IN THE LAST week of March, witnessing the suddenly quiescent streets of Seattle, I assigned myself the task of documenting the changes that were sure to follow. All but “essential” businesses and services had been closed, and my near-deserted hometown carried more than a whiff of post-apocalyptic sulfur. 

Cover story: Artists fill the bleak streets of a locked-down Seattle with vibrancy and life

In Pike Place Market, restaurants and dozens of shops had closed until further notice, leaving behind lonely, “essential” islands of grocers, produce and fish shops. Usually chockablock with artisanal crafts and flowers, the market’s long tables were abandoned. A place that for me represents the beating heart of Seattle had suffered near-cardiac arrest. 

Yet this was not my first pandemic rodeo. In August 1976, I took a gap year from college and volunteered halfway around the world as an aid worker in South Sudan during the world’s first recorded encounter with the Ebola virus. After months of quarantine, the outbreak abated, and I could travel home to immensely relieved parents. 

By comparison, while it bears a lower mortality rate, COVID-19 nevertheless has proved significantly more infectious, casting a planet-wide shadow for the foreseeable future. 

In these uniquely dark times, however, my daily contact with works of art-in-progress provided me a palpable sense of hope, and I wasn’t alone. Many artists noted the warm reception from passersby as they worked. “So much gratitude,” marveled Katlyn Hubner, whose “Pup Pack” is included in my story. What’s more, the murals, interactive by nature, encouraged the recording of thousands of selfies. 

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No sooner had pandemic restrictions begun to ease than Black Lives Matter protests began, resulting in a vibrant new crop of political art, wielding its own set of fiery messages that demanded change. While this magazine’s deadlines limited me to chronicling art of the pandemic, the bare plywood installed more recently on the streets of downtown and Capitol Hill has opened up new vistas. 

For those who seek an encyclopedic overview of the murals, local press Chatwin Books plans to publish a full-color book featuring more than 140 artworks from all over town, for which artists supplied their own photos. For more info, visit chatwinbooks.com

You also can see expanded documentation of my photos of this year’s affecting burst of local art at our blog, pauldorpat.com