Friday, February 27, 2015

You know, it's funny that my posters are getting so much attention, because I've only lived in Seattle four and a half years. I come from a perspective of only four years, but I've never seen such RAPID gentrification anywhere. It's not gradual—it's on EVERY corner. Boom! Boom! Boom! Like Dresden, Germany—A BOMBING! Boom! Boom! Boom! Cranes! Cranes! Cranes! There are so many buildings that are still empty. And all those empty units represent people—and only the people who can afford a $2,300-a-month apartment. This can't NOT change the demographic of a neighborhood.
You're from New York—did you do this kind of protest art there?
Not in my most recent history in New York, but way back in the day—in the '80s, I did all kinds of postering, more geared around bands, events, all-ages shows. My best friend Jamie just recently went back, and he found one of our posters that was still glued up—a little eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch flyer. It's been there 20 years, on the window of an old dilapidated building. Back then, it was more about a punk sort of idea, and free speech. I've been a painter and an artist now for a long, long time. I do paintings and film. I've been self-employed for more than 25 years. To do that, I maintain an art studio that's multifunctional, that I can do all sorts of different kinds of work in. Right now, I'm very fortunate—it took me three long years to find, but I have a great art studio on Capitol Hill. It's a struggle, though, don't get me wrong! It's not like I'm ever going to be able to move into the Sunset Electric! The other part of this late-stage gentrification is that it creates a particular malaise. It makes people feel displaced and uncertain of their futures. It's also pretty obvious, when these fancy new buildings come in, that there's no way you, or I, or most people who were already living here could open up a new business—especially a business like a record or used clothing store or, heaven forbid, a new art gallery. In these new buildings, it's like $60 a square foot.

What places have you seen disappear that you miss?
Remember across from Northwest Film Forum, there used to be a little secondhand store, the Trading Post? That's long gone. Or around the corner in that big, yellow building—which I understand had a long history in the neighborhood, including being, at one point, a gay rooming house in the late '70s and early '80s? Also in that yellow building there was the classic staple of any good gayborhood, the antique store owned by the old, queeny gay couple. Those two guys had that little store for 40 YEARS. And where are they now? Gone. Never to return. And one by one, all the places where people of modest income can shop will be gone. And eating? Forget it. That Japanese place on 12th—a bowl of ramen is $16. Maybe eventually it will reach a critical mass. Every single new business in these new buildings can't be an expensive restaurant or a fancy bar or a bank. Who even goes to a brick-and-mortar bank anymore, anyway? Don't people just do banking online? You ever notice when you walk by these banks in the bottom of all these brand-new buildings, that there's NOBODY but employees in the lobby?
Yeah, it's weird.
I think the most interesting story would be to ask some of the new people who live in these expensive new apartments how THEY see the neighborhood. Why did they choose to live here? How was it pitched to them? Was it the nightlife? Was it that it was queer-friendly? Because if you can afford a $2,300 apartment, you could easily afford to live anywhere in Seattle—you could live in Queen Anne, Ballard, downtown, you could rent a beautiful house in the CD with a yard and everything. So what was their attraction to Capitol Hill? A lot of those new buildings are microcosms unto themselves—they have parking underneath, so a person could leave their apartment, go down to their car, and go off to their job or wherever they go without ever setting foot on the actual street. A person could get Amazon Fresh to deliver their food, and they never have to go inside a local store. These people aren't leaving any sort of footprint in the neighborhood. They're never actually the person on the street. That's not what a city is about—a city like New York is about the streets. What's happening here is a suburban enclave happening on top of an urban core. People want all the amenities of living in a suburb in the ground floor of their condo—a Panera, a coffee shop, a boutique gym, a dry cleaner, a Bank of America. But they're not participating, they're not giving anything back. They underestimate urban living.
Suburbs are kind of soulless, with strip malls everywhere...
They're soul-killing—so much repetition of corporate retail. Everything's sanitized. You never arrive anywhere and there's no history. And the way Capitol Hill is becoming a sanitized suburb is wiping its history away. And even as a resident of only four years, I think this sanitation is worthy of protesting.