Art Pulse: Checking in with Seattle artists on vital work in 2020

Local creatives find inspiration despite a pandemic, social upheaval and a never-ending election.

From left, wood carver Jennifer Angaiak Wood, ballerina Amanda Morgan and cellist Nathan Chan. (Alicia Diamond; Lindsay Thomas; Mike Grittani)

Coronavirus has changed everything, and that includes the way art is made, consumed and conceived. Eight months into the pandemic, Crosscut began interviewing local artists about how this massive cultural shift affected their plans, approaches to art and creative outlook. Called Art Pulse, this series of Q/As features musicians, dancers, writers and visual artists talking about how they’ve kept the creativity flowing amid the constant upheaval of 2020.

What’s it like to be Indigenous and a drag artist? How’s diversity within the scene?

I don't necessarily see myself as part of the Seattle drag scene. I am an Indigenous artist who happens to do drag. You’ll usually see me surrounded by Indigenous spoken word artists, comedians, musicians. It’s pretty infrequent that I’m actually performing with other drag queens. In some ways that kind of answers the question about diversity in the drag arts scene. 

Read the complete profile and interview.

Seattle Symphony cellist Nathan Chan with his cello, prayer plants and Venus flytrap. (Nathan Chan)

Seattle Symphony cellist Nathan Chan with his cello, prayer plants and Venus flytrap. (Nathan Chan)

How do you think you are redefining what it means to be a classical musician? 

I've always hated the notion that classical music has some sort of barrier to entry. The reason why I love playing pop covers and love sharing what I do with people online is because I want to reintroduce this friendliness and approachability to classical music. In some ways, classical music has always resided within the [concert] hall. Now, more and more people are using technology to bring that music to a greater audience. 

Read the complete profile and interview.

Seattle writer/director Nick Thompson, right, speaks with actor Allen Miller, part of the all-local cast and crew of Skagit. (Simon Fox)

Seattle writer/director Nick Thompson, right, speaks with actor Allen Miller, part of the all-local cast and crew of Skagit. (Simon Fox)

You scouted 50 locations and used 24 for your film Skagit. What were you looking for?

It started with the Skagit Valley itself. I was familiar with it, but only in the sense of passing through it as a kid. I felt Skagit Valley was like a lot of Western Washington: very beautiful, but also a little depressing at times. Skagit Valley seems a little creepier and darker just by its soggy nature. And I didn't want these characters totally isolated in the middle of nowhere. I thought it was more interesting to have it be a place that’s close to the city, but also has that rural wilderness. 

Read the complete profile and interview.

From left, Amanda Morgan dancing in Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto, on point at the PNB studio and performing in Kent Stowell’s 'Swan Lake.' (Angela Sterling; Lindsay Thomas; Angela Sterling)

From left, Amanda Morgan dancing in Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto, on point at the PNB studio and performing in Kent Stowell’s 'Swan Lake.' (Angela Sterling; Lindsay Thomas; Angela Sterling)

How can choreographers make a difference? 

Choreographers right now are so important — what types of stories they're trying to tell and what dancers they're using to tell those stories — because that's a way that brings in audiences that may not be used to seeing their story or themselves on stage. Not just telling the straight white narrative, the straight white love story. If you keep doing it the same old Eurocentric, old-school type of way, ballet will die. It will actually slowly become less important if they don't start telling different stories.

Read the complete profile and interview. 

Jennifer Angaiak Wood moved to Indianola, WA, from Fairbanks, AK, in 2015 and has since exhibited her masks at Stonington Gallery, The Washington State History Museum and The Evergreen State Longhouse.  (Alicia Diamond) 

Jennifer Angaiak Wood moved to Indianola, WA, from Fairbanks, AK, in 2015 and has since exhibited her masks at Stonington Gallery, The Washington State History Museum and The Evergreen State Longhouse.  (Alicia Diamond) 

In what ways are you breaking with tradition with your masks, and why?

One of the challenges for a lot of Indigenous artists is to not be stuck in the past all the time from the outside viewer. I’ve been told: “You should focus more on traditional work because I liked that.” I view that as people telling me I should know my place and my place isn’t here-and-now, it’s back then, like we’re expected to not change. I completely, entirely reject that idea. I’m trying to emphasize the fact that Native people are contemporary people.

Read the complete profile and interview.

Tirado prepares print

Latina artist Christie Tirado continues Mexico's long tradition of block relief printing to highlight the labor of farmworkers in eastern Washington. (Christie Tirado)

Latina artist Christie Tirado continues Mexico's long tradition of block relief printing to highlight the labor of farmworkers in eastern Washington. (Christie Tirado)

How is your art connected to your identity? 

I'm very proud of my background. I'm very proud of my heritage, of my roots and being Mexican and Mexican American. And my mother and father's history and reasons for coming to this country. That connection with my culture is illustrated in a lot of these pieces.

Usually, before I start working, I always have this thought in my head of like, “Why is this important? Why am I creating this?” It comes down to what I value and what's important to me. It's not just because COVID hit that I created America's Essential Workers. These workers have always been essential.

Read the complete profile and interview.

Amano with a power tool surrounded by glass windows

Fumi Amano at work on “Voice,” one of her “glass house” sculptures, which she constructs from mismatched old windows. (Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art)

Fumi Amano at work on “Voice,” one of her “glass house” sculptures, which she constructs from mismatched old windows. (Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art)

How did immigrating to the U.S. change your perspective? 

Before I came to the U.S. I wasn’t thinking about who I am or what I was doing, because Japan is a monoculture. I didn't feel much different about my identity. But when I came to the U.S. I had a lot of opportunities to ask who I am. Then the president changed, the political situation made me think about feminism. In January [2017] I drove up to Washington D.C. to join the Women's March. It was really, really big. The unity I [experienced] was a big transition. In the United States, I wasn’t just an individual woman, Fumi Amano. I was recognized as an Asian woman. That was a shock to me because in Japan it never happened. Everyone is just a Japanese woman and we didn't seem that different. I had to learn the history of the Asian woman in this country. 

Read the complete profile and interview.

Bennyroyce Royon, current artistic director of Evergreen City Ballet in Renton, directing a dancer with Ballet Hispánico in 2019. (Laura Fuchs)

Bennyroyce Royon, current artistic director of Evergreen City Ballet in Renton, directing a dancer with Ballet Hispánico in 2019. (Laura Fuchs)

How would you like to incorporate Filipino culture into The Nutcracker?

I introduce the parol, the traditional Filipino lantern that represents the Christmas holiday spirit in the Philippines. Alexa Manila, a Filipino American Seattle drag performer, is reprising her role as Mother Ginger. These are small gestures of inclusivity. I look forward to expanding my choices when we have more time.... Something I’m kind of meditating on: What is a folk dance I could include in my own version of The Nutcracker? Tinikling is a dance with bamboo. It’s very rhythmic, and it has Spanish influence in terms of the music. Another one called Maglalatik is a war dance using coconuts. The third one that’s good to know is Pandanggo Sa Ilaw. It really shows you what parts of our culture were heavily influenced by the Spaniards. I’m working on educating myself more on the indigenous sides of our dances.

Read the complete interview.

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