Joel DeJong, founder of the South End’s Crowdsource Choir, a non-religious and non-commitment-orientated singing group, remembers a night in 2017 on the light rail train. He and his wife were on their way home around midnight after seeing the famed rock group U2 at CenturyLink Field with a crowd of many thousands. But on the train, DeJong noticed, everyone was on their phones, removed from one another. So, like one does, he started singing Bono’s lyrics.
Should I stay or should I go? Be there or not to be there? Speak up or be silent? The characters in Tony Kushner’s drama A Bright Room Called Day ask themselves these questions and many others, but not at the beginning of the play. The audience, by extension, may ask themselves the same questions.
In August, Columbia City and Hillman City received an historic honor: a prestigious Arts & Cultural District designation from Mayor Jenny Durkan. Now forever linked—and not just by Rainier Avenue—the two diverse, multicultural neighborhoods, which are comprised of about 13,000 people, can further showcase their dozens of art and music venues—from the Columbia City Theater to the Royal Room and the soon-to-be-opened Black and Tan Hall. To get a sense of what this new arts and culture designation means for the area exactly, the South Seattle Emerald reached out to Kathy Fowells, Director of SEEDArts, which was one of the many organizations responsible for getting the initiative to the Mayor’s office. Fowells discussed what the future holds for the neighborhoods, what an arts app might look for them and much more.
You may remember hearing of the Seattle Realist Artists in February when wereportedon their first exhibition at the Hillman City Collaboratory. The inaugural exhibit featured a group of students, emerging and professional artists, all of whom showcased a range of work on sale to the public.Continue reading Art Exhibit Returns Realism to Hillman City→
At the behest of the Emerald editor (such a demanding boss) I recently found myself ensconced at the Slow Boat Tavern, a newish addition to the Hillman City business family. It’s a long, narrow space, easily accommodating the surprisingly bustling Friday night crowd in residence. I’d characterize the crowd as more Georgetown than at the Union Bar down the street but that may have been due to the motorcycle helmet sitting on the bar. The only thing missing, in my opinion, is a shuffleboard table although I’m not sure where they’d put it.Continue reading Hillman’s Slow Boat Tavern: A Place for “Beer Nuts”→
If you spend much time on Rainier Avenue between Brandon St and Mead, you’ve probably seen my friend Joe. He’s out on the sidewalk, most every day, carefully sweeping up leaves and acorns dropped by the huge oaks on our stretch of Rainier Ave. It warms my heart each time I see him out there with his busted-up old broom, keeping the sidewalks clear for all the walkers, showing such respect for this little neighborhood and its inhabitants; like he’s caring for the streets, the trees and the pedestrians all at once – in one big, plastic-bristled swoop. Continue reading Hillman City Rhapsody: Homelessness, Hope and Gentrification→
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The flourishing Hillman City business district reminds one of a tenacious wild flower, sprouting up between the cracks in the sidewalk. The energy of the neighborhood and its local entrepreneurs is in stark contrast to the derelict buildings and deserted businesses one might have previously rushed past on their way to the well-established Columbia City business district scant blocks away. The hope of this fledgling strip of independent entrepreneurs is that you will forgo your familiar, fast paced visit to Starbucks and instead take a few moments to chat up your neighbors at the Tin Umbrella or sample the seasonal menu at the Union Bar while testing your trivia knowledge (note that a yoga class at Rocket Crossfit may be in order afterwards). It may take a few moments longer to get your coffee but as you leave you’ll feel like you just left a friend’s living room and yes, their baby is indeed eating Cheerios off the floor.
The newest additions to the growing business community in this neighborhood include a home furnishing store & a soon to open rotisserie chicken restaurant with outdoor seating. These join, among other neighbors, a thrift store, a halal pizza café, a martial arts academy and a local brewery. Nestled amongst these locally grown endeavors is a gem of an idea, the Hillman City Collaboratory (http://hillmancitycollaboratory.org/).
The Collaboratory, self-described as an “Incubator for Social Change” offers shared office space, mixing chamber (a large, multi-purpose area), learning kitchen, community garden and drop in center. Drop in hours are Monday through Friday from 10-2 while partners have access anytime. The idea is that dreamers and doers have a place to go, echoing the vibrant spirit of the neighborhood. The community building HCC has become a pick up location for a local CSA (http://www.farmigo.com/join/growingwashington/summer2014), offered organic gardening classes, hosted fundraisers and are possible future partners with Families of Color Seattle (http://focseattle.com/). FOC Seattle hopes to partner with the HCC to open a Cultural Cornerstone Café in the fall, hosting multilingual family events for the community. The Hillman City Collaboratory seems to represent the very earnest spirit of regrowth throughout the neighborhood, bringing light back to what had been in shadows.
Robin Boland is a contributing columnist, South Seattle Enthusiast, and is often referred to as “little bird” by friends of hers with heights over 5 ft 7
Editor’s Note: The article was heavily influenced by the following poem
The Rose That Grew From Concrete
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle