Good afternoon from the intersection of arts, business, and downtown "revitalization."
On Saturday, the city's Seattle Restored project officially went live. The new program connects artists and entrepreneurs—with an emphasis on artists and entrepreneurs of color—to property owners of vacant storefronts in downtown neighborhoods for short term "activations." Conceived during the Durkan administration, the Office of Economic Development partnered with business coalition Seattle Good Business Network, arts organization Shunpike, and real estate broker Susanna Tran to build the program.
According to Seattle Restored's website, the project's goal is to create "vibrant and engaging streetscapes that encourage the public to visit downtown Seattle, support local businesses and support local artists." And it comes at a time when fretting over downtown safety is at an all-time fever pitch from TV news stations and city officials alike.
These "activations" will run from two to four months and encompass both pop-up stores and art installations viewable from the street. Funded by the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which is part of the American Rescue Plan, selected participants receive $2,500 in working capital. Landlords get kicked $1,500 (plus $250 for utilities) for hosting the artists/entrepreneurs.
Out of hundreds of applications, only 30 small business owners and artists were chosen. As of today, around a third of those "activations" have either been announced or gone live, spread from the Pike/Pine retail core to Pioneer Square and through Chinatown-International District. The rest of the "activations" will roll out over the course of the month, but here's what we got so far:
Art pop-up flower flower, a neighborhood arts "greenhouse" founded by a collective of queer, trans, Pasifika and Asian artists Screen-printing workshop and co-working space Soulvenir, which "focuses on Vietnamese culture, history & individuals through clothing, art, and design" Inside, a pop-up selling "self-care" products, events, and classes African streetwear store, TASWIRA, which sells handmade products made in collaboration with the Women's Empowerment Center in Mombasa, Kenya And window art installations from Soo Hong, Nikita Ares, 404 Studio, MonieLove, Damon Brown, and artist duo Lumi.
I'm quite a big fan of Seattle-area artist Soo Hong and her dreamy, inky paintings. As part of Seattle Restored, Hong's art installation in a window display on Fourth Ave—Lockdown Vista—is composed of three giant vibrant works (above) that riff on Edvard Munch's woozy landscapes and drippy East Asian botanical ink-wash paintings. Similarly, I'm keen to check out 404 Studio's Burst Out of Your Bubble installation on Second Ave, composed of—you guessed it—bubbles as both a commentary on isolation and the ephemeral.
While I remain skeptical of the city using art and minority-owned small businesses as a way to shield downtown storefronts, I am happy any time artists get compensated and have their work displayed in prominent yet unconventional spots around town. I'll keep my eye out for more art installations announced as part of the project—you can expect to hear more from me on this later.
Get more information about Seattle Restored here.