Here are some notable things that happened in the local arts-and-culture world worth keeping in the back pocket of your mind as you glide into 2019.
How much happens in a year? Lots. More than you remember: good, bad, large, small, indifferent, mildly funny, slightly gross, sometimes tragic.
But 2018, to me at least, seemed like a year of potential and starts — stuff happened, but we won’t necessarily see the fruits and flowers of those buds until a few years down the road. Here are some things that happened in the local arts-and-culture world worth keeping in the back pocket of your mind as you glide into 2019.
Seattle Art Museum, where absence trumped presence. SAM’s 2018 had a few ebbs and flows. First, director Kimerly Rorschach announced her plan to retire in fall of 2019, citing the P.R. equivalent of a Kevlar vest: She wants to spend more time with her family. (Though Rorschach also said she wanted to spend more time with “some family business interests” in Texas.) Second, the internationally coveted art stash of local collector Barney Ebsworth, once publicly promised to SAM and including Edward Hopper’s iconic “Chop Suey,” went up for auction at Christie’s in November. (“Chop Suey” ultimately sold for $91.9 million.) Third: Tacoma Art Museum announced it would open its “Benaroya Wing” in January 2019, reminding everyone that Seattle collector and arts philanthropist Becky Benaroya gifted her family’s glass-heavy collection to Tacoma’s flagship art museum instead of Seattle’s. On the plus side, SAM curator Chiyo Ishikawa was knighted by France to l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and SAM successfully walked a very tricky aesthetic/ethical tightrope with its 150-year-birthday exhibition of photographer Edward Curtis. They invited Native artists (Tracy Rector, Will Wilson, others) into the gallery rooms and called it “Double Exposure,” putting a fine point on Curtis’ positive/negative legacy. The whole thing felt like an artful but honest funeral oration for a dead person you kind of love and kind of loathe.
The Dave Meinert #MeToo moment. KUOW reporter Sydney Brownstone broke a story that wracked Seattle’s cultural and political scene: Nearly a dozen women accused Meinert, a longtime heavy in the local music, nightlife and politics scenes, of sexual misconduct, including assault or rape. Meinert had managed significant bands (The Lumineers, Blue Scholars, The Presidents of the United States of America), helped launch or remake bars and restaurants (Lost Lake, Comet, Grim’s, Via Tribunali, Big Mario’s) and threw his weight behind local politics (supporting City Attorney Pete Holmes and former Mayor Ed Murray, opposing the $15 minimum wage before serving on the committee to negotiate how it would be implemented). Shortly after the news broke, Meinert cut ties with his businesses and retreated from public life. Jody Hall, owner of Cupcake Royale, told The Seattle Times it was like “the Harvey Weinstein effect hitting us in our own community.” (Editor’s note: The reporter on this story is married to one of Meinert’s accusers.)
SODO Track! This summer, 23 graffiti artists and muralists (some from Brazil, some from Taiwan, some from Italy, some from around the corner) converged for a few sweltering days in August to complete the SODO Track, a gorgeous, 2-mile art project that had been three summers in the making. Tamar Benzikry of 4Culture helped spearhead the project — a monument of big, weird murals made by painters with international street cred that will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people riding light rail between Beacon Hill and downtown Seattle. “I want to do things that encourage people pecking at their phones to look up,” Benzikry said during one paint-and-sweat-flecked afternoon during the fervor of the project. Finishing SODO Track might be one of Seattle’s happiest cultural moments of 2018. In other 4Culture news, its longtime director Jim Kelly — admired by insiders for his eagerness to engage in bare-knuckled bureaucratic brawling with local and state governments to keep arts funding and arts education alive — retired in April.
The Nordic Museum opened. Seattle got a new museum dedicated to 12,000 years of Nordic and Nordic-American culture, from Vikings to ABBA and beyond. The president of Iceland and Crown Princess of Denmark showed up for the opening gala in May, while local fish-industry magnates toasted with aquavit and admired the museum’s view of the Ballard waterfront.
Kent School District’s MLK rallies expand to all schools. In the wake of racially motivated violence last year in the district, some students became especially passionate about staging their annual poetry/music/theatrical rallies honoring the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year, the district announced those programs, staged with help from artists from The 5th Avenue Theatre, would expand to every high school in the district.
City Arts bit the dust. After roughly a decade of covering Seattle’s arts and culture scene, City Arts shut down operations with much regret. The monthly magazine had been part of the Encore Media company (perhaps best known for publishing programs for the opera, ballet and Seattle’s bigger theaters) before spinning off and trying to start a crowdfunding campaign, with some quiet conversations with potential big investors, to keep gas in the tanks. It didn’t work, raising about 38 percent of its publicly stated goal.
Seattle contracted “Hamilton” fever. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cultural and financial juggernaut of a musical about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton came to the Paramount Theatre. Katera Howard, a 17-year-old senior at Rainier Beach High School, talked to The Seattle Times about how listening to the musical had changed her life, but said she couldn’t afford a ticket. Almost as soon as the story was published, readers around the country wrote in, offering to buy her a ticket. She wound up accepting an invitation from former city council member Tim Burgess. Afterward, she said: “It was so, so good! I can’t even describe how good it was.”
Departures. The year also saw some deaths of well-known and well-loved Seattle arts-and-culture folks, including actor/writer/comedian Peggy Platt; actor and dancer Demene E. Hall; daring arts pioneer and nonprofit leader Yoko Ott; the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney (the pastor emeritus of Mount Zion Baptist Church, who was an anchor performer for Intiman Theatre’s long-running gospel holiday musical “Black Nativity”); and Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, founder of Seattle Art Fair and all-around philanthropist.
Lots of other stuff happened too, but that’s all we have room for. Happy New Year, everyone. As Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted on New Year’s Eve, 2017: “The work is hard but it is worth it. Don’t give up.”