Stephanie Guerra: Stories Unlocked

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Rob Ellis, 1/365 I think I've got too much time on my hands? Digital Photograph. (cc) 2011

Rob Ellis, 1/365 I think I’ve got too much time on my hands?, Digital Photograph. (cc) 2011

 

Stephanie Guerra was awarded an Art Projects grant for her project, Stories Unlocked, an ongoing publication of writing by students incarcerated in King County Juvenile Detention Center and at-risk teens in our region. Here Stephanie shares why she does this work and why these young people are motivated to write.

On any given day, more than 100,000 teens are incarcerated in the United States. Countless more are considered at-risk for incarceration, based on factors such as homelessness, poverty, gang membership, substance abuse, grade retention, and more. Research shows that literacy is one of the most important protective factors against recidivism.

I’m a teaching artist and children’s author, and since 2005, I’ve been running creative writing programs in detention facilities in King County. Currently I’m teaching the teen girls at King County Juvenile Detention Center, and I’m moved and inspired by their writing. Their voices are unique and their stories are powerful.

Thanks to an Art Projects grant from 4Culture and a Youth Arts grant Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, I was able this year to realize a long-time dream to offer my incarcerated students a chance to share their stories and poems with the public. Together we launched storiesunlocked.com, a digital magazine of their work. I invite you to visit the web site and experience the voices of teens whom you may pass on the street, know personally, or otherwise intersect with in King County.

Sometimes we write for ourselves alone, but for many writers, an audience is a powerful motivator. The Stories Unlocked Project brought out a new level of focus and determination in my students. Especially after the initial site launch, I noticed their intense motivation to write more and better.

In their own words (names omitted to protect privacy):

“This web site is really inspiring. It’s true stuff, that’s why I like it.”

“It’s great because we finally get a chance to tell people what it’s really like.”

“People actually listen to us.”

“It truly means a lot to me that you guys are going out of your way to publish our writing. Having someone come in and offer this program to us is amazing because we didn’t realize how others want to hear what we have to say.”

These are just a few examples of the positive feedback I’ve received from the girls. This opportunity means a lot to them; they feel heard. During the Stories Unlocked Project, I’ve seen emotional breakthroughs, friendships built, and stellar work produced. I’m especially moved by the handful of students who’ve committed to novellas and are sticking with a project for dozens of pages. Many thanks to 4Culture and Seattle Office of Arts & Culture for making this possible. Thanks and congratulations to the young writers at the Stories Unlocked Project. I am so proud to share your work with the world.

People of the Central Area Series

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crowley

The Honorable Richard A. Jones grew up a block from Garfield High School, attended Seattle University and the University of Washington, and served his state as a lawyer, prosecutor, and King County and Federal Judge. As part of the digital project People of the Central Area, he shared his experience growing up in the Central District, and how the neighborhood informed who he became and how he approaches life and work.

One of the gifts that the Central District gave was that it put me in an environment where I really learned how to deal with a lot of different cultures, a lot of different folks, a lot of different histories and backgrounds. The community I was raised in really looked like the rainbow coalition of life. Yet, my block was almost 100 percent African American. There was only one Jewish family around the corner from us.

In the larger neighborhood, there was a little bit of everything (race, ethnicity, religion…) in our community. That has helped me over the course of my life, as I learned that there are different cultures; that people respond differently and react differently. It’s helped me, not only in the different types of work I’ve done in the past, but it’s been an enormous benefit to me as a judge.

Speaking about what it is like to still live in the neighborhood, Judge Jones continues…

Usually you’re taking on assignments and projects, pursuing your own career or what you want to do in life. You are not trying to make history. You are not trying to be a leader. It’s just you see something that needs to be done so you go and do it. You see people that need help and you help them. (pause) Then, you see folks that grew up the same way you did and it’s a question of reaching back and lifting up. It’s not a question of saying, ‘I got mine; you get yours.’

That’s not what we learned in the Central District. We grew up as a family. (pause) We talk about it takes a village… It was truly a village. I mean, everyone in the block knew each other. (pause) Before my mom even got home, she knew everything we’d done that day because as she walked home, she’d heard about it before she got to the front door.

Read the rest of the interview covering Judge Jones’ life in the Central Area. Interviewer and blog creator, Madeline Crowley, received funding for this project through 4Culture’s Heritage Projects.

