Amidst all the construction and Honey Buckets on the Broadway mixed-used development and plaza just above the Capitol Hill Link station, public art is quietly blooming.
As part of the AIDS Memorial Pathway (AMP) project, last December saw the installation of the poet and interdisciplinary artist Storme Webber's "In This Way We Loved One Another" inside the Community Roots Housing’s Station House. Fashioned as a tribute to the missing narratives of women and Black people lost to the AIDS crisis, the installation is viewable to the public from the street on E John.
And last Friday, crews installed one group of Seattle-based design practice Civilization's three groups of statues called "We’re Already Here." Placed on the north end of the plaza, the south end of the plaza, and near the edge of Cal Anderson Park, the statues resemble protest signs that evoke "historic moments of public convergence."
Webber's and Civilization's pieces are two of four planned artworks on the $2.9 million AMP, a public art project memorializing the history of Seattle's AIDS crisis. Initiated in 2015, the project is jointly funded by Sound Transit, Seattle Department of Transportation, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, Seattle Parks Foundation, developer Gerding Edlen, and community fundraising efforts.
"We're in this interesting dilemma of being in a pandemic as we're memorializing a previous pandemic," said Jason Plourde, manager of the AMP Project, during a recent phone interview. "It's interesting to see how those messages are important to have [right now]."
In trying to create a memorial to the lives lost to the AIDS crisis, Plourde said the team wanted to switch up expectations of what a public memorial could be. While many people associate the word "memorial" with a monochromatic somberness and starkness, he saw it as an opportunity to showcase new perspectives and elements that can generate a different way to remember this important period in history.
"The AMP is acknowledging that there's grief and sadness, of course, [but also] there's a history of people coming together to support each other in a time of crisis," he said. "And celebrating the creativity not only of the people that we lost and what they brought to the world, but the creative ways that we had collective actions and made positive change."
Each of the bright, smooth signs made by Civilization have two messages embossed on either side. At a press conference last week, Corey Gutch of Civilization told me the phrases were taken from historical videos and images from collective actions that occurred during the AIDS crisis in the area.
A blue sign screams, "WHERE IS YOUR RAGE?" while an orange one exclaims in Spanish, "¡EL SIDA ES UN CRISIS GLOBAL!" A mint green sign proclaims "LIVING WITH AIDS," and the pink one next to it says "ACTION = LIFE." All signs have the words written on a plaque at the base, accompanied by a braille translation.
"Protests and demonstrations were a very important central part of the AIDS crisis," said Gutch. "That was how people got word about how to take care of yourself and also how to create systemic change around AIDS and HIV."
Though it was difficult to have a truly emotional response to "We're Already Here" while standing in a construction zone, I teared up reading the messages etched into the sculptures. Their proximity to the area formerly known as Capitol Hill Organized Protest, of course, evokes the emotion and collective action spurred by the killing of George Floyd this summer.
The signs' messages (OUTRAGE OUTRAGE OUTRAGE, ACTION= LIFE) resonate within Capitol Hill as a historically queer neighborhood, but also as a site of mass protest. While the city readily demonstrated its ability to sweep away the posters, signs, and other ephemera associated with CHOP, the installation of these protest signs feels refreshingly permanent.
Stromberg and Gutch said they plan on installing the last two sculpture groupings by the end of this month.
Next up on the docket for the AMP is Christopher Paul Jordan's "andimgonnamisseverybody," a 20-foot tall sculpture composed of silent speakers in the shape of an X (or a positive sign on its side) placed in the center of the plaza. After, Horatio Hung-Yan Law will install his series of human-sized illuminated sculptures called "Ribbon of Light" in Cal Anderson Park. The goal is to have these up in time for Pride in June—fingers crossed we can celebrate together.