Seattle visual artists paint an ambivalent picture of the future — but are determined to survive

Community decries city’s unaffordability, lack of interest from newcomers.

A few weeks ago, in a Capitol Hill building that used to be a storefront office, a longtime street artist named Jazz Mom and friends were splattering buckets of paint across the carpet and spray-painting the walls for their ad hoc show “Everything You Love Turns Into a Condo.” (For the purposes of this article, Jazz Mom preferred “they/them” pronouns to stay vague. “I gotta watch my back these days,” they said. “I’m not in trouble, but nobody here wants trouble.”)

Jazz Mom is one of many artists, arts administrators and critics carefully watching the evolution — or, some would say, devolution — of Seattle’s robust visual-art scene in the Age of Amazon. They’re brewing in a stew of ambivalence: gloom, doom and the occasional spark of hope.

Jen Graves, the recently retired 11-year art critic for The Stranger — who was one of the last full-time art critics on the West Coast — described the Seattle art scene as “basically in retraction. There are fewer galleries, fewer spaces for indie art.”

Graves ticked off a list of art spaces that had closed over the past few years: Platform, Lawrimore Project, Francine Seders, Grover/Thurston, Garde Rail (which moved to Austin) and more. The years before the 2008 economic crash, she said, “were the boom years.”

Miami Art Basel — an extension of the big-shot Art Basel fair in Switzerland — was roaring and Seattle dealers like Greg Kucera and Scott Lawrimore were renting booths and shipping art across the country to catch the eyes of international collectors. “Artists and dealers here thought, ‘Let’s be part of the national scene,’ ” she said wistfully. “Those were the days.”

Local artist Ben Beres, who teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, said he sees students finishing their degrees, then moving to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Bremerton, Bozeman, the Southwest or back into their parents’ basements.

“More people leave than stick around because it’s too damned expensive,” he said, holding his head in his hands. “Studio spaces, living spaces, $14 cheeseburgers. It’s stupid.”

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