Throughout most of the twentieth century, the Central District was the only Seattle neighborhood in which African Americans were allowed to own or rent property. Residents responded to housing discrimination, inadequate infrastructure, job discrimination, underfunded schools, and police violence, with innovation, creativity, community leadership, tenacity, and solidarity.
This city could learn a great deal from that history.
But today, gentrification and displacement are happening so fast that the history of the neighborhood is being replaced with a narrative that says “there was nothing here,” a narrative perpetuated by new residents, policymakers, and developers who don’t know or acknowledge the neighborhood's complex history.
In response, the Shelf Life Community Story Project is recording oral histories with current and former residents. We believe community stories and neighborhood histories can influence conversations about change and shift the way this city imagines its future.
Our objectives are to:
1) Amplify, preserve, and learn from the voices, experiences, and histories of Central District communities.
2) Contribute historical context to conversations about change in the Central District.
1) During this period of rapid change, Seattle could learn a lot from the Central District’s unique history; lessons that might even influence how we imagine the city’s future.
2) Stories have the power to depolarize civic and individual conversations about gentrification.
3) When people are displaced, they experience isolation and vulnerability. Community stories reconnect people.
We are an independent collective of photographers, artists, librarians, historians, filmmakers, and educators. The stories we record will be shared with the public through community celebrations and installations, social media, community radio, pop-up projection events, the project website, and an interactive story map. Eventually, stories will be archived by the Seattle Public Library.
Shelf Life is an independent collectives of artists, filmmakers, historians, photographers, students, educators, and neighbors.
Mayowa Aina is a girl from NE Tacoma, WA who likes to wear many hats (sometimes at the same time!). As a student she studied International Studies, Informatics, Music, and Comparative History of Ideas at the University of Washington Seattle. As a writer, radio host, and aspiring producer she listens to stories and amplifies them to challenge, empower, and liberate others.
Jill Freidberg is a documentary filmmaker, oral historian, radio producer, and youth media educator. Her work reflects her belief that responsible, powerful storytelling builds understanding and solidarity across borders and across the street.
Inye Wokoma is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and educator with a passion for photojournalism and social justice, environmental and cultural subjects.
Carina del Rosario
Carina A del Rosario is a photographer, visual artist, digital media artist, and youth arts educator. She uses art to explore the desire for community, for being part of something larger than oneself, and also the pull of solitude, for shrugging off ties that tangle and constrain.
Domonique Meeks is an entrepreneur and filmmaker. He is a recent Masters graduate from the University of Washington and does consulting around data analytics and content strategy. He has a passion for social and economic justice, informatics, and art. He utilizes data and media to tell community stories of entrepreneurship and technology.
Henry Luke is a community organizer, mural artist, and arts educator from occupied Duwamish territory known as Seattle. They have painted walls, taught classes, and organized since 2009, in the greater Seattle area and beyond.
Shelf Life received funding from the King County 4Culture Heritage program and from individuals making modest donations. The project is primarily driven by volunteers, but when funding is available, the first people to get paid for working on the project are always people of color. We are not funded in any way by Vulcan, even though that rumor has spread and stuck.
1) We acknowledge, and work to avoid, a historic pattern wherein white artists exploit the (usually unpaid) talent, time, and vision of people of color, then take all the credit and reap all the rewards in the form of grants and career advancement. We commit to:
a. Prioritize compensation of POC whenever and wherever possible.
b. Be clear and intentional about roles, expectations, contributions.
c. Share project voice - who speaks for the project and who do they represent?
d. Be transparent about all project funds and expenditures.
2) We acknowledge, and work to avoid, the tendency to use people’s stories in ways that look and feel like the commodification and consumption of pain and hardship. We commit to:
a. Look for ways to include the affected communities in the sharing and gathering of stories.
b. Be intentional about where, how, and with who the stories are shared.
c. Seek out and center stories that are not about pain and hardship and that are about innovation, tenacity, solidarity, community building, celebration, art, and beauty.
3) We acknowledge that who we are (and the privileges we have) influence the decisions we make about who to interview, what to ask them, how to edit those stories, and how to interpret those stories. We commit to:
a. Train people of different backgrounds, genders, races, ages, languages, etc, to recruit, engage, and interview project participants.
b. Employ a diversity of tactics for engaging community, activating the Shelf Life space, and seeking out other spaces in which to record stories.
c. Study and seek to understand the existing scholarship about power and privilege in story gathering / oral history environments.
d. Use our privileges, access, and power to bring community stories to conversations with new residents, policy makers, and developers, using context and history to depolarize conversations about change, gentrification, and displacement.