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New Seattle arts leaders focus on joyful, community-driven revival

Crowds of people around the International Fountain at Seattle Center. In the background is a stage.
Grace Madigan
Bumbershoot returned for two days this Labor Day weekend. Nearly half of the music lineup were local artists including The Dip and Thunderpussy.

Earlier this month, Seattle’s iconic arts festival, Bumbershoot, returned triumphantly after a three-year hiatus.

Bumbershoot’s new producers delivered a weekend that focused on highlighting art beyond just music with an emphasis on local artists. 

As arts organizations continue to navigate a post-pandemic world, KNKX Arts & Culture Reporter Grace Madigan, spoke with a handful of Seattle arts leaders to see how they’re feeling, this fall season. Click "Listen" above to hear her conversation with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.


Note: This transcript is provided for reference only and may contain typos. Please confirm accuracy before quoting.

KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick: So Grace, let's start with Bumbershoot. You went this year you've been before. But how was it different this time?

KNKX Arts & Culture Reporter Grace Madigan: It was really exciting. I think so many people were, like, thrilled that this festival is back. And this is how they got to spend their Labor Day weekend. As soon as you entered the festival, you were kind of overwhelmed with the choices with what you could go see and engage with, besides, you know, the mainstage acts happening. You had the fashion district where you could go thrifting, get your hair done, go see a fashion show, you had Flatstock where you could go meet some local artists and buy posters from them. They even had a little bit of pro wrestling, which we have some sound of.

[Wrestling audio clip]

So yeah, the festival organizers said that over the weekend, there were about 40,000 people who made it out, which is up from the last time the festival happened in 2019. So, you know, it definitely, I think, is a big success for the new producers of the festival.

Kendrick: So that leadership change at Bumbershoot is part of the bigger trend across all kinds of local arts organizations, right?

Madigan: Yeah, it's a really interesting time. So you have the Henry Art Gallery that has new leadership, Seattle Rep, Spectrum Dance, Fifth Avenue Theatre, and ACT just to name a few.

Kendrick: We should note, though, that these changes are happening at a challenging time, there have been some notable closures like Book-It Theater and Museum of Museums. And you have talked with some of the new arts leaders in Seattle. What did they tell you?

Madigan: Yeah, so Kris Lewis is the new director at the University of Washington's Henry Art Gallery. And she comes from LA, and she's really excited to try and make Henry Art Gallery into a cultural hub for the U-District. And you know, she said, that might mean some live music, some dance. She said that she was even talking with a professor about AI and maybe how they could incorporate that into their exhibits. So all really exciting things to keep an eye out for.

Kendrick: Well, it's so interesting that she's thinking about AI there. What else have you learned from the leaders you talk to about how they're trying to bring people back?

Madigan: Yeah, so they all really emphasize the community engagement, you know, being really purposeful with the productions that they choose, and then making sure that they engage with those different communities to bring in new audiences. So an example of that is the Intiman Theatre, which is returning for its 50th year. They're bringing back their Black nativity, which they haven't done since 2012. But before that they'd done for years, and it was always a hit. But the in this revival, they really want to emphasize community and get the audience engaged. There's going to be lots of singing and dancing, and just a lot of joy, which I think a lot of these arts organizations also are really focused on as they try and attract more and more people back into their spaces.

Kendrick: All right, great. Thanks for your reporting on this.

Madigan: Thank you.

Grace Madigan is KNKX's former Arts & Culture reporter. Her stories focused on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.