About Margo Vansynghel

Margo Vansynghel is a journalist and photographer based in Seattle. She covers news, human interest, business, art and lifestyle for newspapers and magazines and makes documentary photography series.

In the Central District, an indigenous kayak builder and photojournalist finds a workshop and a home

(Image: Margo Vansynghel for CHS)

In late March, when Seattle-based photojournalist Kiliii Yuyan was looking for muskox in Kotzebue, Alaska, he nearly fell through the ice, which had warmed along with the climate. Just days later, a group of locals fell through the ice and died. In June, while trying to find gyrfalcons, he had to wear shorts during unheard-of temperatures on the Tundra.  A couple of weeks later, he was faced with record flooding while camping in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Yuyan, who is Nanai (Siberian Native) and Chinese-American, has reported on social justice Indigenous issues for years. But this was the year, he says, where climate change was “in the background of every single story.”

When Yuyan is not in Alaska or the Arctic Circle reporting and taking photos for National Geographic, Bloomberg, or CNN, he calls Seattle home. And when he’s not out on reporting trips, he builds skin-on-frame kayaks in his loft in the Central District, near The Bikery.

His company, Seawolf Kayak, sells them and offers boat-building trips where participants learn about what it means to build a kayak through methods Indigenous communities have honed for centuries. Continue reading

On the List | Volunteer Park Halloween Pet Parade, Boys in Trouble dance, Iceland invades Liberty

Spooky season is upon us, so get ready for some eerie events on Capitol Hill (and Hilloween, which is back this year). Lusio Lights festival in Volunteer Park also makes an October appearance, though the light art installations and party amidst the tropical and other plants are more festive than frightening.

Next Monday at Pettirosso, The Traveling Chef Josh Ploeg cooks up a 4-course meal that must scare some meat and egg-lovers to death: it’s completely vegan. Dishes include “The Vampire’s Garden” salad with beet and tomato “aspic” dome, red pickles, black mushrooms and greens, a “Broomstick, Moonstick, Wrapped in Gloom Thick” pastry-wrapped yellow squash with mushroom gravy, as well as “A Ghast, A Ghoul, A Grave So Cruel” dark chocolate almond cake.

For what to do in the meantime, check out the events below or take a look at the CHS calendar.

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 16: Perhaps you haven’t heard of Knife Knights yet, but maybe, just maybe, you’ve heard of a band called Shabazz Palaces? 1/2 of the group, Ishmael Butler, teams up with Shabazz Palaces’ engineer Erik Blood under the Knife Knight umbrella. The result is ambitiously and unpredictably experimental music they describe as “soul and shoegaze, hip-hop and lush noise, bass, and bedlam.” For their Earshot Jazz Festival performance, the duo will be joined by KEXP DJ Stas Thee Boss and alto-sax expansionist Darius Jones. Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 7.30 PM – 10 PM  Continue reading

Di$trict 3: Amazon pumps over $1M into Seattle elections — What it means for District 3

Sphere of influence (Image: Amazon)

Remember that time when we reported that independent spending from Political Action Committees had soared to unprecedented heights? That was a week ago.

Campaign finance has become even more, um, unprecedented this week with the announcement Tuesday that Amazon is pouring an additional $1.05 million into CASE, the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, right when ballots are sent to voters this week.

That brings the local corporation’s spending on this year’s local elections to $1.45 million, more than any other union or Political Action Committee.

With $241,257 already spent on his behalf by CASE (mostly on mail and canvassing), D3 candidate Egan Orion is its largest beneficiary.

To give you a sense of the magnitude of this week’s contribution: Amazon’s total contribution to the PAC now adds up to more than the combined $1.27 million City Council candidates opposed by the PAC have raised. That group includes incumbent Kshama Sawant in D3, who has raised the most of any council candidate — $387,730.

“The money CASE has raised is from local companies who care about the future of this city,” Markham McIntyre, executive director of CASE, said in a statement. “The status quo isn’t working: we have a dysfunctional, toxic environment at City Council, and employers, including our city’s largest private employer, want a return to good government.”

The contribution brings CASE’s total spending power for this election up to $2.68 million, of which it has spent $1.3 million.

