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Temporary art installations are giving Seattle

Category: Arts + Events Articles


Temporary art installations are giving Seattle’s empty buildings a last gasp of life before they come tumbling down

The economic downturn has brought Seattle’s condo boom if not to a halt, then to a screeching slowdown, leaving many older buildings slated for demolition still standing but empty. Some Seattle artists have (re)envisioned such spaces as galleries and theaters just waiting to be filled. The Free Sheep Foundation, founded by performance artist D.K. Pan and semiotician NKO (pronounced “NEE-ko”), is a nonprofit organization that partners with government agencies, developers and architects to repurpose buildings that are stuck in just such a limbo. The group calls on artists to fill the spaces with paintings (often directly on walls), films, experimental music and theater, and invites the public to experience art in a different sort of setting (the name “Free Sheep” is a reference to the group’s advocacy for “wild places”). n Last summer Free Sheep took over the seedy Bridge Motel (off Aurora), where hundreds of Seattleites packed two floors of rooms and a parking lot to see the artistic goings-on. More recently, the artists appropriated the low brick building at 2400 Third Ave., in Belltown, offering several months worth of art and performance in a space that had previously been sitting idle. With such projects, Free Sheep aims to both create new memories of what the site once housed and incorporate artists into the development of our city. The group is taking over the empty University District building formerly known as Tubs this month, and has their sights set on South Lake Union soon. n In a similar vein, Sound Transit initiated the “STart on Broadway” project last fall—a temporary art installation filling the 25 vacant storefronts slated for demolition in the two blocks on Broadway that will someday house the Capitol Hill light-rail station. The intention, according to the Sound Transit Web site, was to “keep the streetscape active and engage the public” via exhibits by local artists in the vacated storefronts. The paintings, sculptures, cartoons, video and light installations helped make Broadway an artistic destination instead of a condemned void. Though the buildings returned to their fallow state after the exhibit closed in late November, we can hope the city will continue to appreciate the active and beneficial role local artists can—and should—play in our quickly changing city.