April 22, 2015

Is That All There Is?

“Let’s meet at The Boom.”  I can’t count how many times I’ve said that to someone, and they knew exactly what I was talking about. You know it, too.  It’s become a landmark, a well-known and beloved backdrop to Cal Anderson Park, a cultural icon.

You can’t set out to make art into an icon. I’m sure there are some marketing whizzes out there that could school me on the science of taking criteria and filtering through an algorithm to turn out a crowd-pleasing widget.  (I’m pretty sure this is how one-hit-wonders are born.)  But a true icon worth its salt can’t be forced – people just feel and embrace it, and it becomes so. It’s a blend of the right energy at the right time, met with a little bit of magic.  And I boldly say that yes, Boom! is, or was, a cultural icon.  How do I know this? Do a quick Google Images search of “boom! Capitol hill Seattle wall” and just see what you find: it’s a topic on several Flickr collections;  it has filled many a Facebook feed with photos of people covering their ears, running for their lives, jumping, etc;  it’s been used as a backdrop for a number of couples’ engagement portraits - though I wonder about their photographers, who carefully copyright their own photos, but don’t consider any copyright or attribution of the artwork itself (I digress); it has even figured in a couple of homegrown music videos and a Riz Rollins love-letter to Seattle.

Even I couldn't resist interacting with the art, along with a few of my Sound Transit cohorts. Photo © 2010 Reb Roush

This artwork has always been a favorite for me as well.  It’s real title is “Is That All There is?” which was inspired by the Peggy Lee song of the same name.  In the song, Ms. Lee expresses how greatly underwhelmed she is over seemingly big milestones of life – a tragic event, first love, and ultimately, death.  Artist Tim Marsden takes that idea and applies it to his 3-dimensional cartoon style, imagining how one might feel after witnessing an explosion.  Five years after it was installed, it still makes me laugh – especially because he took planks of wood, covered them in paint, and made them look like planks of wood.  So. Very. Meta.

A few weeks back, Boom! was scheduled for demolition.  I was anxious to see how it would come down – would it be in a blaze of glory, or would it be a slow, sad dismembering befitting its name? Personally, I was hoping to find they’d fashioned a cartoon batch of TNT connected to a cartoon detonator.

On the appointed day, I had my preschool son with me, and like all preschoolers, he has a special sixth sense for knowing when I’m in a rush and therefore dragged his feet every step of the way.  However, knowing how the construction world works, I figured I would arrive just in time for the show, even though I was 20 minutes late.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As I pulled up to Cal Anderson Park, I was immediately disoriented.  I couldn’t find the familiar bends of the wall, and stymied for a moment as I tried to get my bearings.  Suddenly it dawned on me that there was an excavator at work, quietly munching  on the last of the vertical beams that held the section of wall where Boom! resided.

Removal of the section of wall containing "Is That All There Is?" took less than 20 minutes. Photo © 2015 J. Babuca 

The artwork on the wall was always intended to be temporary, and as such, was created inexpensively, with materials that weren’t built to stand many years out in the elements.  Still, there are some pieces that I secretly fantasized could find a new home after construction was done.  Though I knew it was time for Boom! to come down, I was caught off guard at how its removal seemed to happen in a fast and rather anti-climatic manner, shrouded in blue tarp and cyclone fencing.  Nondescript, and no fanfare: Is That All There Is?

The Red Wall quickly became part of our everyday lives on Capitol Hill, and now it is quickly going away.

A clandestine peek over the curtain and through a fence, reveals a scene that will repeat until the last of the wall is removed. Photo: © 2015 J.Babuca 
-Jennifer Babuca

April 1, 2015

STart and Capitol Hill: In the beginning

The first time I really walked around Broadway was to meet Ellen Forney with Barbara Luecke in 2008.  We were there to do research in advance of our search for an artist for Capitol Hill Station.  Although I’d lived in Seattle since the late 90s, Capitol Hill had never really been on my radar.  Don’t get me wrong: I’d been on the hill before, but usually for very specific reasons – Christmas at St. Mark’s, up to Volunteer Park and SAAM – but always passing through Broadway in a car to somewhere else.  You don’t get to know a place in a blink-and-miss-it car trip.  Once I did get out and walk around, it was a bit like a homecoming.

Ellen Forney and Barbara Luecke on Broadway Capitol Hill
Ellen Forney and Barbara Luecke discuss the character of Capitol Hill. Photo © 2008 J.Babuca/Sound Transit. 
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona two blocks from 4th Avenue, an eclectic district just south of downtown and west of the University of Arizona campus.  4th Avenue is a great stretch of small shops, restaurants, a vibrant arts scene and a gathering spot for a mix of artists, college students, tourists and the homeless.  There is no place else like it in Tucson, where the norm is usually six lane roadways and huge parking lots in front of big boxes. (Hey, when you have room to spread, you spread.)

Notice sign at Twice Sold Tales
This sign, posted at Twice Sold Tales, conjures up memories of my beloved high school stomping grounds. Photo © 2008 J.Babuca/Sound Transit.