You are Invited: Dr. King Celebration

Alfredo Arreguin, Bittern’s Moon, Acrylic on Canvas. Image: © 2004, Courtesy of the Artist

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Alfredo Arreguin, Bittern's Moon, Acrylic on Canvas. Image: © 2004, Courtesy of the Artist
Alfredo Arreguin, Bittern’s Moon, Acrylic on Canvas. Image: © 2004, Courtesy of the Artist

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Please join 4Culture and King County as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a free, public event on January 14th from Noon – 1 1pm at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle. This year’s event will feature inspiring words from the Honorable Judge Saint Clair and music by esteemed folk singer, Naomi Wachira. All are welcome!

 

 

 

 

Max Cleary: Getting to Where I’m Going

Max Cleary, Getting to Where I’m Going. © 2015 (video still)

4Culture is proud to present Getting to Where I’m Going by Max Cleary on e4c, our storefront media gallery. Cleary’s work will launch on e4c’s screens on First Thursday, January 7 at 6 pm and will run in conjunction with works by fellow media artists, Joseph Gray, Barbara Robertson, Tess Martin and Evertt Beidler from 7 am to 10 pm daily.

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Max Cleary, Getting to Where I'm Going. © 2015 (video still)
Max Cleary, Getting to Where I’m Going. © 2015 (video still)

4Culture is proud to present Getting to Where I’m Going by Max Cleary on e4c, our storefront media gallery. Cleary’s work will launch on e4c’s screens on First Thursday, January 7 at 6 pm and will run in conjunction with works by fellow media artists, Joseph Gray, Barbara Robertson, Tess Martin and Evertt Beidler from 7 am to 10 pm daily.

Getting to Where I’m Going presents a collection of personal truths, findings, and reminders that Cleary has written down over time. He began collecting them in his sketchbooks when he first arrived to Seattle, five years ago. After sifting through these quips, he selected and illustrated ideas that have affected him and stuck with him the most “in getting to wherever it is I am in life at any given time.”

“My work focuses on being within a constant state of reaching or trying, where an end point is never firmly realized. To be on the verge of becoming is a desperate and vulnerable place to be, but it is also one of truth. You’re concerned with an end point and what your vision of that end is. You are filled with a sort of hope in your belief that you will arrive there at some point. You begin, you attempt, and hopefully you arrive at a place of fulfillment. I’m interested in that middle stage of reaching and in the idea of it perpetuating, to never successfully reach that destination.”

Cleary is originally from Honolulu, Hawaii and currently lives and works in Seattle. He received his BFA in Photomedia from the University of Washington in 2014.

We hope you’ll stop by to see his work on our screens!

This is What It's All About

Creative Justice Mentor Artist Nikkita Oliver. Photo by Tim Aguero.

Creative Justice is 4Culture’s arts-based alternative to incarceration for King County youth. Spoken-word artist, teaching artist and anti-racist organizer, Nikkita Oliver led the final  project session of our inaugural year of programming. Oliver believes that the power of the arts is in the power of our voices, and works alongside young people, helping them develop creative skills and tell their stories. From September 15 through December 3, she mentored twelve teen participants twice per week as they spoke truth to power through writing, performance, poetry, theater, music, and visual arts, even publishing a chapbook—Things I Need You to Know—at the end of their session. Here, Nikkita shares her thoughts on the experience: 

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Creative Justice Mentor Artist Nikkita Oliver
Creative Justice Mentor Artist Nikkita Oliver. Photo by Tim Aguero.

Creative Justice is 4Culture’s arts-based alternative to incarceration for King County youth. Spoken-word artist, teaching artist and anti-racist organizer, Nikkita Oliver led the final  project session of our inaugural year of programming. Oliver believes that the power of the arts is in the power of our voices, and works alongside young people, helping them develop creative skills and tell their stories. From September 15 through December 3, she mentored twelve teen participants twice per week as they spoke truth to power through writing, performance, poetry, theater, music, and visual arts, even publishing a chapbook—Things I Need You to Know—at the end of their session. Here, Nikkita shares her thoughts on the experience: 

I began the 4th session of Creative Justice’s inaugural year with so much love and hope, as well as a bit of fear and trepidation. I have been a performance artist for years, so I feel less and less stage fright. Yet there is nothing quite like the anxiety welling up inside me just before I start a new teaching artist residency with youth. Young people can spot a fake from a mile away! They know if you are genuinely engaging with them, they know if you want to be there, they know if you truly care. They always demand authenticity and honesty from the moment they meet you—as they should.

