You can’t celebrate 10 years of “Art Zone with Nancy Guppy” without celebrating its host.
The Seattle television personality is a booster, true friend and serial enabler for the thousands of Pacific Northwest creatives she’s met while hosting the Seattle Channel arts, culture and entertainment program.
When producers asked former featured participants to send selfie videos to celebrate the show’s first decade, they got hundreds. And they were still flowing in as a small, tight-knit group of producers and crew members finished recording this year’s season premiere, which airs on the cable channel on Sept. 20.
“She’s just born to connect people,” said Chris Ballew, lead singer of The Presidents of the United States of America and an occasional subject of Guppy’s. “I’ve known a few people in my life like her where the urge to reach out and grab one person and another person and put them together is sort of her life’s blood. That’s why I think she’s so well-loved, because she’s a facilitator for a lot of connections for people that end up being inspiring and creatively fulfilling and all that.”
“There’s really nothing fair-weather about Nancy’s love for the arts,” said Rosemary Garner, a friend of Guppy’s for 25 years who will become a co-producer on the show this year. “She is a true cheerleader for Northwest artists. She’s such a little powerhouse.”
The 59-year-old senior producer’s nonstop enthusiasm was on display when the “Art Zone” staff gathered earlier this month to film parts of the season premiere at show headquarters The Stables in Georgetown. Some crew members have known Guppy for decades. Cameraman Ralph Bevins’ friendship with her dates back 25 years, and she outlined in great and loving detail their long working partnership while introducing him.
“We’re supposed to talk about how great you are, not me,” Bevins said with a laugh.
Had Guppy never started “Art Zone” with co-creator Sheila Mullen back in 2008, she’d still be something of a local celebrity. She was a performer and writer on KING’s comedy sketch show “Almost Live!” for about eight years. The show preceded “Saturday Night Live” every week and continues to live on thanks to YouTube.
“It got a huge positive response and it’s amazing that people look back on it with such fondness,” said Bevins, who worked with Guppy on “Almost Live!” Kids watched the show and now they’re 40. When you grow up with something, you just have this attachment to it. It’s great that it’s online. It’s literally stayed alive. People look on it with love now.”
The same can be said of “Art Zone” among Seattle’s creative community. The show’s format has changed over time, but through all the changes, Guppy and her colleagues have relentlessly promoted Pacific Northwest artists, musicians, writers and artisans. In its current format, each “Art Zone” episode features three segments on creatives, a music performance and calendar recommendations from invited guests.
The material not only runs on the Seattle Channel and its website, but is also posted to YouTube where it lives a sometimes unexpected life of its own. An episode devoted to Duff McKagan, the Guns N’ Roses bassist, has been racking up the clicks for years at a clip of 3,000 or 4,000 a month. It now has more than 601,000 views.
“That’s a big damn number for us, man,” Guppy said.
Outside of clicks, it’s hard to track “Art Zone” viewership. Funded out of the city’s cable franchise fee, it’s the Seattle Channel’s most-watched show. Beyond that, Guppy just has anecdotal evidence for its popularity.
There’s no doubt it’s popular in the creative community.
“It’s something of a feather in your cap if you make it on the show,” singer-songwriter Wes Weddell said. “You definitely score points in the local and regional arts communities if you appear.”
And that’s mostly the point. “Art Zone” has a pretty simple mission. As viewing habits and tastes have evolved, local arts programming has taken a hit. Guppy doesn’t believe there are many — if any — shows like “Art Zone” out there anymore.
“It wouldn’t be happening, by the way, at any other station than where we are at Seattle Channel,” she said. “All the commercial stations, the obvious ones, they’re national companies. They’re not their own individual, locally owned things. So the decisions for local programming — that went out the window long ago at those places.”
“Art Zone” will continue to fight the good fight for the foreseeable future. But Guppy isn’t sure if the show will make it to its 20th anniversary. For one, its funding is part of the city’s budgeting process and is never guaranteed.
And life conspires, people come and go, priorities change. But she’s cleared her plate of all other work — like most of the show’s producers, she’s a freelancer — and has decided to focus on “Art Zone” full time.
“Who knows if I’ll be doing this at 69,” Guppy said. “I like the show, I like doing the show. It’s invigorating and artists are invigorating, and they’re inspiring. So there’s nothing else I’d like to do. But there’s possibly ways that we may kind of shift it a little bit, change the format a little bit. And maybe it will go on with somebody else. It can say ‘Art Zone with’ somebody else’s name. It doesn’t have to be me. In fact, I hope that would happen.”
“Art Zone with Nancy Guppy” airs 8 p.m. Fridays (season premiere is Sept. 20) on the Seattle Channel and also can be found at seattlechannel.org/artZone.