Seattle to the World: The Arts


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In celebration of the official debut of Worldchanging Seattle, we bring you our Seattle to the World series: a collection of the 100 best local innovations, institutions, policies and people that we think could benefit readers in cities around the world. We've collected your recommendations – and sought out our own – to identify what we felt was a sample of Seattle's most inspiring solutions for a better future.

Series Three: The Arts

Artists play a crucial role in the development of cities. From the most high-profile Seattle artists and institutions, which provide rich opportunities for residents and feed a booming tourist industry, to neighborhood gallery walks that draw staggering crowds, to street art of both the sanctioned and the guerrilla kind, local art is an urban resource that takes many forms. The arts feed and nurture our creative sides. Art venues and performance halls are often our destinations when we leave our own neighborhoods. Visual displays and street performers make walks more interesting, and encourage us to slow down and enjoy the journey.

And though the cycle of gentrification and new development is controversial, there is little question that artists help settle new urban territory. At a panel discussion this summer, I heard Daniel Friedman, dean of the UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning, discuss how artists are the first to move into many parts of a city, and how their presence, the creative activity they generate and the businesses they attract transform an undefined area into a desirable neighborhood.

What comes later, when desirability gives way to development that displaces the artists, is a key debate for local groups such as Arts Leadership Lab (ALL). The ALL is working with others to develop a plan for a Cultural Overlay District to preserve art in places like Capitol Hill, where the skyrocketing cost of living is driving artists from homes and workspaces more quickly than in any other area of Seattle.

No matter how many million-dollar condos are built, artists will find space to work, to create, and to thrive. We've seen artists use non-spaces, like when the Stranger Genius Award-winning troupe Implied Violence creates theater in abandoned buildings and on trapdoor-accessed rooftops. And we've seen artists revitalize the aging relics of suburbia, when groups like the team behind The Soap Factory reuse bits and pieces of dead shopping malls to create new workspaces. But in order to preserve their influence on the areas that are most special to our city and our unique Seattle culture, we must value the artists and the art that makes such magic happen.

Throughout this week and next, we'll be adding new posts flagged "Seattle to the World" as we profile the best of what Seattle's arts community has to offer.

Links to those stories:
Youngstown Cultural Arts Center: A Resource By the Community, For the Community

ArtsCorps: Treating Creativity as a Basic Right

Mini Mart City Park: Infusing an urban wasteland with hope and imagination

Intiman Theatre's American Cycle: Preserving cultural heritage, promoting community connection

Editor's note: Of course, some local resources, like the Olympic Sculpture Park, blur the lines between the arts and other categories, like urban design. We're not going to offer a repeat of posts that have come before, but we honor them, and all of the great art throughout Seattle, as we bring you our selections for this series.

Top photo: A boy examines a street mural in Georgetown.
Photo credit: flickr/slightlynorth, Creative Commons license.

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This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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