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Arts groups in Southeast Seattle want creative district designation by the state

Courtesy of Afua Kouyate
ADEFUA Cultural Education Workshop, which focuses on West African music and dance, is one of the groups leading the effort to establish the Rainier Valley Creative District.

UPDATE, 2/24: Updates to reflect that the Seattle City Council passed a resolution endorsing the creative district proposal.  

The pandemic has left many arts organizations struggling as performances and in-person classes have been canceled.

In the Southeast Seattle neighborhood of Rainier Valley, arts and culture groups have banded together to envision a more vibrant future after this current health crisis. They want to win designation by the state as an official creative district. On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution endorsing the idea.

Rainier Valley, along the west side of Lake Washington, is one of the city’s most diverse areas, with a rich tradition of African-American and African immigrant culture.

Afua Kouyate runs ADEFUA Cultural Education Workshop, a nonprofit that teaches West African dance and music to youth. She’s leading the effort to apply for the state’s creative district designation.

Most of the state’s eight other creative districts are in less populated areas, such as Twisp, Langley and Port Townsend. Kouyate sees this as a way to infuse more creativity in a part of Seattle that has sometimes struggled economically. For example, she sees potential as new buildings go up.   

“We want to make sure that when they’re developing work-and-live spaces that they’re contracting artists to come in and provide artwork,” she said. “There’s so many opportunities. Why would you consider just a solid cement wall? Let’s put some art on it.”

Kouyate envisions the creative district leading to more artistic collaboration.

“It’s going to be whatever people want to do – it’s colorful, thoughtful, moving,” she said. “We can have makeshift stages. We can amplify all the creative artists that are in the areas.”

Kouyate said one tangible benefit from the designation is that the state will add signs on highways to direct people to the area. She said she hopes to get designation of the creative district by May.   

People who wish to provide public comment at the 2 p.m. city council meeting can register online ahead of time.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.