“We want to create a place that people want to come to,” said Lake Union Partners managing partner and co-founder Patrick Foley.
As LUP developed the Midtown Square building at the corner of 23rd and Union, it was acutely aware of the impact a new building can have on a neighborhood. Fielding feedback on the building’s design and the idea of creating a public square within it that can feature live performances and speakers, LUP heard from community members that they wanted something like what the company had done with the State Hotel, which features a large mural from artist Shepard Fairey.
So LUP set out to find some artists.
Centering a theme of “reverence and discovery,” and under the guidance of consultants Vivian Phillips and Rico Quirindongo, an arts advisory panel was created to curate a set of artists, each with their own connection to the Central District, to create new works around the Midtown Square building.
Selected artists include Barry Johnson (whose separate statue of James W. Washington Jr. was unveiled near the building earlier this year), Myron Curry, Adam Jabari Jefferson, Henry Jackson-Spieker (in a collaboration with KT Hancock), Yegizaw Michael, Perri Rhoden, Juan Alonso-Rodríguez and Takiyah Ward.
Their works vary from a series of photographs on the face of the building, towering above Union, to intricate light installations that hang above a portal to the building’s public courtyard and large murals that adorn many of the building’s exterior walls. What they have in common is an effort to connect community members to the deep history of the Central District.
“I feel like the Central District’s been through a lot,” said Curry, whose spray paint murals featuring the likes of DeCharlene Williams, Jimi Hendrix and Langston Hughes can be seen on the building’s 23rd Avenue wall. “I wanted to create a space for not just gathering, but to create community healing, because Central District, to me, was a community that was very strong and tightknit.”
Curry, who grew up in the Central District, added that it was meaningful for him to be able to participate in a project of this scale in his own neighborhood, creating art that his grandfather, who drives to Safeway every day at 10 a.m., will be able to see.
Like Curry, artist Ward hopes that her work sparks conversation and gets people curious about the history of their neighborhood. Ward’s 120-foot-long mural, a highlight of the public square itself, acts as her visual timeline of the history of Seattle and the Central District. Featured historical figures range from Chief Seattle all the way to Larry Gossett.
“I wanted to make sure that whoever came across it would see and would feel the impact of the Central District,” said Ward, whose family’s history with the area includes her grandfather’s storefront at the old Midtown building.
For consultant Phillips, art that focuses on legacy can play an important role in creating a sense of belonging and community connection.
“Those things are so important,” Phillips said, “to bring art and artist in to give us that pulse, to help us recognize that we’re not alone, to help us have the energy around what our future and our communities can look like, can be. There’s no ceiling to the significance of incorporating art in community.”