Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to email@example.com with the subject “Stepping Up.”
Plywood is going up all over town. It’s not pretty.
Give Seattle’s art community a little time, though, and it will catch up. Already artists are out and about, painting murals to combat the growing blight as the novel coronavirus pandemic forces continued closures of local businesses and restaurants.
“I have been homebound mostly like everybody else and trying to think of ways that I can help my community,” artist Amanda Bishop said. “I’ve been feeling a little bit helpless because I’m not on the front lines. I’m not a nurse, I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a ton of money and my husband and I both lost work because of the virus. So when this opportunity came up, I was like, ‘This is a way that I can use my skills because this is my full-time thing.’ ”
Working with permission from owners through the group Overall Creative, Bishop has started painting murals. She spent Sunday at the corner of Pike Street and 10th Avenue working in front of the Comet Tavern and Lost Lake Café along with other artists, each presenting their own vision.
“I can contribute in a positive way that lets Seattle know that I love it and that we’re all going to be OK and bring some people some joy, hopefully,” Bishop said. “I actually did have a lot of people come up and say thank you. And I’ve done a ton of murals over the last eight years of doing this professionally and I haven’t had that as much as I had the last two days. It was pretty awesome to feel like it’s a morale boost, it’s keeping spirits up in a really difficult time.”
Plywood started going up about two weeks ago after vandals began smashing windows of closed businesses. That led to more plywood from store owners who feared they might be next. Things were starting to look bleak all over town.
The folks at Venue in Ballard realized this immediately. The shop sells the work of local artists and features a row of large picture windows. There was no question the windows needed to be covered up, but plywood seemed so … blah. So owners decided to hire a painter to beautify the plywood with a forest scene.
“We didn’t want to promote fear with boarding up, so we thought instead we could spread a message of happiness and hope if we made our boards beautiful,” Venue owner Diane Macrae said. “Knowing artists are struggling as well with canceled shows and lack of sales, we figured it was a chance to provide some additional work for them. Our store is all about supporting local artists, so it made sense to continue to do this during this time in any way we can.”
A similar effort has been under way in the International District and Little Saigon areas after vandals took out the windows of several restaurants nearly two weeks ago.
“It’s disheartening, but also it’s great to see the community come together,” Sarah Moriguchi said after snapping a picture of the new mural that now decorates the front of Jade Garden.
Moriguchi is a resident of the neighborhood and a fellow restaurant worker at nearby Momosan, so she feels for the Chan family that owns Jade Garden, and the other businesses in the area that seem to have been targeted because they are Asian restaurants. As she talks, there are only one or two other people on a street where, in pre-coronavirus times, you might have seen throngs of patrons swarming local restaurants and shops.
“It’s just kind of how the world is right now,” Moriguchi said. “You see something terrible and then something good happens, you know? So it’s bittersweet, I’d say.”
Ivy Chan and her family, which has run Jade Garden for 17 years, aren’t sure if the vandals were trying to break in or were just out to cause damage. But she feels the opportunity arose because the streets are virtually empty thanks to the stay-at-home order.
“Those people, they like to take advantage of the fact that there’s less people now because they’re all trying to do their diligent part to stay home,” Chan said. “And then other people are like, ’Oh, it’s easier for me to go out there and do stuff. There’s less police patrolling, there’s less eyes to watch, so I can go and break in and do things like that and take advantage of the situation.’ ”
Keoke Silvano, a local photographer, is a frequent visitor to the block and saw the damage the morning after it happened as he was getting coffee. He organized a group of artists who proceeded to paint the colorful mural at Jade Garden. He hopes it’s just the start, and that painters who might be out of work or looking for a way to contribute will continue the effort for businesses forced into fortress mode.
“I don’t know if there were other restaurants or businesses that were impacted in the Belltown area or Capitol Hill, but it seems to me that some of these businesses might’ve been targeted because they are Asian businesses,” Silvano said. “And it just seems hard not to draw that conclusion that it was just a target because of the conversations that are going around the country. I mean people blaming China for the virus or calling it the Chinese virus or the kung fu virus, and various other xenophobic and racial undertones along with that.”
He decided to fight back and put out word to the art community. He ended up with a half dozen or so painters who decorated the front of Jade Garden in a variety of colorful styles. They used mostly spray paint to craft scenes that included a meal of noodles, vegetables and tea with a fortune cookie, and a Seattle skyline framed by jacaranda blossoms with the words “we’re open.”
“Some of them also have been impacted by the business slowdown, have been laid off themselves,” Silvano said. “So I thought it was just an amazing thing for them to just pitch in despite the fact that they’re also hurting.”
One of those painters was Seattle artist Quincy Quigg. He saw Silvano’s post on Facebook and volunteered after joining a similar effort in Belltown.
“So we were doing it basically just for the community,” Quigg said. “Seattle is my city that I came up in, so I’ve definitely got love for my city. And it’s just pretty heartbreaking to see everything boarded up. And the Jade Garden one, I don’t know if it was racially motivated or not, but if that is the case, that’s (garbage). And I definitely wanted to intervene there.”