Teaching is a constant dance. Each day has a different rhythm and you can fight it or be responsive to it. I have learned to be responsive; to expect and accept with humility that my plans will likely change. Teaching art requires the artist to be a learner! I have learned to be flexible and listen to the dynamic and self-determined hearts, minds and spirits that invite me to be a part of their creative process. As much as I may think I have something to teach, I have so much more to learn and those lessons often come from the youth.

Each day the youth artists brought their full, whole selves—their hopes and dreams, their struggles and fights, their growing edges and gains, their addictions and triumphs. No day was without a mountain or two to climb. No day ended without a mountain peak summited. It would be easy to look at the numbers, the attendance, the chapbook, the photos, the final celebration and miss the many important nuances—the daily challenges, the daily gains, the silent prayers, the open hearts, the bowed backs that stood a little straighter, the turned down heads that looked up for at least a short moment, or the attention span that extended a few seconds longer. I live for the small day-to-day moments because that is where the change happens exponentially yet often goes unseen.

Oliver led the participants in Session 4 in publishing a chapbook of their writing, titled Things I Need You to Know.
Oliver led the participants in Session 4 in publishing a chapbook of their writing, titled Things I Need You to Know. Photo by Tim Aguero.

While I am incredibly proud of the chapbook, the photography, and the powerful culminating 4th session celebration, I am most inspired by the day-to-day achievements. There were hard days. Days where the youth didn’t like me, didn’t like each other, and didn’t like their selves, but they kept coming back for more! They did not let fear nor hard feelings stop them from completing what they started. They allowed their selves to be challenged and accepted discomfort as a place to grow. They kept working on their selves. They continued digging into their creativity exposing places of hope, trauma, power, struggle, and resilience. In the end, while I may have facilitated a creative process, they did the work of Creative Justice.

Everyday many youth who are court-involved are forced to take risks for survival, and sometimes those risks come with unexpected consequences. However, the reality is that youth everywhere take risks—some youth simply have more safety nets to catch them when they fall and more opportunity to make mistakes from which they can learn and grow. Art is a risk. It is an opportunity to make mistakes and figure out which ones are worth keeping. In my opinion, this is what Creative Justice is about and why we must keep striving to build more art-based alternatives to incarceration in King County.

Youngstown Puts Its Preservation Grant to Work

Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Delridge Way SW, photo by Denny Sternstein

David Bestock has worked as Director of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center for the last three years, managing everything from facilities, to programs, to community relations. He and his tenacious staff work to ensure that arts and culture, as well as affordable housing and other vital resources, continue to be accessible to all King County residents, especially those in Delridge.

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Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Delridge Way SW, photo by Denny Sternstein
Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Delridge Way SW, photo by Denny Sternstein

David Bestock has worked as Director of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center for the last three years, managing everything from facilities, to programs, to community relations. He and his tenacious staff work to ensure that arts and culture, as well as affordable housing and other vital resources, continue to be accessible to all King County residents, especially those in Delridge.

We were so psyched this summer to receive 4Culture’s largest Preservation Special Projects award to date! At the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association (DNDA), we received $15,100 to use for developing a Needs Assessment for the Historic Cooper School, which now houses the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Cooper Artist Housing. With over 65,000 square feet of cultural space in our nearly 100-year old building, we house seven nonprofit organizations, an alternative public high school, and 36 live/work artist lofts. Little to no major improvements have been done in the past ten years, and even during that multi-million dollar remodel—including seismic retrofit and an overhaul of all major systems and spaces—there were projects that had to be cut short because of funds. So work is sorely needed here at our well-used facility.

Thanks to 4Culture and the Preservation Special Projects grant, we were able to contract Rolluda Architects to lead a team of subcontractors in evaluating current facilities needs and help us plan for improvements. Major work is needed to resolve a foundation settling issue and a compromised pipe under our building. Plus, we have big dreams to convert our Kitchen into a commercial/teaching kitchen, and increase capacity in our already dynamic Theater and Recording Studio.

Cabiri aerialists perform in Youngstown’s theater, where the ground is settling. Photo by Suzi Pratt.
Cabiri aerialists perform in Youngstown’s theater, where the ground is settling. Photo by Suzi Pratt.

We now have a thorough Needs Assessment, with analysis and recommendations for all our systems—mechanical, electrical, etc.—as well as projects we’ll need to address within the next five years including the settling issue, new HVAC units, painting of our historic windows, and so much more. Our Needs Assessment also includes price estimation, so it is already being used as a fundraising tool for a budding capital campaign. In fact, as soon as the Needs Assessment was complete, we turned right around and applied to the Building for Culture grant opportunity, and we’ve since found out that we’ve been recommended to receive $100,000 towards improvements!

