Two Seattle artists have created their own program for making connections and community.
Have you ever said to someone, “Hey, you know what this city needs?” I’ll bet most of us have, and then moved on rather than move ahead with the idea.
Shawn Landis and Jodi Rockwell, ceramics artists who live in Seattle’s Central District with their two young sons, acted on theirs. They created an artist residency program in a house a few blocks from their home so that artists from around the world could come and work for a few weeks and connect with Seattle. They call it Rockland.
“It breathes new life into both of us as creative people,” Rockwell said.
Among the things that caught my attention is that they weren’t asking for contributions. That’s partly because they want to be able to shape the project without donors influencing their choices. But more importantly, they see the residency as their contribution to the community.
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Rockwell, who handles communications and marketing for the project, quoted Landis in a news release about the project: “I developed the Rockland Residency concept to counter the trend in the Central District of monetizing every square block with very little investment in culture or community space. As a teenager, I learned the punk principle: Do what you can with what you got and hope the rest falls into place and space.”
Landis came up with the residency idea as an art student at the University of Washington, where he and Rockwell met. That was 15 years ago. Since then, they’ve been creating art. Landis also has worked as a contractor and Rockwell as a ceramics teacher.
And they’ve been buying houses, fixing them up, selling them and doing well at it. Landis began thinking that wasn’t fulfilling and needed to give back to the community somehow.
They bought the house at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Marion Street two years ago, and later learned that it was designed by Victor Steinbrueck, best known for saving Pike Place Market.
They rent out the property for nine months of the year, and for the other three months, they host artists, one at a time, for two to four weeks. The artists get a free place to stay. Part of the idea is that they will be inspired by Seattle. Rockwell and Landis use their connections here to build relationships between locals and the residents, and they arrange outings that they think will fit a particular artist: lectures, museum tours and dinners with local artists. But it’s up to the artist whether to participate.
Near the end of each resident’s stay, the couple invite about a dozen artists to meet at Rockland and see that person’s new work, then they dine at the couple’s home nearby.
All forms of art are welcome, and in this first year, there were 38 applicants from 12 different countries. A committee of artists chose five and the residency began in February.
The first resident was an East Coast writer; the current artist-in-residence, Henriikka Kontimo, is from Finland and makes text-based installations in response to a certain place.
She said, “Seattle is really nice,” but many people here live in a bubble of middle- and upper-class comfort. “Everybody is carrying a yoga mat or a cappuccino.” There are issues people need to talk about, but don’t because of the bubble, she said.
Kontimo went to The Elliott Bay Book Company and perused titles in the self-help section, then created her own titles using words and concepts from the books. “Understanding Nonmarital Gardening,” “Mindful Path to Politically Correct Awakening,” “Healing Your White Masculinity” and more, like “Understanding Your Dog’s Faith.”
I loved it. Kontimo said her impressions are ones a person might have at first, but eventually the bubble would come to seem normal. A view from the outside can help us see the bubble again. The artist gets something, the community gets something, and that’s the idea.
And that is how we succeed by mindfully experiencing art in a gentrified space.