City Light serves up South Lake Union art, electric

At South Lake Union's Denny Substation, Seattle City Light is merging electricity with art.
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A line from Arne Pihl's poem for ALL RISE at the Denny Substation

At South Lake Union's Denny Substation, Seattle City Light is merging electricity with art.

On a recent grey Tuesday morning, it looked like any old gravel parking lot. Those who've been around the historic Cascade neighborhood awhile will remember the spot as the old Greyhound bus station, but the bus station itself has now been razed, making way for Seattle City Light's first new substation in 30 years. 

The Denny Substation’s physical purpose will be to meet the growing electrical demands of South Lake Union, but it will also be serving another, more community-driven purpose. On Friday, the city’s Office of Arts and Culture announced ALL RISE, a year-long series of performances and temporary art installations at the Denny site, led by Portland, Ore., curators Meagan Atiyeh and Elizabeth Spavento.

Given the state of other Seattle neighborhood substations — their above-ground wiring and chainlink fences — some have wondered whether publicly funding a state-of-the-art substation to meet the needs of the neighborhood's wealthy new technologists is appropriate or fair.

Perhaps given these questions of public fairness, as well as the substation’s central and very visible location, the city is focusing on creating a cultural and community space as well.

Toward that more metaphysical end, an early design for a high-rise atop an underground substation was deemed too expensive. Instead, the city decided in favor of a low, angled architecture reminiscent of the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Atiyeh, manager of Oregon's Percent for Art in Public Places program, and Spavento, who has worked with Oregon Center Stage and the Portland Arts Commission, will develop, manage and coordinate transitory art works and performances to accompany the physical development of the SLU substation over the course of the next year.

The art and performances will be free and open to the public, who will frequently be invited to interact with them.

Already, art has encircled the site. A team of youth from King County’s Education Employment Training Program worked with local artists at Urban Artworks to create a mural around the site’s fence. At its unveiling, Councilmember Nick Licata called the graphic yellow, grey and blue mural, which contained images of the neighborhood's past as well as its imagined future, a beautiful reflection of Seattle's values.

That mural is gone, now replaced with a new installation by local artist, carpenter and poet, Arne Pihl. Pihl has written a poem illuminating the neighborhood's history, which is posted on eleven black signs around the site. The black signs are modest, juxtaposed with four monuments stacked in a row along Denny Way. Calling to mind headstones for a family of giants, the monuments tower over passers by and announce This is not a gentle poem.

ALL RISE is also inviting its Cascade neighbors to participate in a performance art workshop on April 12th. “Exercises for Rebel Artists,” facilitated by Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Michele Ceballos-Michot of La Pocha Nostra, is a coordination with an upcoming Cornish lecture of Gómez-Peña's.

As for future art and performances? They'll generally be announced at or near the time of their installations, according to City Light, in keeping with a “sense of wonder."

Crosscut's arts coverage is made possible through the generous support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.



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