In a statement, Orion called the influx of PAC money in city politics this year “completely out of scale with the grassroots campaign myself and many others are trying to run and is proving to be a distraction from the real issues.”  Continue reading

On the List | Homeless pets pop-up, Seattle Queer Film Festival, freestyle frisbee world championships, Capitol Hill Art Walk at (tiny!) new gallery Elbo Room

A pop-up dedicated to pets and people experiencing homelessness visits Cal Anderson Thursday (Image: Center for One Health Research)

October is not just a good month for creepiness and rain, it’s also an ideal time to wrap yourself in some softer varieties of music, including choral music during the Seattle Sings Choral Festival, running October 10 through 12, and acoustic music during the 6th annual Seattle Acoustic Festival this Saturday. Find more for acoustic aficionados, frisbee fans, and burger buffs below. And don’t forget — the weekend brings the first of three this fall without light rail service between Capitol Hill and SoDo.

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 9: No, your timing’s not off, it’s just Lit Crawl arriving early this year. The festival doesn’t start until later this month, but this week, the literary Capitol Hill event launches early with a kickoff and fundraising party slash open mic. The event will have music, food, and drinks and feature readings by some of Seattle’s “beloved literati,” Richard Chiem, Ching-In Chen, and Ari Rosenschein.

“The evening will also have plenty of opportunities to support Lit Crawl’s artists and ensure we can keep Seattle’s booziest literary night going for as long as it can,” organizers write. “Come prepared to give.” Capitol Cider, 6 PM – 8 PM 

Through Oct. 14: Some would say the burgers of Li’l Woody’s are perhaps already fast food, but this month, the local burger purveyor celebrates Fast Food Month by recreating one fast food classic every week, inspired by Wendy’s, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and co. Don’t miss this weekend’s Sourdough Woody, a Jack in the Box-inspired burger with Hill’s bacon, garlic mayo, grass-fed beef, Swiss cheese, and ketchup. It comes with curly fries. Li’l Woodys Continue reading

Di$trict 3: Independent expenditures now total more than $1M and favor Orion. Plus: Dale Chihuly, Scott Lindsay, Lyft and Seattle Fire Fighters join the fray

With ballots landing in mailboxes in just a couple of weeks and the November 5 General Election just a month away, campaigns for City Council are heating up — and so is the independent spending from Political Action Committees, which has soared to unprecedented heights.

For the final weeks of the run for the District 3 seat, CHS will keep you updated on the dollars with regular updates dedicated to looking at campaign finances. We’ll report where campaign money — whether from PACs or the candidates’ campaign coffers — comes from, and how it is spent.

With over $1 million raised in total and the two candidates headed to the general election with hundreds of thousands of dollars in their campaign coffers, the District 3 race keeps its top spot as the most expensive in the city. Incumbent Kshama Sawant has raised a total of $374,108; challenger Egan Orion tallied $296,728. 

Some notable recent Orion backers include the famed glass artist Dale Chihuly and his wife who donated $500 each, and Scott Lindsay, a former adviser to Ed Murray and father of the “Seattle is Dying” trope.  Continue reading

On the List | Creepy Capitol Hill history, Taco Day, Blessing of the Animals at Saint Mark’s

Start October off right by showing up for some good causes this Wednesday. A rally for reproductive justice at Westlake Park doubles as a commemoration of Rosie Jimenez. In 1977, the 27-year-old single mother and college student became the first person to die after the Hyde Amendment banned the use of Medicaid for abortions.

At Dino’s Tomato Pie, also on Wednesday, join a “dance party to combat homelessness” with all donations going to advocacy, education, and organizing through the Coalition on Homelessness. Find more things to do this Wednesday and throughout the week here below, or on the CHS Calendar.

THURSDAY, Oct 3: “As close as it is to Broadway’s bustle, Cafe Solstice sits on a surprisingly quiet and green corner at 10th and Thomas,” CHS wrote back in 2014 when Café Solstice arrived (again) on Capitol Hill. Broadway and the neighborhood have changed since then, but Solstice still feels like a quiet corner. Expect more hustle and bustle this Thursday during the inaugural Night Market at Café Solstice. Vendors will bring handcrafted ceramics, drawings, and illustrations, zines, Dew Drop desserts and photography from West Smith. Café Solstice, 5.30 – 9.30 PM  Continue reading

‘Emergency fundraising’ — Velocity Dance Center’s future on the Hill up in the air

(Image: Velocity Dance Center)

“Seattle’s home for dance” is in trouble. The 23-year old Velocity Dance Center says it needs emergency funds to avoid ending its year in the red and in uncertainty of whether it can keep its 12th Avenue space. Velocity says rising rents and increasing costs of operating in Seattle have made its current financial model unsustainable.

“It is an emergency,” said Catherine Nueva España, Velocity’s executive director.