Big thanks to everyone involved, most notably 4Culture and Rolluda Architects. Come by Youngstown for a visit!

This project was funded by our Preservation Special Projects grant.

LGBTQ Activism in Seattle’s Civil Rights and Labor History

One of the first Gay Pride marches through downtown Seattle., late 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.

Kevin McKenna, Associate Editor for the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, received funding through 4Culture’s Heritage Projects to complete a new LGBTQ Activism section of this unique internet resource, which will launch this December. He shares with us why he got involved and what kind of resources will be available:

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One of the first Gay Pride marches through downtown Seattle., late 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.
One of the first Gay Pride marches through downtown Seattle., late 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.

Kevin McKenna, Associate Editor for the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, received funding through 4Culture’s Heritage Projects to complete a new LGBTQ Activism section of this unique internet resource, which will launch this December. He shares with us why he got involved and what kind of resources will be available:

This will be an invaluable resource to members of our LGBTQ community who wish to know more about its history through publicly available primary sources on the web, as well as researchers who can use the website to identify collections in the area to pursue their research further. The LGBTQ Section will include essays on Seattle and King County’s LGBTQ community, like the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health’s response to AIDS, which became a model for effective outreach and prevention of HIV and AIDS in urban American communities. In addition to essays, the website will include original interviews with community activists covering a wide range of various issues related to LGBTQ communities. Interviewees include ACTUP Seattle co-founder Phil Bereano, Ingersoll Gender Center founder Marsha Botzer, co-founder of the Wildrose women’s bar and lesbian feminist Bryher Herak, and longtime gay rights advocate Roger Winters. The website will also contain profiles of past and present organizations in Seattle and King County related to LGBTQ issues and communities, a timeline of local milestones in LGBTQ history alongside national milestones, and a collection of photos and documents compiled from various libraries, archives, organizations, and individual donors.

Click here for information about 4Culture’s Heritage Projects funding program.

You are Invited: Canções Profundas (Deep Songs)

The Azores. Photo by Steve Peters

Steve Peters recently premiered an evening-length work of field recordings and improvising musicians with help from a 4Culture 2014-15 Art Projects grant. Canções Profundas (Deep Songs) traces the journey of his Portuguese ancestors from the Azores Islands, and his own journey in search of a lost piece of family history. Steve will perform the piece on Sunday, November 15 at Luso Food & Wine in White Center. Here he shares the ups and downs of his creative process.

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The Azores. Photo by Steve Peters
The Azores. Photo by Steve Peters

Steve Peters recently premiered an evening-length work of field recordings and improvising musicians with help from a 4Culture 2014-15 Art Projects grant. Canções Profundas (Deep Songs) traces the journey of his Portuguese ancestors from the Azores Islands, and his own journey in search of a lost piece of family history. Steve will perform the piece on Sunday, November 15 at Luso Food & Wine in White Center. Here he shares the ups and downs of his creative process.

The Azores are a chain of nine volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic, an isolated region of Portugal. American whaling ships began arriving in the 18th century, hiring Azorean men as crew. My great-great grandfather Caetano Freitas came to the United States from the island of Flores on an American whaling ship in 1865, settling on California’s central coast and marrying Maria Isabel Avellar, also from Flores. They had seven children, and one of their grandsons was my maternal grandfather, Francis, a musician—I inherited his saxophone. Sadly, we know little else about them.

I visited Portugal in 2014 to make field recordings on the islands of São Miguel, Faial, and Flores. I returned home with many hours of recordings—environmental sounds, religious ceremonies, community celebrations, and music—and no clear idea of what I would do with them. It’s rare that I ever start working on a piece with a predetermined form in mind. Instead, I usually begin with a vague notion of what the piece is “about,” and start collecting bits and pieces that seem relevant. I accumulate piles of material, and then I begin playing around with the bits, hoping they’ll eventually coalesce into something resembling what I was originally thinking about. So it’s always a surprise to see what the thing I’m making actually turns out to be. Each piece has its own agenda. At certain points in the process, tensions arise between what the piece is wanting to become and what I think I want it to be. I know from experience that if I set out to make something with a clear concept in mind and it turns out exactly as I envisioned it, the results are usually pretty boring. I have to learn this again every time.

