The second floor of the U.S. Rubber Building, at 321 Third Avenue South in Seattle's lusty Pioneer Square district, has been a teeming haven of artistic zealotry for nearly a decade. At present, however, there is a pallor over the once rosy-hued, joyfully productive artists' residences and workspaces. As already reported in The Stranger ["Rubber Meets the Road," Tom Francis, Jan 12], the majority of this floor's tenants, those occupying two large communal living spaces and one devoted theater space, are being evicted. Having lived in the strictly commercially zoned spaces under verbal agreements with our "master tenant" Max Karst for years, these evictions seem sudden, selective, and rotten. The last remaining occupants, myself included, who are refuting this current state of affairs—a dispute about the technicalities of the evictions is stalling the process—are seeking to maintain some level of dignity and not be made silent casualties of our landlord's personal/economical directives. What is being threatened at 321 is much greater than the displacement of one small circle of artists.
The six current/remaining tenants from our once-building-spanning community include members of experimental theater/movement ensemble Implied Violence, Butoh-affiliate performance group P.A.N., polemic party starters the Infernal Noise Brigade, art pop band the Dead Science, and street art/cultural disseminators No Touching Ground. More illustratively though, we represent the final installment/last vestiges of a rich continuum; a large number of revolving residents over the past several years who have filled their spaces with theater performances, installations, concerts, and events that blurred the lines between all of these. This was, prior to the current landlord's unsurprising if unfortunate and poorly executed gentrifying efforts, a space in which the artists' lifestyles could be explicitly and willfully intertwined with the impetus and development of our work, and in which unusual and unprecedented overlapping of disciplines could freely occur. It concretely fulfilled the very lofty ideal of how artists' communities should function.
Another important point is that this building, nigh unlivable though its conditions may be, is (read: was) nearly the only viable option for artists of our caste to live and produce work in the way we see fit. Governmentally subsidized artist live-work buildings like our near neighbor the Tashiro-Kaplan, which are theoretically designed to rescue displaced artists from the exact sort of gentrification we are presently experiencing at 321 and provide safe havens for developing new works, largely demand extensive credit and artistic resumé checks which severely define and limit the demographics of the artists they take in. Not only do our lives exist in degrees of poverty and transience that make having things like rich credit histories impossible, but a lot of the work that we produce is unorthodox and hard to translate to an artistic resumé. A genuinely brutal and thoroughly illegal back-alley boxing match between best friends, whose purpose was to disconcert and entertain a thoroughly captive audience via bloodlust, all the while expanding the sense of spectacle and wonderment via raining plagues of feathers, blood, bouncy balls, etc.—we staged this in the middle of the night over the summer—is much harder to delineate than, say, a sound-art installation in a gallery. The sorts of pieces we've been producing, while demanding just as much time and effort in their realization as any more "traditional" performance or installation art, are much harder to gain leverage from, in terms of reaping the resources the arts infrastructure has to provide. That said, the individuals who make up our rakish community are all dedicated to the work that we produce, and are all grant-writing and -receiving motherfuckers.
It should be understood that while we "live our art," our art is also extremely concerted and demanding work for us, and that as the audiences for what we do remain small and marginalized, we all proceed in the most unwaveringly self-motivated and DIY fashion imaginable. The work we all undertake for ourselves is serious beyond the bounds of any job or any ambition for personal gratification, and our current situation suggests a dire future for the gentrification not just of physical spaces, but of the very types of artists that are deemed worthy of support.