During a “Community Forum” in the main performance studio of the center’s 12th Ave space on Tuesday, Velocity’s leadership answered questions from fifteen or so supporters. They also tried to galvanize them to rally support for its “Save Our Studio” campaign.

“We’re trying to raise $120,000 by the end of the year so that we can afford to stay in our space and to stabilize moving forward,” Colleen Borst, Velocity’s development director, told CHS.  Continue reading

After falling short in run for City Council, Zachary DeWolf still has plans for the school board (plus, a children’s book)

The evening after this summer’s primary election for City Council, at a public forum on the appointment of a new representative on the Seattle School Board for South Seattle, it was back to business for Zachary DeWolf.

The Primary candidate and Seattle School Board representative hadn’t given himself much time to think about the results, which were disappointing. He received 12.54% of the votes on election night, not enough to make it onto the November ballot.

“I probably didn’t get enough time to really kind of sit down with the whole experience of it,” DeWolf says today. “By and large, I can say I’m really grateful to have done it. There’s probably a whole list of 10 or 15 things I could do differently, (…) strategy stuff.”

DeWolf had announced he was running for City Council in April, a little over a year into his four-year term on the school board. Though he chiseled away a substantial chunk of labor support from Sawant’s base and was seen as one of the frontrunners, the Seattle Education Association (the city’s public school teachers union) endorsed Ami Nguyen and Kshama Sawant in District 3. It also didn’t help that local blogger and education advocate Melissa Westbrook wrote a searing editorial dis-endorsing DeWolf on Seattle Schools Community Forum, calling out his “lackluster record and lack of community meetings.”

In a recent phone call, DeWolf didn’t really feel like revisiting the issue.

“I’m not going to respond to a blogger [who] clearly doesn’t understand my work and my record,” DeWolf said. “What this comes down to is who I serve: the students and the families in my district.”

DeWolf brought up the example of the student Luna, a trans student who had asked that Seattle Public Schools fix its databases so that all correctly identified the gender and names of trans and gender-diverse students. DeWolf said the issue is now fixed because of her advocacy and his pushing for it. Continue reading

Three weeks before ballots drop, tensions rise as Sawant and Orion square off in Town Hall debate

“Please do not clap, do not cheer, and certainly do not boo.”

Such was the request from Seattle CityClub, the organizer of last night’s City Council candidate debate for District 3 at a packed Town Hall on First Hill.

It turned out an impossible ask, as supporters applauded and cheered when incumbent Kshama Sawant was welcomed to the stage, and fans of challenger Egan Orion seemingly tried to surpass the decibel levels just moments later.

Applause returned soon when Sawant hit the ground running when she called Orion a “poster child for big business” and took aim at the Amazon and Vulcan-backed Political Action Committees’ expenditures on Orion’s behalf, just moments after he made his first pitch.

Orion had said he would be equipped to serve in public office because he had served his “community” with his work at PrideFest and brought “a collaborative style of leadership” to the table.

“Unity and collaboration and coalitions with whom?” Sawant asked. “We know what corporations like Amazon and chamber of commerce are trying to do. They are trying to flip City Hall to the right.”

The comment set the tone for the rest of the debate — and potentially the rest of the campaign through November 5th — with jabs on both sides, either followed by applause or finger-snapping, one thing the organizers had not explicitly discouraged.  Continue reading

On the List | Seattle Zero Landfill upcycling, Orion vs. Sawant at Town Hall, Tasveer South Asian Film Festival

The famed Salon at the Frye Art Museum looks very different since this weekend. The hall is now devoted to portraits of women in a new exhibit titled Unsettling Femininity, which hopes to question the way portraiture, and the viewer looks at women.

Keep the theme of strong women and female complexity going this week with “Blood Water Paint,” a play tracing the life of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi at 12th Avenue Arts, and “We Go Mad” at 18th & Union, a puppetry play about a woman who uncovers her family’s secrets.

Northwest Film Forum’s 22nd annual Local Sightings Film Festival runs through Sunday, and this weekend’s your chance to see some stellar local documentaries and a showcase of Indigenous films. For more cinematic art, read on to learn what to see at Tasveer, the South Asian film festival, plus find more things to do on the list below and the CHS calendar.

WEDNESDAY, Sep 25: Local writer Kate Berwanger organizes some of the city’s and Capitol Hill’s most exciting literary events, and now the poet/literary impresario has added a writing workshop to that list. During Gasoline: A Guided Writing Session for Women + Queer Writers, Berwanger will guide women, non-binary and queer writers through a series of writing prompts “in the style of a guided meditation.” Scream Seattle, 7 – 9 PM  Continue reading