Thursday, February 2, 2012

PIONEER SQUARE: The Times They are A-Changin'

The air is crisp and the sky is clear, unusual weather for a Seattle evening in February, and the art walk is heartily underway when I arrive in the Pioneer Square district.

Destination #1: Delicatus on the corner of 1st & Western. Their sandwiches are delicious (order The Activist + bacon, and you won't be disappointed), and all of their ingredients are local. They recently began featuring local musicians on 1st Thursdays, and this eve it's Gabriel Mintz who provides a folk/comedic accompaniment to dinner.

Following food, I would normally head to 619 Western and make the multi-storey climb to re-visit some of my favourite art spaces before settling in to tend bar at Studio X-17. But the historic building now stands empty, an unfortunate victim of budget cuts and Seattle's ongoing transportation fiasco. And I am interested to see how the rest of Pioneer Square compares to the uncensored diversity of the 619.

Destination #2: The Tashiro Kaplan Building. The studio lofts only open their doors once a year for art walk, but the first floor gallery is a fantastic place to view new work. Jimmi Indigo, one of my contemporaries from Cornish College of the Arts, is showing his portrait series examining cultural identity and stereotypes through photographic collage. If he and the other artists in the downstairs gallery are an accurate representation of the artists of the TK Building, I certainly look forward to the once-yearly opening.

Jimmi Indigo @ Tashiro Kaplan Gallery

Destination #3: The rest of the TK block. It's a vibrant maze of Galleries and studios such as Core, Gallery4Culture, Platform, Rock/DeMent, Shift, and SOIL. I meet a number of artists (new to me), including prolific pastel painter Barbara Noonan; I run into some old friends, and am saddened to learn that to-night is the final 1st Thursday opening for the Rock/DeMent Gallery. The art walk circuit is an ever-changing entity, but such is the nature or art and creativity, and I can be certain that the next art walk will surprise me with something shiney and new.

The Pioneer Square art walk hasn't been quite the same since the 619 Western Building closed down. An artists' enclave more than three decades in the making, the 619 was rich and raw and loud and colourful. Home to more than 100 artists and performers, it was one of the only places in Seattle where you could see an understated still life photograph, a Victorian-Steampunk spray paint collage, and a lurid purple penis monster happily sharing wall space. It might have been crumbling at the edges, but it housed a tenacious arts collective unique to the Seattle art community.

In August of 2011, the 619 Building was condemned by the WA State Department of Transportation. The decision was due in part to the weakening structure of the building, but mostly to the imminent SR99 tunnel project scheduled to replace the Viaduct in 2015. The artists were evicted (with minimal compensation), their studios scattered, and Pioneer Square lost an integral part of its artistic culture.

619 Western Building

The closure of the 619 Building is, in some ways, the end of an artistic era for Pioneer Square. But when one door closes, another inevitably opens.

A new project is in the works - PiSquare (Pi2), a combination of live/work studio/gallery spaces intended to "revitalise the Seattle art community, and give emerging and established artists a chance to connect with each other and the public." The masterminds behind Pi2 hope to sew the seeds for a new artist collective built on collaboration, mutual inspiration, promotion, and exhibition.

Pi2 Building (photo courtesy of

Check out the site, spread the word, lend your support, and I'll catch you next arts walk! Cheers.

~ BCDuncan

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