Shelf Life has known for a long time that we need to ask Central District residents (and those with roots in the CD) how community stories can serve the neighborhood. How can Shelf Life return these stories to the community in ways that are meaningful?
Well, we were very fortunate to partner, this summer, with the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, because they wanted to ask the same question about public art. How can public art in the Central District actually be meaningful to the neighborhood’s historic residents? Seattle Public Utilities has $150,000 for an artist to create public art in the CD. That money comes from the 1% for the arts generated by SPU’s work on the Central Water Main (which runs underneath 23rd Avenue). But the Office of Arts and Culture thought it would be important to first ask people with roots in the CD how public art could deepen their relationship to the neighborhood.
So Elisheba Johnson, Inye Wokoma, Rachel Kessler, and Jill Freidberg (Shelf Life) designed an immersive public art / community story living room. Others joined our efforts, like Sandy Cioffi and Gretchen Burger, of Fearless 360, and Amir Sheikh with his Waterlines project. Together we brought public art and stories to community events around King County. Maps, VR, oral histories, graphic novels, typewriters, historic neighborhood photos! Our living room had something for everyone! We were at 23rd and Union for the Reunion on Union dinner, Kent Cornucopia Days, Langston Hughes & the Griot Party, and at the Central Area Senior Center. We have learned so much. We’ve heard from so many. We’re going to keep listening.
This fall, the Office of Arts and Culture will put out a call for artists to make public art for the CD. And that call will be informed by all the neighbors, youth, seniors, families, and friends who have come through, participated, and shared their hopes, dreams, fears, and visions for art and stories in the CD.