Sound artist Steve Peters. Photo by Mark Lewin
Composer Steve Peters. Photo by Mark Lewin

I went to the Azores with some solid ideas about what I hoped to record, and how those sounds might fit together. It was easy enough to log and edit the recordings, but assembling them into a form that is meaningful, beautiful, and interesting was considerably more challenging. The only way forward was to simply begin: start with a sound, then add another and another, and keep moving forward one step at a time, adjusting along the way and remaining open to any possibilities. In this way it became something I hadn’t exactly anticipated: a surprisingly linear narrative or documentary arc. My work is usually amorphous and doesn’t resolve in a tidy conclusion—it certainly doesn’t tell a story that ends at a logical destination. And yet, I could not have devised a more classic linear narrative structure if I’d tried. I now see that it could hardly have been otherwise. It’s clear that this piece wanted to tell a story. The narrative threads were there all along, waiting to be woven together. Who am I to refuse?

Local Arts Agencies: A Time of Opportunity

Theater Simple recently performed their outdoor fantasy Wonderland in Ballard, Kent, Bellevue, and Auburn. © 2013 Theater Simple, Wonderland, photo by Henry Alva

4Culture supports a growing network of more than twenty local arts agencies (LAAs)—volunteer arts commissions located in many of King County’s cities. LAAs advocate for arts programs within municipal governments, which are often the primary cultural service providers for residents in suburban and rural King County. LAAs regularly put on free performances, concerts, exhibitions, and arts education, and manage grants, public art selection, and cultural planning for their communities. Since its inception, 4Culture has convened a roundtable meeting of LAA staff coordinators every two months. This network serves as a regional peer group of arts staff and commissioners, sharing information, best practices, program development, and advocacy. Everyone is welcome at these meetings.

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© 2013 Theatre Simple, Wonderland, photo by Henry Alva
Theater Simple recently performed their outdoor fantasy Wonderland in Ballard, Kent, Bellevue, and Auburn. © 2013 Theater Simple, Wonderland, photo by Henry Alva

4Culture supports a growing network of more than twenty local arts agencies (LAAs)—volunteer arts commissions located in many of King County’s cities. LAAs advocate for arts programs within municipal governments, which are often the primary cultural service providers for residents in suburban and rural King County. LAAs regularly put on free performances, concerts, exhibitions, and arts education, and manage grants, public art selection, and cultural planning for their communities. Since its inception, 4Culture has convened a roundtable meeting of LAA staff coordinators every two months. This network serves as a regional peer group of arts staff and commissioners, sharing information, best practices, program development, and advocacy. Everyone is welcome at these meetings.

4Culture also supports the growth and development of LAAs with annual funding and collaborative programming. This year, the Maple Valley Creative Arts Council set a great example for how LAAs can positively impact their communities through the arts. Using a 4Culture grant, they plan to turn a neglected alleyway into a much-needed after school gathering place for high school teens in partnership with neighboring businesses and the city of Maple Valley.

With the dramatic growth and diversity of our Northwest region, many cities are looking for ways to distinguish themselves and to build a renewed sense of cultural identity. In many cases, these communities are comprised of immigrants from all corners of the world. This is a perfect time and opportunity for the arts to take a leading role in promoting cultural awareness, engaging people of all cultures, crossing generational boundaries, overcoming language barriers, sharing ethnic traditions, and celebrating the differences and the humanity that we all share. This is a time when local governments all over King County should be investing more than ever in cultural opportunities, and embracing the growing cultural richness of our region.

One Hook At A Time: A History

Crew of Alma at Fishermen’s Terminal, Seattle © ca. 1940, courtesy of Jim Bergquist and Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific. From Left to right: Johnny Tveit, Eric Ericksen, Ralph Ericksen, Art Clavel, Jack Ward and Jon Jorgensen.

Last year, The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union, a first time applicant, was awarded funding through 4Culture’s Heritage Projects program to publish a history of the union and commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest. One Hook at a Time, written by Jeff Kahrs and edited by members of the union, brings this captivating and often dangerous history to life, with never-before-seen images and personal stories. Here, President Jan Standaert give us some insight into the Union’s motivation behind the project:

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Crew of Alma at Fishermen's Terminal, Seattle © ca. 1940, courtesy of Jim Bergquist and Deep Sea Fishermen's Union
Crew of Alma at Fishermen’s Terminal, Seattle © ca. 1940, courtesy of Jim Bergquist and Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific. From Left to right: Johnny Tveit, Eric Ericksen, Ralph Ericksen, Art Clavel, Jack Ward and Jon Jorgensen.