Walking down Broadway, I was reminding of my days spent walking up and down 4th Ave, headed to school, the library or just wandering.  It has the same pedestrian-scale feel, intimate enough that you can feel the energy of everyone else there, bouncing off the storefronts for you to soak up. There wasn’t anywhere else along the light rail lines thus far that compared to it, so it was clear that the impact of construction here was going to be very different from the experiences Sound Transit had had before.  Barbara and I immediately agreed we needed to preserve that energy somehow.  We began to formulate how we could take out a major stretch of Broadway without damaging the intimate, electric vibe of the neighborhood, and thus STart on Broadway was born.

There was a lull between Sound Transit purchasing the buildings and when the actual demolition would begin.  The plan was to board up the windows, put a fence around the spaces and pepper it with “No Trespassing” signs.  The result would have been a dead zone for two blocks from John to Howell streets.  Definitely this was not a formula for preserving community vibrancy.

While Barbara started selling the idea of storefront installations, I set to work on looking for artwork that could be used to cover up the plywood that was inevitably coming.  Banner covers were an easy sell, of course, but the storefronts were another story.  Once a site officially gets turned into a “construction zone,” the rules of who/what/when/where/how become very controlled.  Liability is at the heart of most of those requirements, so opening up the buildings to artists who may or may not have construction experience was going to take a leap of faith from the owner’s side.  We were worried as well – will the artwork be safe? What if someone breaks in and steals or destroys something? We’d only done one other storefront installation before, and it was on a much smaller scale than this.  But in the end we decided any risks would be far outweighed by the benefits STart on Broadway would provide, and we soldiered through.

Photo: Eileen Court Apts, Before and After
Banners like these at Eileen Court are de rigueur at constructions sites, though they normally are used on walls and fences, and not as window camouflage. Artwork by Jennifer Babuca.  Photo © 2008 J.Babuca/Sound Transit
One day, in the middle of planning and discussing, we got a call: Jack in the Box had been boarded up.  It wasn’t the contractor who had done it, but rather Jack in the Box themselves, their final act of moving out.  Soon, the houses along Denny were also covered in plywood.  We had to mobilize, and fast.

We had already talked to a group that Ellen was a member of, The Friends of the Nib.  They had given us some artwork to use, and that quickly went up on Jack in the Box.  It didn’t go off without a hitch.  As a worker was installing the sections of banner, someone grabbed one off of his truck.  He had to chase the guy down the street to try and recover it.  I still shake my head at it – swiped as it was being installed!  After it went up, someone cut out a section to take and hang on their wall at home.  Despite it being screwed into the wall behind a chain-linked barrier, somebody figured it was free and up for grabs.  Then we invested in industrial glue and put up a sign, courtesy of Friends of the Nib.  That ended that.

Image: Notice Sign, Please do not remove art
Sometimes you just have to spell things out for people. Sign created by Jim Woodring/Friends of the Nib.

We also quickly covered up those houses on Denny.  First, I ran out to Cal Anderson Park and photographed anything and everything that caught my eye.  With an assist from Tom Long in our graphics department, a couple hours later we had banners printed up and screwed in – starting with photos of Kay Rood’s cat on her former home, and happy clouds on the house next door.  The other houses and Eileen Court apartments were soon given the same treatment – mostly abstract photos of details from the park – moss on the trees, water cascading along the texture pool, et al.  As Tom and I were hanging banners on what would become known as “The Cloud House,” a passing car stopped and honked at us.  “Thank you for doing this!” the driver called out with a smile and wave.

Operation: Art Intervention had begun.

Flickr member Fecki gives a shout out for Sound Transit's "added creativity" for The Cloud House. Photo © 2008 Fecki

-Jennifer Babuca

March 24, 2015

Time is Memory: The beginning of the end for Capitol Hill’s red wall

It’s a beautiful spring Thursday on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Tim Marsden of Sound Transit stands in the basket of a scissor lift, efficiently working an electrical screwdriver as artist Stefan Gruber looks on.  Starting on this sunny Thursday, the attached pieces of artwork and signage are being removed from the section of wall that faces Cal Anderson Park.

© 2015 Sound Transit
Tim Marsden hands a section of Stefan Gruber's artwork "Both Worlds" to an assistant. De-installation of artwork and dismantling of the red wall next to Cal Anderson Park continues over the next several weeks. Photo: J.Babuca

As the twittersphere contemplates their #tbt posts, I’m having a bit of a Throwback Thursday moment myself.  Looking at the last works of art to grace the wall, I can’t help but think back on the many projects that this site has hosted, even before the wall existed.  Lead Artist and Curator D.K. Pan created an overarching theme of examining love, loss and the nature of change that he summed up with the words “time is memory.”  My memory is certainly teaming: here stood the beloved CafĂ© Vivace, dressed in Webster Crowell’s parasols; over here was our very first art intervention, at those row of houses where Kay Rood’s home stood; and what was in that restaurant over there again? Oh, that’s right – neon signs by Ingrid Lahti!  So much has changed, and yet part of me feels like it’s always been this way.  Once the wall comes down and the station is open, I’m sure it will feel even more so, and our collective memories of this place will give way to the new normal.

