Seattle Office of Arts & Culture presents Remembrance by Jasmine Brown, part of the Dialogues in Art: Exhibitions on Racial Injustice series

March 14 – May 13, 2016 at Seattle Presents Gallery in the Seattle Municipal Tower; Reception April 7 from 5:30 – 7 p.m.; artist talk May 12 at noon. 


SEATTLE (March 8, 2016) —This spring the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture (ARTS) will feature Remembrance, a residency with artist Jasmine Brown in the Seattle Presents Gallery. The residency will showcase Brown working on egg tempera portraits of murdered youth of color painted in the Byzantine icon style. Brown will include portraits of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown in her installation. Brown will be in the gallery on Thursdays beginning March 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through May 13.

Rememberance is part of the Seattle Presents Gallery series Dialogues in Art: Exhibitions on Racial Injustice, a yearlong exploration of artists’ and curators’ interpretations of racial injustice and systemic racism impacting Black and African-American people throughout America. The series will feature residencies, installations and curatorial projects by Jasmine Brown, Mark Mitchell, Shaun Scott, Elizabeth Spavento and Xenobia Bailey. Artist Barry Johnson opened the series with Sign of the Times, January 18 – March 11, 2016.

Brown lives in Tacoma, WA and earned her B.F.A. from Howard University and M.A. from UCLA. Her artwork is in the collections of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Brown is influenced by the sacred art of several world religions and artworks. From African masks, Voodoo textiles, Buddhist thangkas to Russian and Ethiopian icons, they all have ceremonial significance and spiritual potency that she strives to embody in her work.

For Brown the media coverage of murdered youth has a voyeuristic curiosity and quality, as if dead children were merely fictional characters in an episode of a popular crime drama. On the other hand, the artist views purely journalistic coverage of these deaths as too detached to fully acknowledge the humanity of the victims or the depth of their relatives’ grief.

“I paint icons in a painstaking technique practiced by the Orthodox Church to create timeless spiritual images that invite contemplation,” says Brown. “They portray subjects with a dignity that is traditionally reserved for angels, saints, prophets and martyrs. My work depicts these tragedies in a way that honors the personhood of the victims by calling attention to these tragic killings while encouraging the viewers to grieve and find solutions to urban violence.”

On Thursday, April 7, ARTS will host an artist reception for Jasmine Brown in Seattle Presents Gallery from 5:30 – 7 p.m. with refreshments, and music by Larry Mizell, Jr. There will also be a lunchtime lecture on May 12, at noon with Negarra Kudumu, Adult Programs educator, Frye Art Museum and artist Jasmine Brown. Kudumu and Brown will talk about the power of portraiture in the gallery. 

The Office of Arts & Culture, in partnership with the Office for Civil Rights, is committed to addressing, and increasing community-wide awareness about, existing inequities so that we, along with our cultural and community partners, can most effectively work together toward a vision of racial equity. Seattle Presents Gallery features a variety of immersive installations, curated exhibitions pulled from the city’s Portable Works Collection, resident artists, and original artworks. The gallery presents both emerging and established artists and curators, and provides all who pass by the opportunity to engage in diverse arts and cultural experiences. 

About the artists

Xenobia Bailey studied ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, and received her BA in industrial design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Her pieces are often connected to her ongoing project “Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk”. Her designs draw influences from Africa, China, and Native American and Eastern philosophies, with undertones of the 1970’s funk aesthetic. Bailey has been artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in New York City. Bailey co-organized a Black Cultural Workshop with the African-American inmates at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary and Monroe State Reformatory in the 1970’s. Her work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Jersey City Museum, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and NAAM. Her work is in the permanent collections at Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Allentown Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Arts, and the Museum of Arts and Design. 

Jasmine Iona Brown was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and traveled to five continents before settling in West Seattle. She earned her B.F.A. at Howard University and her M.A. from UCLA. Her graduate study in ancient history and cultures led her to incorporate antique artistic mediums, such as egg tempera, into her artwork. She is fascinated with the human face and the tragic narratives of marginalized people. Brown is the recipient of a 2011 Puffin Foundation Grant to paint a series of Byzantine style egg-tempera icons memorializing a few of the many children of color that are lost to violence. 

Barry Johnson is a Washington-based visual artist and filmmaker from Kansas who’s had a range of works in visual art and film shown across the U.S. and the world. Waking up at 2 am every morning to paint in his studio, Johnson works tirelessly to create pieces that challenge views on gender, race, sex, and sound. His work is a result of events taking place around the world and in everyday life.

