Spotlight: Port Authority
Picture a port city shaped by the ebb and flow of its maritime industry. A city where the local seafood is legendary, and the music scene is heralded for its influence and depth. Are you seeing the Emerald City, or the Big Easy?
This month, the two cities—and coasts—are bridged via Bilocal (bilocal.org), a new, Seattle-based literary series examining the meaning of place, home and community. It’s the brainchild of Bob Redmond, who has held myriad arts posts locally (including as Bumbershoot’s arts program manager 2004–2010 and Seattle Poetry Fest’s founder/director 1998–2000) and who last summer started a nonprofit called Essential Arts, the mission of which is to develop creative work for the common good. Bilocal is the group’s first project.
The event is actually two events—one in Seattle and one in New Orleans (in April). At both, the same six writers from Seattle and six writers from New Orleans will create and present brand-new work on the nature of community. In addition, local designer Daniel R. Smith (known for his captivating poster shows at Bumbershoot that have joined Seattle artists with artists in Havana, Tehran and Moscow) has invited six graphic designers from each city to create posters based on the written work. In Seattle, where our surfeit of word nerds is renowned, yet another literary series might not seem like big news. But Redmond says this one is different.
“Seattle is a wealthy city where people have time to read and think,” he says. “The downside is complacency—we’re not challenged.” His motivation for Bilocal was to inspire Seattle’s literature lovers to move beyond the “chin-scratcher literary series” toward art that packs a social impact. With Bilocal, tangible impact will be achieved by the net proceeds from the event and poster sales, which go to The Lens (thelensnola.com), a New Orleans nonprofit doing investigative journalism in the Gulf Coast region. Bringing two cities together through what Redmond calls a “communitarian project by nature” will also have intangible benefits—widened perspective, increased understanding and engagement—which, though tough to measure, are no less worthy.
Spoken-word artist Asia Rainey, who will join Bilocal from New Orleans, says, “I love projects where there’s an opportunity to share cultures, find connections and celebrate our differences.” Award-winning New Orleans–based novelist James Nolan (Perpetual Care) says he’s similarly drawn to projects that gravitate toward a sense of place. “A few years back, I participated in a Rockefeller grant called Bridging the Gulf,” he recalls, “in which poets from New Orleans and Mexico City translated each other’s works and did readings in each other’s cities, and it was a great way to connect with Mexican writers. So I’m hoping for the same camaraderie in Seattle.”
Other writers in the lineup are Molly Wizenberg, Jonathan Evison, Riz Rollins, Alex Kuo, Swil Kanim and Megan Kelso (all from Seattle), and David Rutledge, Anne Gisleson, Dedra Johnson and Jamar Travis (from New Orleans). Redmond believes that in addition to fostering community Bilocal should be a party, so the readings are augmented with live music (by Seattle pianist Robin Holcomb and New Orleans Cajun singer Zachary Richard), short films (one by local filmmaker Ben Kasulke) and food by acclaimed local chefs.
But foremost on the menu is the writing, which, given the diverse backgrounds of the participants, promises to b