ArtSEA: Dancing in Seattle parks and poetry on public buses

Plus, finger paintings pop at SAM and the Seattle Design Festival spawns a ‘giggle prism’ in SLU.

a photo of several dancers wearing red and leaping on a dock in the trees

Whim W’Him company dancers are taking to the parks this month for summer pop-ups. (Nikki Womack Photography)

At this late-summer date, your customary evening walk might need a little something extra. You could grab a few friends, don matching outfits and choreograph a dance amid the greenery at a Seattle park. Or perhaps just leave it to the pros and just sit back in the grass and watch. 

Seattle dance company Whim W’Him began staging performances in the parks during the pandemic. Now these pop-up outdoor events are a regular and anticipated summer event. Even when you know it’s coming, the juxtaposition of contemporary dance in nature feels wonderfully surprising, as if the trees have uprooted themselves and gained graceful mobility.

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

This year’s slate of site-specific performances continues tonight at Martha Washington Park (7:30 p.m.), where the temp should be slightly more bearable with an assist from Lake Washington breezes. You can catch more free shows at Pratt Park (Aug. 19, 4 p.m.), Jefferson Park (Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m.) and Myrtle Reservoir Park (Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.). Or see Whim W’Him as part of the SAM Remix festivities coming to Olympic Sculpture Park (Aug. 25; $50).

For another way to watch artists take flight outdoors, bring a picnic to Maple Leaf Park, where the new Movies by the Tower summer cinema series is showing the locally made, internationally loved kung fu comedy The Paper Tigers (Aug. 19 at dusk; introductory talk by Seattle director Tran Quoc Bao). Expect more leaps and bounds next weekend, with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Aug. 26, dusk).

The popular Poetry on Buses program is back, now called Poetry in Public and seeking your submissions. (Tim Aguero)

For those more interested in landing than leaping … After a five-year pause, the Poetry in Public project is back and seeking submissions (in any language; 50 words or fewer) from King County residents. This year’s theme: “Places of Landing.” 

The much-beloved 4Culture and King County Metro collaboration — founded in 1992 and formerly known as Poetry on Buses — puts poetry by and for the people on public transit, in places formerly occupied by ads. (Submissions are due by Oct. 30; selection notifications will arrive in early 2024.)

Directed by Northwest poet Laura Da’, who holds the excellent and official title of Poet Planner, the program is currently offering inspiration to get your creative juices flowing. Recent prompts include “Land(forms),” such as rivers, mountains, deserts and coastlines, with the suggestion to think about a specific place and “reflect on how the landform interacts with your life.”

Seattle Design Festival is back with interactive design activities (including paper boat making, in the past) and immersive installations. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

It’s exactly this kind of reflection that sparks the creative projects populating the annual Seattle Design Festival, where local architects, designers and urban planners make forward-thinking ideas tangible. The popular “block party” portion of the event — held outdoors at Lake Union Park near MOHAI (Aug. 19 - 20; free) — showcases inventive ways for humans to better interact with our environments.

Interactive exhibits invite visitors to walk through, clamber upon and in some cases scribble thoughts on the installations. This year’s fresh offerings include a visual scavenger hunt (using your phone camera) and a place to take off your shoes and explore “alternative paving practices” with your feet. 

LMN Architects is contributing a mirrored, angular “Giggle Prism,” and notes that this “explosion of reflections … deconstructs the viewer into a series of endless tessellations while simultaneously projecting them forward and beyond into an otherworldly dimension.” Maybe don’t enter the Giggle Prism if you’re prone to bad trips.

But in fact many of the exhibits — a giant kaleidoscope, a human-scale camera bellows — nudge participants to see themselves and others differently, the hope being that a perspective shift enables empathy both in design and among each other.

At SAM, Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo’s mixed-media finger paintings add movement to his arresting portraits “Black Hat” (left) and “Monstera Leaf Cape.” (Seattle Art Museum)

Seeing people differently is a central theme of the new show at Seattle Art Museum. Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks (through Sept. 10) showcases some 30 mesmerizing portraits by the contemporary Ghanaian artist, whose unconventional finger-painting technique makes you look twice, and then again.

Beckoning viewers from squash-yellow walls, Boafo’s engaging faces appear both very still and teeming with life. The energetic effect is thanks to the visible strokes his fingers have made to achieve his subjects’ skin. Combining thickly layered shades of brown, black and deep blue, Boafo conveys his point: no one can be reduced to a single color. 

The title is a nod to W.E.B. Du Bois and his book The Souls of Black Folk (1903). In it, the writer and sociologist — who is buried in Accra, Ghana, near Boafo’s hometown — introduced the idea of the “double consciousness” Black Americans contend with, forced by the legacy of slavery to see themselves through the eyes of white society.

Several of the portraits reflect a keen appreciation for fabrics and fashion, as the figures sport striped dresses, flowered shirts and one killer red-and-pink checkered suit. But the eyes are key elements here, holders of the “Black gaze.” Some are dotted with pink at the tear ducts; most have the pull of a tractor beam. 

“My work is not complete until the viewer has interacted with the piece,” Boafo says in his artist statement. And he makes it impossible not to — especially when you meet each gaze in person.

Get the latest in local arts and culture

This weekly newsletter brings arts news and cultural events straight to your inbox.

By subscribing, you agree to receive occasional membership emails from Crosscut/Cascade Public Media.

Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors