An Artist's Perspective on the SODO Busway

"Clarence The Cloud Creator" by Dallas-based artist Michael Reeder, for Forest for the Trees, a recurring public art project in Portland, Oregon, curated by Gage Hamilton. Photo by Anthony Taylor.
Clarence The Cloud Creator by Dallas-based artist Michael Reeder, for Forest for the Trees, a recurring public art project in Portland, Oregon, curated by Gage Hamilton. Photo by Anthony Taylor.

The SODO busway spans two miles of 5th Avenue South, welcoming over 43,000 public transit riders into downtown Seattle each weekday. This open-air tunnel of building-backs has the potential to become a vibrant street art experience. 4Culture is convening artists, community-members, and SODO business-owners to begin the process of bringing that dream to life. In July 2015, Gage Hamilton, a Portland, Oregon-based artist and curator, was selected as Planning Artist to head up the project. Since then, Gage has been working to survey and inventory the SODO Corridor—here, he gives an update on his work. Check back often as this project progresses!

The first month of working on the SODO corridor has been exciting for me because I have a pretty big imagination. Even when I’m walking the corridor to analyze the nuts and bolts of the project, I can’t help but visualize the possibilities. To keep myself focused on the initial steps in this process, I make a point of narrowing in on one or two things at a time for each potential wall. For example, wall surface…is it paintable? If it’s not ideal for most artists, is there someone that could still work well with it? Will it hold up? What if we need to bolt in a scaffolding brace? Then I consider the ground below the wall…what kind of equipment can it support? How much space and mobility does it provide to the artist? Can the ground be improved to make it more accessible? Once I have a sense of if we can paint a wall and what it will take, then I begin to consider visibility, flow, and proximity to decipher whether we should paint the wall.

DALeast, Breaking Tempo, 2012
“Breaking Tempo” by DALeast, 2012

What excites me about this project is that in all of my research I haven’t seen anything quite like it.

I’ve experienced many neighborhoods around the globe in which you are surrounded by art everywhere you look—Brick Lane, Kakaako, Wynwood, Wabash, Easter Market, Grand River, and more—but none of these have a thematic approach, nor are they anticipating their viewers in motion. The Steve Powers tour in Philadelphia is probably the best example of a thematic project frequently viewed in motion, although it is, of course, all one artist’s. The rest of these projects seem to be favoring immersive experience and a democratic or opportunist approach, rather than seeking a narrative or specific identity. The challenge is taking advantage of the SODO corridor’s structure and flow to make it something specific and unique without being too heavy-handed and disrupting the artists’ creative visions. I’m really interested in creating a broad guideline, even something as simple as “movement.”

I’ve been meeting with artists, property owners, business operators—a variety of stakeholders in this dream. If you think we should be talking too, send me an email at gage.m.hamilton@gmail.com.