Discover Seattle’s street art with this new street art tour
A&E pick of the week
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The very first Street Hues: Seattle Urban Art Tour gathered outside Washington Hall, a 1908 brick monument in the Central District, on a recently sunny Sunday morning.
There were about a dozen of us, ranging from graffiti connoisseurs to the ignorant, with most of us somewhere in between – plus two budding tour guides for training purposes – and had come to look at the graffiti / street art. / urban art in the Central District and the Chinatown International District.
Our guide: King Khazm, aka Khazm Kogita, founding director of the 206 Zulu nonprofit, which uses the five elements of hip-hop (DJing, MCing, graffiti, break, knowledge) as a vehicle for youth programs and community.
“I’m happy to share the very visible but very underground world of graffiti,” Khazm told the group. It started with a quick history of Washington Hall (originally a guesthouse for Danish immigrants, it also had a colorful career as an event venue, with Billie Holiday, Marcus Garvey, Jimi Hendrix, David Byrne, Mark Morris and many others) and the origins of graffiti (New York, especially the Bronx, in the late 60s and early 70s, initially popular on subway cars because they moved your art around the city).
Then we left.
The Street Hues Tour is presented by a travel agency, Global Family Travels, in collaboration with three nonprofits: 206 Zulu, Experience Education and Urbanists. Its organizers represent a wide variety of constituents – it doesn’t matter who you belong to, here are four things to consider if you’re making the trip.
1. Look deeply and ask questions. As it finds its place, Street Hues will feature a rotating team of tour guides, each with a different expertise and focus. When it comes to graffiti and its role in Seattle life, there is a lot of territory to cover: the history and context of its rise, artistic techniques, street ethics for where and when to paint. (and how these rules are broken), subject matter, its dual function of communication and expression. But this is the opportunity for you to get closer to art with an expert by your side. Take it. Curious how this artist achieved a distinct shading effect? Are you wondering why (or how) this artist was able to paint in a particular place? Want to know what these intricate letters say, or what they might mean, or if it was the work of one artist or several? Ask away.
2. Expect improvisation. Graffiti, by its nature, is fleeting – new things go up, old things go down. Example: One of Seattle’s reliable graffiti archives was the King County Archives complex just across from Washington Hall, where 206 Zulu hosted the annual Off the Wall mural competition (courtesy County of King) for over a decade. Its magnificent murals had been easy to find and admire, but much of this complex was recently sold and demolished, so the Street Hues tour had to adapt. But this improvisation can bring gifts. If you see something interesting that isn’t technically on the tour (down an alley, at a streetcar stop, anywhere), sing along. Again, this is your chance to learn.
3. Maintain different points of view. Just minutes after the first Street Hues, a member of the group said he was working with people who needed to clean up the graffiti. So he was curious to know how one person’s nuisance could be another’s art. “What if I got really good at breaking into cars and calling myself an artist?” he said. “I am interested in the use of this word, ‘artist’.” It sounded like a slight provocation, of the familiar variety I’m just asking, but Aaron Santiago – a Street Hues tour guide – in training – stepped up. “If you develop a really stupid way of getting into cars and stealing them from your neighbor, you are a [expletive]He said, which led to a discussion of the ethics of the graffiti world (don’t hit churches, schools, community centers, etc.) and what happens when people transgress. these standards. Moral of the story: If you’re a graffiti enthusiast, be prepared to meet people who aren’t, and vice versa. If everyone stays cool, it can be an opportunity for some interesting conversations.
4. If you are not familiar with graffiti, consider doing some light homework.. Typically art / movie / book reviews don’t watch something and stop at the questions, “Do I like this?” Or “Do I approve?” It would be an overwhelming way to approach art. Instead, they examine the details, think about how and why it was made, view the piece both as a world unto itself (what is this thing?) And as part of a world. larger (how does this thing relate to other things around it??). Before you join a Street Hues tour, you can look at graffiti near you – your neighborhood, on your way to work, whatever – with the same eyes. Once you start to notice details, questions may arise. Bring these questions with you on the tour.
It will enrich your experience.