Thursday night — and for that night only — artists from around Capitol Hill and Seattle “invaded” a doomed house on the corner of John and 12th with art to showcase the vitality of the neighborhood’s longstanding independent arts scene and highlight the departure of yet another niche of the Hill’s creativity due to displacement.
The renegade art show, dubbed the Capitol Hill Art Invasion was organized by a longtime tenant of the 1920’s-era three-story labyrinth of a home; local artist Damien Puggelli in collaboration with members of a recently created local arts community building collective; Space 4 Art, many of whom are also Capitol Hill residents.
Puggelli, who has been living in a shed turned garage adjacent to the house since 2003, learned back in november of last year that the property is being sold by its joint owners to a developer who plans to demolish the pre-existing home to build high density apartments. Two adjacent and dilapidated properties on 12th Ave are also being leveled by the same company for similar purposes, according to Puggelli.
“I’m slightly heartbroken about this space,” said Puggelli. “What can you do?”
Puggelli says he has yet to receive an eviction notice, but was pre-empting his eventual and the relocation of other similarly displaced artists around the Hill with last night’s show.
Though Puggelli has been the only long-term resident, the house has provided studios and workspaces for numerous artists over the years such as K.D. Schill, a Seattle costume designer.
The idea for the invasion was hatched several months prior by Puggelli and collaborators, who wished to convey not only a “farewell” to the neighborhood but also the vibrancy and necessity of Capitol Hill’s independent arts scene, which they feel is being bulldozed — both literally and figuratively — by gentrifying forces.
It comes as the city has for the first time put marketing muscle to creating a new Capitol Hill Arts District. That program is more focused on preserving and promoting facilities home to more traditional galleries and theater groups — not preserving artist sheds on some of the more in-demand blocks in the city. Early next year just a few blocks downhill, Capitol Hill Station will open with light rail service likely making the area even more desirable for Seattle workers.
Puggelli called the show a reminder of what the Hill could lose both for the public and particularly for those new to the area.
“There always have been and there still are artists here,” said Christopher Balder, a member of Space 4 Art and a assisting organizer of the ‘invasion’. “Part of the whole reason why Capitol Hill is appealing … is that it’s so long been a home to artists and musicians. And I think a lot of people are afraid that that’s changing really quickly. So our goal was just to be visible,” Balder added.
Forty artists, some of whom are with Space 4 Art, exhibited work of various mediums, ranging from a wooden hand clawing at the floor repeatedly powered by an electric motor to more traditional prints, paintings and sketches.
If visibility was the goal it seems to have worked to some extent. Organizers were pleased with a steady stream of patrons coming through and packing the home’s narrow hallways, occasionally creating a line out the front door. Balder estimated a couple hundred had come through in the course of its first hour.
“It’s kind of snowballed nicely,” said Puggelli.
Balder was surprised with the level of interest, particularly that patrons were actually reading papers posted around the walls of the house breaking down the motivations behind the show and what was happening to the house.
“There is power in terms of numbers,” said Balder. “Seattle can feel pretty small and we need to take advantage of that … [we need to] get to know each other and figure out how to help each other and survive.”
Community support has always been essential to artists who make little to no money and have to work day jobs, said Balder. “It’s fairly easy to lose your focus [as an artist] and not be productive, so it’s very encouraging to be part of a group.”
Balder said an Art Invasion Facebook group will be used for artists to post their work and contact info as one method of keeping artists networked, despite any current or future physical distance.
On the John street side of the house, a DPD land use announcement sign was plastered with an alternate message reading the invasion’s mission statement:
“Solutions are needed as our city grows, and we will foster this conversation by remaining visible, and seeking new ways to collaborate, show our work, and thrive in a changing landscape.”
For Puggelli, even the existence of the show was sufficient to convey that message.
“Just [to] have beautiful or strange or interesting, intriguing, well crafted, awesome artwork; that is enough,” said Puggelli.