe emotional, behavioral, and mental health challenges. Approximately 40% of youth arrive at CSTC having been court ordered to get treatment; however, by the end of their stay, most youth residents become voluntary participants. Pongo believes there is power in creative expression, and articulating one’s pain to an empathetic audience. Through this special monthly column in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald, Pongo invites readers to bear witness to the pain, resilience, and creative capacity of youth whose voices and perspectives are too often relegated to the periphery. To enjoy more of the writing you see reflected below, order a copy of The Story of My Heart, Pongo’s 16th anthology of youth poetry.


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‘Look, Listen, and Learn’: A Long Journey to Award-Winning Television

by Beverly Aarons


Look, Listen, and Learn TV (LL+L), Seattle’s first and only early learning TV show created by a Black producer for BIPOC kids and families, brought home three Telly Awards. “I was stunned,” LL+L executive producer Val Thomas-Matson said during a telephone interview with the Emerald. She recounted the moment she received the award notice. “I was grateful. I was excited and just felt so validated in that moment.” But that moment almost never happened. For the better part of her youth, Thomas-Matson, who describes herself as a “recipient of [the] educational gap,” was wracked by shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. 

“I didn’t do very well in school,” said Thomas-Matson, who proudly announced during the interview that she’s “61 years young” and Seattle born and bred. “It takes a toll on you as a young person when you don’t meet with school success.” Thomas-Matson grew up in the Central District when it was an all Black neighborhood and attended “one of the least performing Seattle public schools.” That young girl could not have imagined she would go on to produce LL+L TV and win one Gold Telly Award for her first season, one Gold Telly Award for episode 7 “Don’t Touch My Fur” and one Silver Telly Award for the mini-episode “What Does ‘Black Lives Matter’ Mean?” 

Those kinds of dreams didn’t seem feasible for a young Thomas-Matson who had to grow up fast. She was the eldest and thrust into the role of parenting two siblings who had sickle cell anemia even though she was still a kid herself. “I had a lot of responsibility,” Thomas-Matson said, “and I just kind of had to grin and bear it, if you will, and do the best I could.” But it was a lot for a kid. Influenced by a logic only a child could make sense of, Thomas-Matson felt like the odd man out because she was the only person in her family who didn’t have sickle cell anemia. Meanwhile, her self-esteem was low because she wasn’t performing well in school. By the time she reached her teen years, Thomas-Matson’s self-worth had bottomed out. 

But then the words of a stranger touched her. 

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The Brand New Lilith Fair: Women in Music Collective’s Compilation Album Puts Female Artists First

by Dan Ray


I have visceral memories of being somewhere between six and ten years old, cringing in the backseat of my mom’s car as she belted Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery.” At the time, I saw my mother’s actions as nothing less than incredibly embarrassing. (Although, I — and most fellow millennials — was probably burned on McLachlan by those terrifying animal welfare commercials where “Angel” blared suddenly over the TV speakers, casting shame.)

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Seattle Opera Maestros of Color Explore Race and Gender in ‘View From the Pit’

by Mark Van Streefkerk


For over 400 years, opera has been an art form that encompasses vocal and orchestral music, storytelling, and visual art to explore the human condition — and in its beginnings, that meant the white, European human condition. Opera has since been written, performed, and loved by people around the world from many diverse cultures and ethnicities. In the 21st century, audiences and performers alike are increasingly acknowledging the historical racism, exoticism, and misogyny of opera’s traditional works and opening up doors for conversations about how to approach and interpret them. 

As part of Seattle Opera’s ongoing Community Conversations, last week the company presented a virtual panel discussion, The View From the Pit: Maestros on Race and Gender in Opera. The public webinar was moderated by Seattle Opera’s Director of Programs and Partnerships Alejandra Valarino Boyer, and featured maestros Kazem Abdullah, Viswa Subbaraman, and Judith Yan, conductors who have all worked with the Seattle Opera and internationally. The discussion covered a wide range of topics like representing marginalized people, finding liberatory spaces in opera, advice for other BIPOC artists, and how the conductors would like companies and audiences to approach challenging works. The discussion will soon be uploaded for viewing on Seattle Opera’s Community Conversations page. 

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