Mark Mitchell is an artist who speaks to social issues through textiles. His contributions to Seattle’s cultural community bridge a number of disciplines, including art, music, theater, fashion, activism, and education. He is the subject of the award-winning documentary film Burial, and presented a performance and exhibition of the same title at the Frye Art Museum in 2013. Mitchell was recently artist-in-residence at The New Foundation Seattle where he continued to develop his new group of sculptures concerning racism and mass incarceration called Burial 2. He was a finalist for the 2015 Neddy Award at Cornish in the open medium category. In addition to his fine art practice, Mark has worked extensively as a costume designer, maker of custom clothing, tattoo artist, and teacher.  His in-studio workshops are a popular introduction to his personal techniques used for hand-sewing, embroidery, and silk flower making. He lives with his partner of fourteen years, Kurt B. Reighley.

Shaun Scott is a Seattle-based independent filmmaker whose first feature film was “Seat of Empire” (2009), a 3-hour long documentary tour of the city of Seattle using archival footage. In 2010 he directed and wrote “Waste of Time”, a historical mash-up of original footage, archival images, and contemporary music meant as a portrait of consumer capitalism.

Elizabeth Spavento is interested in identity politics (particularly as they relate to race and gender), the untapped potential of space, altered states of consciousness and unstructured time. Her practice seeks the fringe as a way to push back against hegemony, and her work tends to favor alternative spaces and community-driven practices. She has curated exhibitions for Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in Portland, OR and Open Source Gallery in New York, NY in addition to exhibiting her own work in Buffalo, NY. Spavento’s most recent project, ALL RISE, was a two year series of temporary public artworks punctuated by performance, video and music on a 90,000 sq. ft. gravel lot in downtown Seattle. She is the 2016 visiting curator for Interstitial, Seattle’s premiere exhibition space for artists working in new media. Elizabeth Spavento currently lives nowhere in particular and works everywhere she is.

Transitions to Equity in the Arts: Recognition and First Steps

By August Denhard

Recognition of changes in the landscape comes to all of us in different ways. Mine came two years ago with the realization that my organization, the Early Music Guild of Seattle, was not recognized widely across our region, and that this was costing us grant funding. As a nonprofit arts leader, money usually gets my attention. How can an organization known the world over for its presenting and nurturing of great music not be recognized in its own community?

Maybe because it is representing and serving an increasingly smaller percentage of that community.

The shock of this realization helped me finally take notice that many people in our region have not been invited to share in the art that I hold so dear. Since then I have participated in a flurry of recent seminars exploring issues around equity in the arts, presented by the Office of Arts & Culture, the Office for Civil Rights, and ArtsFund. These seminars have been challenging.

The crux of the challenge lies not with the art, the artists, or the organizations representing people of color, but with the older, established arts organizations firmly grounded in the dominant white culture.  We operate our organizations so that everything from attendance at events to board service is mostly out of reach to outsiders. Our venues are far from neighborhoods. There are financial barriers to participation. Our default is to present the art we have always presented. Because we don’t often question ourselves on equity issues and because we’re rarely questioned from the outside, we tend to drift continually back to the familiar. Our organizations are living in an increasingly lonely place, mostly isolated from those with the energy and creativity that could carry our missions into the next century.

I was compelled to consider new programming that would explore how early music could speak to audiences outside of our established formal concert framework.

Working first as a performing musician outside my capacity as Executive Director of Early Music Guild, I found very receptive artists with whom I collaborated to develop two cross-cultural projects, creating original repertory to serve new audiences.  De México al Mediterraneo scheduled for performances in October, 2015, was funded this year by 4Culture to explore the European and African roots of Mexican folk music.  The Silk Road: Trade and the Currency of Music gave performances this past May. Funded by ARTS in 2015 and 4Culture in 2016, Silk Road imagines a musical journey from Japan, through the Middle East, to Medieval Europe. These projects include resources for teachers, classroom visits, and free community programs/performances. They have been well received by new audiences, and have engendered lively, ongoing musical partnerships between myself and Abel Rocha (voice and guitars), Antonio Gómez (world percussion and educator), Műnir Nurettin Beken (oud), and Tomoko Sugawara (kugo harp).

Putting on my Early Music Guild Executive Director hat, I went in search of organizational partners in the region to try similar programs on a larger scale, and two projects emerged. The first, Pasión en el siglo XVII: De Europa al Nuevo Mundo (September 15, 2014), brought advanced voice students from Mexico to the Northwest to present concerts in Seattle and Yakima in celebration of Mexican Independence Day.  Many partner organizations came on board to offer good advice, in kind help, and financial support, including the Mexican Consulate in Seattle, La Sala Latino-Latina Artists’ Network, Viva la Musica Club, The Seasons Performance Hall in Yakima, and Arts Washington. The ensemble performed in a school, a community center, on radio, and for a gala performance hosted by the Mexican Consulate.

The second project took place on November 24, 2014 at the height of the Ebola crisis, Ebola Relief: A Musical Response.  Partnering with Transcontinental Christian Ministries (a Liberian church based in Kent), Early Music Guild presented a concert of Medieval European music inspired by the plague, highlighting the universal human response to a tragedy such as Ebola.  Other partners included Town Hall Seattle, the King County Department of Public Health, King FM, and many other local arts organizations and media. The concert raised $2,000 to benefit The Hope Project and Doctors Without Borders.

