What’s with all the mysterious art on Denny Way?
All Rise, a 14-month rotating installation of public art on Denny Way in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, looks to engage passers-by.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One day in September, they just appeared.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny neon pink flags, were draped across an otherwise empty lot on Denny Way at Pontius. They were reminiscent of a surreal used car lot, but didn’t seem to have any useful purpose. Nothing was being advertised, but the chain-link fence held a clue: A sign was hung on it that said All Rise.
It wasn’t the first time strange happenings had taken place on the lot. There’s been a week of improv dance performances; sculptural installations have appeared and disappeared; at one point, a musician named Ben Hunter performed at the site busker-style.
The flags it turned out are part of All Rise, a 14-month long art project, which began in March and is administered by the city of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture. The installations and events are curated by two Portland-based women, Elizabeth Spavento and Meagan Atiyeh.
On Friday, the pink-flag exhibit, which contains 20,000 linear feet of hot-pink flags, (actual title: “A Canopy”), an authorless work overseen by the two curators, gets an extra dimension for just an hour, as another piece will be performed around the site. Starting at 5 p.m., Trumpet City: Seattle, by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based composer Craig Shepard, will feature 23 trumpet players who will be stationed at different points along the periphery of the 90,000 square-foot space, formerly a Greyhound bus garage.
The project is designed to build awareness of what the lot will become — a new substation for Seattle City Light, which won’t be finished until 2017 at the earliest, according to the city’s website — while doubling as a showcase for public art. One percent of the total budget for the substation was allocated for public art, per the One Percent for Art ordinance, in which 1 percent of the budget of eligible capital-improvement projects in the city are allocated to the arts.
Since its inception, nine works have been shown or performed at the Denny location, including Arne Pihl, Karl Burkheimer, Jenene Nagy and Rodrigo Valenzuela. The pieces have ranged from large-scale sculptures using fabric and construction materials, to photographs designed to gradually degrade, and weeklong dance performances.
Until recently, Spavento and Atiyeh have kept a relatively low profile (a humorous Seattle Weekly article identified them only as Curator A and Curator B).
“It was really an attempt to keep a focus on the work and artist,” said Atiyeh of their semi-secret identities. “A lot of the pieces have been installed as surprises. We wanted to live in the moment, keep the focus on the surprise as much as possible, because we are really interested in having people deeply consider that space and that site.”
They chose the artists based on how they would use the gargantuan, full city-block space — which proved to be a challenge.
“I think a natural impulse when you approach a space like that is to try and conquer it,” Spavento said. “But I think you quickly realize the amount of time and money and resources that it would take to make a statement that grand just becomes a little bit overwhelming ... we’re really interested in work that alluded to the grandness while it stayed on a human scale.”
Shepard’s trumpet piece is a good example of that balance. The work was first commissioned by Musikpodium, the bandstand of Zurich, Switzerland, and has been performed four times. In Seattle, the interspersed musicians will be overseen by local trumpet player Rudy Harper, the players culled from the University of Washington and Cornish College music programs.
“What I’ve found is that in each space, the piece isn’t the center of attention, it ends up being a frame or a backdrop against which I experience that place,” Shepard said. “It’s not so much the space influences the piece, as much as the music is itself is a way to experience the place.”
South Lake Union’s rapid development proved a challenge for staging the piece. “The neighborhood is changing so rapidly, all the maps I’ve gotten a hold of are outdated,” he said.
The piece is likely to attract lookie loos and passers-by. But it’s the longtime residents he most wants to reach.
Shepard hopes, he said, “they come across it afterward, they say, ‘Wasn’t it wonderful to be there?’ ”
Information in this article, originally published October 24, 2014, was corrected October 24, 2014. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the musician who performed at the All Rise site. It is Ben Hunter .