Jubilee Community Church NuBlack Arts West Theatre

Historic African American Arts and Culture District Takes Off


Neighbors at the SPCC January quarterly meeting heard an important message about Seattle’s newly officially-designated Historic African American Arts and Culture District.

Vivian Phillips, (who is co-chair of the HAACD, along with Steve Sneed) described the three main goals of the District:

  1. Preserving an African-American legacy;
  2. sustaining and strengthening the physical identity and sense of place for cultural relevancy; and
  3. establishing continued support of artistic creation, economic vibrancy, livability, affordability, desirability, and artistic vitality.

The Central Area is changing rapidly, from 12th Avenue to Lake Washington, and from Madison Street to I-90.  The Cultural District effort is trying to facilitate dialog with those bringing new development — We will have a better neighborhood if every new person knows and pay attention to the place to which he or she is moving.

Although one of the jobs of the effort is to call out places of importance in the African-American history of the neighborhood, it is much more than that.  In the hoped-for future, there will be more opportunities, not less, to see and celebrate African-American artistic and cultural heritage.  As one neighbor at the January SPCC meeting put it, there is a need to do more than create a neighborhood that is a “museum of where black people used to live” but also to attract more black people to stay in and return to the neighborhood.

For neighbors who are not black, but who so often speak of their appreciation of the neighborhood’s “diversity”, the challenge will be to recognize and respect the heritage which is an important source of that diversity.

Matthew Richter, the Cultural Space Liaison for the City of Seattle, was recently quoted in the “Seattle Weekly” as saying that, with Capitol Hill, the City’s first designated cultural district “we need to remind people this is more than a binge-drinking neighborhood” and in the Central District, “we need to remind people this is more than a housing neighborhood for tech workers.”

Official designation of the District by the City comes with a grant of $50,000 and a “creative placemaking toolkit”.  The toolkit includes programs, projects, and mechanisms to support district identification, wayfinding, busking and plein air painting support, art historic markers, pop-up space activations, parklets, “build art space” certification, and cultural preservation and landmarking.

The primary Arts District Development Partners include: Northwest African American Museum, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, Meredith Mathews YMCA, Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Coyote Central, The Hidmo Cypher, Brownbox Theatre, Seattle Black Arts Alliance, Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Corona Café, Jubilee Community Church NuBlack Arts West Theatre, and is in partnership with Africatown, Ariel Productions, and the James and Janie Washington Foundation.



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