A hub for black art, business, and community, CD planned as Seattle arts district

Following Capitol Hill’s designation in 2014, the Central District is being planned as Seattle’s second official Cultural Arts District.

The push for a Central Area arts district stems from organizing efforts between a collection of cultural institutions, community members, and black artists, all hoping to both preserve and nurture the artistic and cultural legacy of Seattle’s historically African American neighborhood as the neighborhood changes and gentrifies amidst the citywide development boom and influx of new residents. The designation backers will be holding an open house this weekend to engage with the public on the designation.

“Particularly in light of all the change that is happening in the central area, this is a moment for us to pool our efforts and make this happen,” said Vivian Phillips, a lifetime Central District resident, director of marketing and communications for the Seattle Theater Group and current co-chair of the coalition pushing for the designation.

The public meeting is hoped to help define “the scope of our work both short term and long term,” Phillips said.

Following months of discussion and organizing among Central District African American arts advocates, the designation legislation is planned to begin its path through City Hall in December.

“We don’t want to just become a museum. We don’t want to be erased.”

The institutions and organizations pushing for the designation include the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, the Northwest African American Museum, Africatown, and the Seattle Black Arts Alliance. After a series of meetings over the summer, the group requested designation from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture in late July, coinciding with city’s planned upzones along 23rd avenue.

“We don’t want to just become a museum. We don’t want to be erased. We do want to preserve that legacy and stimulate more interest in how the CD can become more of a hub for black art and culture,” Philips said.

Apphia Campbell in Black Is the Color of My Voice (Image: Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas)

Apphia Campbell in Black Is the Color of My Voice (Image: Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas)

Historically, the Central District has been a hub for black art, business, and community. Between the 1930s and 60s — when African Americans in Seattle were mostly limited to living in the Central District due to racially discriminatory housing covenants — there were jazz clubs in the neighborhood catering to the high demand for nightlife from soldiers and civilians stationed and working in the city during Seattle’s stint as a center for World War II-era defense industry.

The Central District’s Jackson Street was called home by over a dozen clubs were located in 1948, according to Paul de Barros in his book Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle. The Seattle jazz scene also sparked the careers of several notable black jazz musicians during this time period such as Quincy Jones (who attended Garfield High School), Ray Charles, and Ernestine Anderson. The late 60s and early 70s produced black funk bands who gained national recognition such as Cold and Bold Together and Black on White Affair.

“A lot of beautiful things happened, a lot of great art was stimulated. Our culture is always going to be a significant part of who we are,” Philips said.

The concept of designated cultural arts districts is new to Seattle. In November of 2014, Capitol Hill became the city’s first arts district, lead by Capitol Hill Housing and the Capitol Hill Chamber. The designation comes with a $50,000 dollar grant, in addition to a “Creative Placemaking Toolkit,” which includes of a number of mechanisms and programs that can be implemented (in collaboration with various city agencies and vested organizations) to help cultivate a given arts district, such as historic landmarking, wayfinding, and pop-up art projects and space activations.

(Image: Seattle.gov)

(Image: Seattle.gov)

Some ideas that have been put forth by the coalition are physical identifiers or a icon for the Central District, a CD arts district website, continuing the painting of local crosswalks, advocacy for affordable housing specifically for artists, and working with developers to ensure that valued neighborhood murals and art (such as the James Washington Fountain on 23rd avenue) is preserved.

But while Central Area arts district is still very much in the conceptual stage — the coalition of backers don’t have any specific projects lined up aside from obtaining the designation and have yet to establish any official governing body for the future district — its organizers hope to create a official forum to cultivate and energize local the african american arts community. A strong emphasis is being placed on the community input and drive.

“On our end, this is just phase one of getting the designation. We have no idea what the actual district is going to be like,” said Tyrone Brown, founder and artistic director at Brown Box Theater. “That’s the next step and why we’re having a public meeting.”

The open house will be held on Saturday, November 14th, at 11:00AM at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center.

“For now it’s the exciting part where you’re dreaming and visioning,” said Rosanna Sharp, Executive Director of the Northwest African American Museum. “It’s very potent.”

UPDATE 11/20/2015: The mayor’s office announced this week that the draft ordinance to create the new Central District arts is moving forward:

Murray announces new cultural district in the Central Area 

SEATTLE (Nov. 19, 2015) — This week Mayor Ed Murray sent the Seattle City Council a draft ordinance to create the Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District, the second Seattle neighborhood to be designated anArts & Cultural District.

The Central Area is a center of African-American heritage and history, as well as a neighborhood undergoing rapid change. The Arts District designation recognizes the culturally rich neighborhood and seeks to preserve its character, while stimulating a growing arts environment in the Central Area.

“The Central Area is has made enormous contributions to Seattle’s cultural identity, from the music of Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute,” says Mayor Murray. “The neighborhood’s arts heritage is felt far beyond our city boundaries. This designation honors our history and nurtures the Central Area arts community for the next generation.”

“This is the first step in preserving our legacy and officially designating the Central Area as a hub for black artand culture,” says Vivian Phillips, co-chair of the Central Area coalition and director of marketing and communications for the Seattle Theatre Group.

The Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District designation is dedicated to:

  • Preserving an African-American legacy in the Central Area.
  • Sustaining and strengthening the physical identity and sense of place for cultural relevancy.
  • Establishing continued support of artistic creation, economic vibrancy, livability, affordability, desirability, and artistic vitality.

The arts district designation includes access to the Creative Placemaking Toolkit, a suite of tools designed to preserve, strengthen, and expand arts and cultural spaces. The district will have access to $50,000 to be used towards the toolkit’s programs and resources for right-of-way identifiers, wayfinding, busking and plein air painting, art historic markers, pop-up activation and parklets. The toolkit was designed to support artists, artspaces, and neighborhoods in maintaining and investing in their cultural assets.

Central Area

The Central Area is Seattle’s historically African-American neighborhood and a center for art, business and culture. The Central Area has been home to some of the world’s most respected arts and cultural organizations and artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Theaster Gates, James Washington, Vitamin D, Ernestine Anderson, Ray Charles, Art Chantry, Black Heritage Society of Washington, CD Forum, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Coyote Central, RBG the CD, James and Janie Washington Foundation, and others.

Arts & Cultural Districts

The creation of Arts & Cultural District program stems from the recommendations of the Cultural OverlayDistrict Advisory Committee’s June 2009 report, which was accepted and endorsed by Seattle City Council with Resolution 31155 in August 2009. City Council found that a district plan benefits the city because arts and cultural activities serve as a major economic engine for Seattle, and provide an invaluable quality of life that other activities cannot duplicate. The program launched in November of 2014 with the adoption of City Council Resolution 31555 and the creation of the Capitol Hill Arts District.

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