Details like this window display at the former Body Jewelry Plus are a muted memory as the character of Capitol Hill continues to evolve. Photo: J.Babuca/Sound Transit

I remember when the wall first went up, and D.K. chose red for the color, to represent love.  Love because there is so much passion for the Hill and its place as the heart of Seattle, and for the great sadness over its inevitable change. Certainly this isn’t the first time Capitol Hill has undergone a radical shift in its character, but certainly this is one that will hurt hard.  Capitol Hill needs a lot of love to shepherd it through this change, and the wall hoped to provide some of that love.  But even that red color caused a lot of angst and uncertainty – internally at Sound Transit and with the contractor – the color seemed too bold, to radical. The prevailing desire was to play it safe.  Maybe go with the tried and true "Sound Transit Blue," which had worked well on Beacon Hill.  But D.K. stuck to his instinct and as a result, Charles Mudede announced that year that the wall was “one of the area’s most impressive works of architecture.”  Thus, the lovin' began for our little construction wall. 

Over the next several weeks, the temporary art will slowly come down.  Soon a bustling light rail station will take its place and the wall will become another memory that slowly fades away.  Before that happens, let’s take some time to revisit the wall, and it’s predecessor, STart on Broadway.  As the wall is demolished, I’ll be looking back at where we started, where we’ve gone, and give you a little peek into the future of Capitol Hill Station.  Stay tuned…

Sections of artwork lean against the red wall next to Cal Anderson park.  Photo: J.Babuca

-Jennifer Babuca

March 12, 2015

Stefan Gruber

Over the next several months, sections of the Red Wall will be coming down to make way for the Transit Oriented Development and the new Capitol Hill Station scheduled to open in spring of 2016. Today, Stefan Gruber's mural, "Both Worlds", next to Cal Anderson Park was deinstalled... Here's a link to an Art Zone segment about his project.

Stefan Gruber - Art Zone Segment from Linas Phillips on Vimeo.

February 24, 2015

Writing The City

Hugo House and Sound Transit present

    Writing the City 

Volume 1 

(click Vol 1 for booklet or story title for pdf)

Time for airport coffee

Maged Zaher
Maged Zaher is the author of Thank You For the WIndow Office (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012), The Revolution Happened and You Didn’t Call Me (Tinfish Press, 2012), and Portrait of the Poet as an Engineer (Pressed Wafer, 2009). Maged is the recipient of the 2013 Genius Award in Literature from the Seattle weekly The Stranger.

Deepa Bhandaru
Deepa Bhandaru is an educator and writer in Seattle. She holds a PhD in political theory from the University of Washington and works with refugee youth in the South End.

Lisa Sturdivant is a consultant in Seattle. She likes to think and write about cities and conducted Masters’ thesis research on social housing design in Brazil.

Cheers of Beacon Hill 

Ahamefule J. Oluo is a Texas-born, Seattle-raised musician, composer, writer, and stand-up comic. In his musical career, Oluo has collaborated with artists ranging from Brooklyn-based hip-hop trio Das Racist to orchestral indie-pop darlings Hey Marseilles and currently plays in Seattle jazz-punk quartet Industrial Revelation. As a writer and stand-up comic, Oluo was a semi-finalist in NBC´s Stand-up for Diversity Comedy competition and works in close creative partnerships with comic Hari Kondabolu and writer Lindy West. 

Volume 2 

(click Vol 2 for booklet or story title for pdf)

A Story at 213 South Main Street

Charles Tonderai Mudede, Editor
Marc Lampson is an educator, lawyer, drummer, and writer. He has published poems, book reviews, scholarly articles, and two non-fiction books. He directs the Unemployment Law Project in Seattle and teaches online courses for the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University.

Simpson Park

Adrine Arakelian is an urban designer and planner, currently researching the application of process-based practices in design and planning. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she learned to explore the city as a pedestrian, despite what the song and all those mistaken people say.
Note: This essay quotes from Buster Simpson’s park proposal as reprinted in the Frye Art Museum Buster Simpson retrospective exhibition catalogue.

Cary Moon

The Future of the Waterfront

Cary Moon is an urbanist and activist in Seattle. She believes in revolutionaries, agitators, and the nexus of big ideas with small d democracy. She is a former systems engineer with a masters degree in landscape architecture and urban design.

J. Leroy Roby III

Negarra A. Kudumu is a Chicago born and Seattle based writer, researcher and consultant in the areas of arts, culture and social impact. She has a BA in Latin American, Latino & Caribbean Studies from Dartmouth College and a MA in International Relations & Diplomatic from Leiden University in the Netherlands. Most recently she has worked as the Artist-in-Residence at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and currently runs Adult Programs at Frye Art Museum.

Pick Up Volume 1 & 2 Essay Booklets at the Red Wall 

Lamar Lofton at Hugo House - Writing The City
event February 24th