Fill in the blank.
  • The Stranger
  • Fill in the blank.
"The waterfront will define this city for the next hundred years the way the Space Needle has for the last 50," began Seattle Arts Commission chair Jon Rosen at last night's meeting at Town Hall. This meeting was the public's first chance to talk about how art, music, theater, and dance might happen down at the new waterfront being designed by James Corner—and to meet the new on-the-ground leader for the process, Eric Fredericksen.

Speaking in tandem with Tomato partner Michael Horsham, another member of Corner's team, Fredericksen described potential locations for art, culture, and entertainment (a pier at the base of South Main Street being the largest single space), and potential themes—Seattle returning to its origins on the water, a new front door for the city, the port as a place of work, multiple cultures, perpetual exchange.

Dark and stormy images were projected with words superimposed ("A PLACE OF WORK," "MULTICULTURE," "SURFACE"), including a scene from a December 1993 concert of Nirvana playing for an MTV taping down on Pier 48, in a warehouse that was recently demolished.

"It's not just about sculptural installations or programming alone—we want to cover the waterfront in this way," Fredericksen said. He and Horsham threw out ideas ranging from a shipwreck to film and video, staging, light works, iconic sculpture, acoustic and sound pieces, "speleological situations," and the revealing of the displaced forests of historical pilings at the waterfront—and asked people to think even more broadly.

With that, the action began. Tables were covered with maps of the waterfront, and people gathered around to mark up the maps and to share ideas verbally, with notetakers scribbling frantically on easel pads.

Marking up the waterfront.
  • The Stranger
  • Marking up the waterfront.
There were probably at least 200 people there. Public meetings in which hundreds of people are invited to share their ideas about art are in some ways inevitably annoying. Consensus is not a particularly good delivery system for art.

And there are procedural mysteries: How will all of this be funded? Much of what needs creating are spaces where art can happen, but public art funds don't cover architecture (I'd like to see this reconsidered). "New perpetual funding resources are needed," said public artist Jack Mackie. "What about a percent for art applied to private businesses who will see a windfall down here?"

Also, are we early in the design process or late? The viaduct is being torn down now: One idea, from Seattle artist Buster Simpson, calls for a couple of columns from the viaduct to be left up as ruins. Simpson also asked whether the concrete from the viaduct could be used in future construction rather than trucked entirely away. Are these things, or ideas like them, even possible given the speed with which things are already underway down on the waterfront?

Simpson complained that the meeting represented a process of "manufactured consent!" He called Corner "a control freak" who has hired non-public art professionals. The broader tension was reflected on an easel pad at another table, which read "More international artists" on one line, then the next line, "Uniquely Seattle programs." What else is new? (The next waterfront meeting, to be held at 5:30 pm March 14 at Town Hall, is themed "Uniquely Seattle." I think a better title would be "Uniquely Seattle?")

Ideas flowed despite the questions and conflicts. Several groups suggested some kind of installation marking the shoreline that existed when Seattle was first founded. Flexibility was also a priority: creating spaces that could be used for, say, performance, but also for just sitting and taking in the views. "I'd like to see the natural systems start to fold into the art systems," said public artist and Seattle arts commisisoner Dan Corson. Another man called for participatory aspects, such as oral history booths. Several groups warned about oversanitizing what is, after all, a working waterfront.

Reconnection with the water itself was a major theme—both physically and also symbolically, the water as a gateway to adventure and journey. What about a video feed from under a pier? "What about the other 10 months?" someone asked, reminding the designers to keep the rain in mind.

Reuniting the whole group to close the meeting, notetakers listed off ideas:

"The road itself can be art."
"Art that changes because of its viewers."
"Art plus bikes—how can art be motion-activated?"
"More than buskers! This place as the city's open-mic night."
"A place for our city's own residents to express themselves, not just go to see other people's art."
"We need to focus not just on the end state but this whole period of potential construction—taking advantage of this transformation as it's happening."
"Not plop art."
"Not too suave."
"How can art draw people down to the very edge of the water?"
"It's all about the water."

Landscape and urban designer Cary Moon was one of the notetakers, and she said there was one idea "that we have to do": A giant Irish wake, with a parade, when the last of the viaduct comes down.