My experience with both the personal and organizational projects has been the same: individual artists and community organizations are ready to collaborate and are excited to participate in the creation of new works that will involve their communities. Public funders are ready to step in to help make new partnerships financially viable.

If this is so easy, then what is keeping us from institutionalizing these partnerships and presenting truly universal arts experiences for everyone? As I discuss these questions and realities with artists, board members, and staff, there is a consensus that we have begun to recognize our isolation and we see the great potential at hand, but don’t know how to start the process of change from within. A good place for ideas and inspiration are the programs on equity in the arts offered by the Office of Arts & Culture and its partners. They’re doing the heavy lifting on this issue on our behalf.  And if you’re an arts leader or board member, take an artist to lunch. Their eyes are already open.

August Denhard has been the Executive Director of the Early Music Guild of Seattle since 2000 and is a recognized performer on the lute family instruments.

Image caption: Pasión en el siglo XVII: De Europa al Nuevo Mundo  image courtesy Garfield High School. Ebola Relief: A Musical Response by Tino Tran at EMG’s

City Light Finalizes RSJI Work Plan for 2014

City Light has finalized its Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) work plan for 2014. As part of its RSJI plan for the year, Seattle City Light will focus on the equity areas of education, equitable development, housing, jobs/economic justice, the environment, and service equity.

The work plan is part of a larger citywide effort to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all people, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Seattle City Light is committed to removing the barriers that prevent all people from attaining the same access to opportunity in its hiring practices and customer service, as well as creating a community enriched by Seattle’s diverse cultures with full participation from all residents. City Light strives to implement outreach and engage with the public in a manner that reflects the diversity of the customers in its service area.

The city’s initiative is led by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights and various city staff, and is supported by all City of Seattle elected officials. More information about the initiative can be found on the city of Seattle’s RSJI website.

A few highlights from the Seattle City Light RSJI 2014 Work Plan include the following:

  • Seattle City Light will continue its efforts through the Powerful Neighborhoods program to reach seniors, non-English speaking households and low-income residents.  This program includes the direct installation of efficient lighting and water-saving showerheads in multifamily properties. Special emphasis is placed on outreach to affordable housing providers and their residents, with a goal of reaching at least 3,500 multifamily households.
  • City Light will partner with Seattle University to sponsor engineering projects for racially diverse teams of students to develop their skills, provide the opportunity to exhibit their work, and advance their education with real-life projects.
  • City Light’s 2014 goal is to reach 150 families with its HomeWise low-income weatherization program.
  • City Light will continue to partner with tribes in the implementation of cultural and natural resource protection and restoration in its work on the Boundary Project as well as the Skagit Project. In addition, the utility will assure communication on cultural resource issues as well as contracting opportunities are available for the Kalispel and Skagit River tribes.
  • In an effort to achieve equity in access to living wage jobs, City Light will increase opportunities for internships in the Seattle Youth Employment Program, as well as promote its Tuition Reimbursement Program and develop specific targets for closing any gaps in diversity in its workforce.
  • City Light is dedicated to building a workforce that reflects or exceeds the racial demographics of the communities it serves. In order to achieve that goal, the utility requires all staff members involved in hiring processes to be trained on Workforce Equity and Human Resources RSJI Best Practices. Furthermore, its 2014 plan includes deepening ties with diverse community and educational organizations to recruit interns and job candidates.
  • In addition, City Light actively seeks to work with Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) and Women and Minority-owned Businesses (WMBE).  Its RSJI 2014 Work Plan includes specific outreach event commitments, as well as target goals for spending on consulting and purchasing expenditures with these firms.
  • Seattle City Light is prioritizing streetlight upgrades in historically underserved areas such as the Holly Park SHA residential neighborhood in order to provide safer electrical systems and to ensure streets are well-lit at night.
  • The utility also provides free interpreter services for customers as well as offers translated printed information in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali, Tagalog, Korean and other languages commonly used among City Light customers. As part of the RSJI 2014 Work Plan, City Light will continue to host community meetings and focus groups designed for historically underrepresented communities, all of which are supported by interpretation and translation services.

City Light supports a number of other programs and initiatives designed to alleviate inequity including the Utility Discount Program and Project Share.

The Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative began in 2004. At the time, no other US city had so directly focused on institutional racism and working to improve racial equity. Seattle was the first city in the nation to explicitly focus on undoing institutional racism. Institutional racism is defined by the city of Seattle Office for Civil Rights as the policies, practices and procedures that often unintentionally or inadvertently work to the benefit of certain groups and to the detriment of others.

More information about Seattle City Light’s Race and Social Justice Initiative efforts can be found on our website. For more details about the City of Seattle’s efforts to achieve racial equity, please click here.