Last year, The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union, a first time applicant, was awarded funding through 4Culture’s Heritage Projects program to publish a history of the union and commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest. One Hook at a Time, written by Jeff Kahrs and edited by members of the union, brings this captivating and often dangerous history to life, with never-before-seen images and personal stories. Here, President Jan Standaert give us some insight into the Union’s motivation behind the project:

The history of commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest is a critical cog in the history of the Pacific Northwest, and the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union has been motivated from the start by its desire to tell about the important role fishing—particularly hook and line fishing—has played and continues to play in the history of King County. Though King County has been enriched by companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Adobe, Getty Images, and so many more, the fishing industry is still a multi-billion dollar industry in the county. The important role these more traditional industries play should not be forgotten. Our project was created to draw attention to the life of fishermen and the important part our Union has played in developing this fishery and ensuring a decent wage for working people.

So it is no surprise when someone wanders into the Union wondering what their father or grandfather did. They may now work at Microsoft, but many local people trace their family back through photographs and family stories to our history. It was one of the reasons we wanted to put the book together and why we’ve worked so hard on our outreach. It is only by telling our story to the public that they can understand how the hard work of fishermen becomes the fish they buy at local grocery stores and markets.

The book is available for purchase at the Union’s offices in Ballard (be sure to call ahead) and for free through the Seattle Public Library. For more information on the Heritage Projects program, click here.

History at Our Feet: Preserving the Ballard Sidewalk Mosaics

Circa 1905 Mosaic, 20th Ave NW at NW 59th St, Ballard neighborhood, Seattle, WA. Photo by Benson Shaw, 2015.

Ballard community-member Benson Shaw received a 2015 Preservation Special Projects grant to help save an often-overlooked piece of Seattle history. Find out how the work is going, and learn more about these century-old urban art pieces:

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Circa 1905 Mosaic, 20th Ave NW at NW 59th St, Ballard neighborhood, Seattle, WA. Photo by Benson Shaw, 2015.
Circa 1905 Mosaic, 20th Ave NW at NW 59th St, Ballard neighborhood, Seattle, WA. Photo by Benson Shaw, 2015.

Ballard community-member Benson Shaw received a 2015 Preservation Special Projects grant to help save an often-overlooked piece of Seattle history. Find out how the work is going, and learn more about these century-old urban art pieces:

Have you ever noticed the cultural assets literally at our feet, embedded in our walkways? Surviving artifacts from earlier times remind us that the past efforts of others affect our life today—they suggest that our actions now will affect future lives.

Many sidewalks in several Seattle neighborhoods are home to blue and white tile mosaics displaying street names. You can find them in Madison Valley, northeast Seattle, First Hill near Harborview, and a few other neighborhoods. Ballard is the mother lode with about fifty mosaics displaying historic street names that have since been changed: 61st St was once Chestnut, 60th St was Baker, Market St was known as Broadway.

I’m the self-appointed guardian of our Ballard mosaics, armed with a Preservation Special Projects Grant from 4Culture, funded by the King County Lodging Tax. I’m researching our mosaic history, developing a location and condition survey and map, writing specifications for preservation and restoration, and opening channels to tell the mosaic story. My preliminary findings can be found here. Lots more to do!

Seattle Municipal Archives, City of Ballard Records, Collection ID: 9106-06, Box 2.
Seattle Municipal Archives, City of Ballard Records, Collection ID: 9106-06, Box 2.

The mosaics at intersections along 20th Ave NW from Leary Ave to NW 64th St are circa 1905—relics from the years just before Ballard was annexed, ceasing to be an incorporated city, independent of Seattle. The Seattle Municipal Archives now holds the City of Ballard’s government records, and the University of Washington and Seattle Public Library offer access to the weekly Ballard News on microfilm. These sources tell how Ballard streets were planned and constructed: when property owners petitioned the Ballard City Council for neighborhood improvement, the City Engineer created design specifications and estimated project costs. At the time the work of building Ballard’s streets was undertaken, wood plank sidewalks were used—around 1903, cement sidewalks replaced them, and the mosaic street names appeared in 1905. What’s missing from this account? The “why” behind the installation of the mosaics. I’ll continue looking for this in my research.

Aging materials and rapid redevelopment in Ballard are threatening old and new mosaics. I’m working with BOLA Architects, the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, and many others to provide detailed requirements for preservation, restoration, and replacement. Will this project continue into a restoration phase, to replace missing tile, regrout, and stabilize the existing mosaics? Stay tuned! In the meantime, tell me about similar mosaics in your neighborhood. I know the Ballard ones, but I want to locate others around the region—email me with the intersection, and a photo if you’d like! You can also explore the Ballard mosaic locations pinned on this Google Map, with photos by Luke McGuff.