“I am trembling,” wrote Tacoma-based artist Christopher Paul Jordan on social media after the announcement that he had been selected from a pool of artists from all over the country to produce the centerpiece artwork for the AIDS Memorial Pathway. The pathway and plaza, expected to open in June 2020 along with the mixed-use, transit-oriented developments surrounding it, will connect Capitol Hill Station to Cal Anderson Park. When finished, the plaza will also host the weekly Capitol Hill Farmers Market.
Portland-based artist Horatio Hung-Yan Law shaped the art plan for the public-private project. “It’s not an AIDS memorial, but a memorial pathway,” Law told CHS. “We have the luxury of not trying to express everything in one memorial. There are so many aspects to [HIV/AIDS]; that’s hard to sum up or put in one piece.”
Five different “art zones” will form the pathway. Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture is in the process of finding artists for artworks sprinkled around the plaza that could incorporate benches, lights, and street paving. The AMP is also hoping to place art in the public community room of the Capitol Hill Housing apartment building at the site.
The plan includes a re-landscaping of the northern edge of Cal Anderson Park, as well as an Augmented Reality project relaying the history of HIV/AIDS in Seattle and King County.
At the heart of it all, on the central plaza, will be Jordan’s artwork, planned to be visible right when travelers emerge from the Denny light rail entrance.
“It’s a big responsibility,” Jordan told CHS during a recent phone call. “It’s a big thing to be entrusted with, and it feels like a culmination of years of activism.”
In 2015, Jordan co-organized the die-in intervention #StopErasingBlackPeople at the Tacoma Art Museum in response to the lack of Black artists represented in the HIV/AIDS narrative of the museum’s exhibition Art AIDS America. In a statement, co-organizers of the Tacoma Action Collective said that the show painted “HIV as an issue faced predominantly by white gay men, when in fact the most at-risk group are currently black trans women.”
Among the approximately 1.1 million people affected by HIV/AIDS in the US, gay and bisexual men are the population most affected by HIV, and African Americans and Latinxs are disproportionately affected. The risks are also significantly higher for sex workers, people who inject drugs and trans people. According to a 2012 study, transgender women’s chances of having HIV were 49 times those of the general population.
Jordan argues the HIV/AIDS crisis has been “historicized” too narrowly. His selection for the project, he said, is an opportunity to “honor and celebrate the lives that have been lost while speaking to the continued fight that must take place.”
What that will look like? “We have no idea (laughs),” said Jordan, whose art practice is rooted in community work. He did not want to speculate about what shape the work would take, or what medium he would use. He is planning a series of conversations and interviews with LGBTQ elders and communities impacted by the crisis — for example this June 8th at the Northwest African American Museum — and plans to develop the concept of the artwork with their input.
While the concept for the work is still in progress, there will be plenty of things to see near what is currently a construction site near the light rail station. Coinciding with Seattle’s Pride month, AMP will install temporary artworks by local artists Gabriel Stromberg, Pete Rush and Timothy White Eagle on the fencing of the construction site on June 13th. Local dancer and community activist David Rue has curated a series of monthly dance performances near or in the station on third Fridays through November, and Clyde Petersen will perform a “Drone Butch Blues” on June 22nd.
The pathway project has been four years in the making.
In 2015, Tom Rasmussen, the first openly gay man on Seattle’s City Council, Leonard Garfield, executive director of the Museum of History & Industry, and community volunteer Michele Hasson convened a group of stakeholders to assess interest in a memorial to recognize those lost during the AIDS crisis. The project, led at the time by community activist Paul Feldman, eventually moved into the private sphere as a community action group, which now operates under the fiscal sponsorship of the Seattle Parks Foundation. Since last year, the CAG, helmed by Three Dollar Bill Cinema’s longtime executive director Jason Plourde, has been working with Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture to select the artists for the project.
The public-private project, which involves developer Gerding Edlen, Sound Transit, SDOT and Seattle Parks and Recreation, among others, will cost $2.9 million. At least, that’s the fundraising goal, Plourde said. He added AMP is about halfway there, with help from Washington State and the City of Seattle and most likely King County, plus private funding from families, individuals and, for example, a $50,000 grant from the Pride Foundation.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the HIV/AIDS crisis was felt deeply on Capitol Hill, and the neighborhood became an important gathering place for services and support.
“It’s important in this city and in [this] neighborhood where a huge impact was felt, to have a permanent reminder, to not forget what happened,” Plourde said.
“It’s not just a memorial that prescribes to be sad or depressed about what’s been experienced,” he added. “You can also celebrate the creativity that people who passed away brought to this world. The hope that people came together and cared for one another. The happiness of folks [who] survived as well as the sadness of what we’ve lost, and profound emotion and anger around how folks were marginalized and pushed aside. There’s a complexity of emotion. The AMP is providing a space for all of that.”
The memorial will also help satisfy a longtime hope to add more recognition for Cal Anderson, Washington’s first openly gay legislator who died from AIDS in 1995 at the age of 47, to his namesake park. While Cal Anderson Park honors the late politician by name, there is no permanent marker in the area acknowledging his history.
To Jordan, the importance of the project’s location in the heart of Capitol Hill reaches beyond its history and into the present-day housing crisis, much of which plays out in the neighborhood, he said.
“The housing crisis underpins the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It’s actually impossible for people to maintain a regimen of medication, or even to educate people about navigating risk when they don’t have secure housing. (…) We have treatments, but who can access them? Who belongs? Who do we care about?”
He also added that his work feels particularly relevant on Capitol Hill, which he said has become “an increasingly unsafe place for LGBTQ and people of color, and poor people — for all of the communities impacted by HIV/AIDS.”
“So what would it look like to have an environment that feels welcoming, inclusive and loving enough to welcome communities?” he said. “To reclaim the space.”
By creating a welcoming gathering space around his artwork, Jordan’s hoping to mirror the intergenerational support and care of the eighties and nineties. People provided for each other, he said, in times where they didn’t even know how the virus was spreading.
“Yet there were and have been these radical spaces in which people whose love overpowered any fear,” he said. It’s about “remembering that community is the only thing that’s the true response to HIV/AIDS. It is today, and it always has been.”
To learn more about the AIDS Memorial Pathway and how to support the project, visit theamp.org.
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