With rents in Seattle still through the roof and Capitol Hill in a state of frenzied construction, Charles Mudede, film critic and writer for The Stranger, has brought together After Seattle, an exhibition of multi-media art documenting and acknowledging the period of intense transition Seattle is currently facing.
Mudede, who moved to Seattle in 1989, has seen Seattle in numerous states of existence, from the effects of “white-flight” on Seattle’s inner city during the 80s to the Microsoft boom of the 90s and the eventual suburban housing bubble collapse in 2008. But he says that the “frenetic” economic activity of the Amazon era represents and even greater shift due to the sudden massive concentration of capital within the city, and the resulting warping face of the city he once knew.
“This particular boom hit me forcefully,” said Mudede. “this is new and it’s going to have consequences.”
He maintains the show won’t try to predict with absolute certainty what will come out of Seattle’s current throes of evolution. “I just wanted to do a show that didn’t say what exactly, where all this would lead, but just to recognize that it has to go somewhere.”
The show opens at 12th Ave’s Hedreen Gallery on Thursday night, and will run for one month. Featured artists include Tendai Maraie from the experimental hip hop group Shabazz Palaces, Seattle civil engineer Cary Moon, photographer Virginia Wilcox, and musician and Beatles descendant Sean Ono Lennon. The works range from photography of strangers around Capitol Hill to a film bombarding the viewer with data about the various ways Seattle is changing.
With pessimism and disapproval of the physical, cultural, and demographic changes in Seattle in no short supply, Mudede says he’s “a lot more confused” about the changes than some — he says he enjoys some aspects of a rapidly growing city such as more people and strangers, higher density, and a buzzing atmosphere of a town awash with new activity, somewhat akin to “New York City” as he puts it.
“You can feel it. I go to bars now and I feel very much not in the same city,” Mudede said.
But despite this he says the harsh realities of the gentrification process are hard to reconcile, especially as a marxist, he said.
“We live in a city where we believe we’re ‘liberal’, and liberals are supposed to be tolerant and cosmopolitan …. [But] the problem is power is in the form of money and it’s really hard to contest that force. It’s going to shape the way cities work,” he said.
The Hill’s collective neighborhood anxiety about development stems from the rapid gentrification of a former gay ghetto, he says. “[it was] A place where people who wanted to be together because the mainstream community rejected them, [who] were stuck in this part of town so you could basically walk and hold hands and not be bothered by people.”
“That’s what I saw when I first came to Capitol Hill,” he said, “that was the best part of it.”
Today, Mudede lives in a home in Columbia City on a street with families of numerous ethnic backgrounds. He acknowledges the area is also being reshaped by predominantly white-owned capital, just at a slower pace than the Hill and other parts of Seattle.
Mudede isn’t planning After Seattle as funeral. It should be a “party,” he says. There are still a few elements to add including a still to be scheduled debate on the changes in the city between Mudede and neighborhood entrepreneur David Meinert.
Mudede wants After Seattle viewers to see that the process of gentrification and the market forces of capitalism that spur it are human engineered circumstances.
“Concentration of wealth is a cultural thing, it’s not a natural thing,” he said.
After Seattle opens Thursday, April 9th and runs through May 9th at Hedreen Gallery, 901 12th Ave.