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Arts and culture

Juneteenth commemorates the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas on June 19, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation three years earlier, but it was not until the surrender of General Robert E. Lee that ended the American Civil War. Still a rural frontier, it would take another three months for the Union Army to arrive in Texas and announce the total emancipation of slaves in the state.

Poet Carl Phillips appears at the 26th Annual Literary Awards Festival in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2016. Poets & Writers announced that Phillips, 61, has won the Jackson Prize, a $75,000 honor for a body of work which displays “exceptional talent.”
Casey Curry / Invision/AP file

Poet Carl Phillips has received a $75,000 honor for a body of work which displays “exceptional talent.”

Jessica Kowal

The missionary Marcus Whitman has been lionized through generations of Washington state history. A county is named after him, plus a college and a handful of other things.

But his place as a hero in state history is fading. A statue of Whitman – one of two the state gets to display in the U.S. Capitol – is about to be replaced with one of the late Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal member and Native fishing rights activist. And the truth about Whitman is becoming more clear.

Photo courtesy of Ruth Dickey

Friday is Ruth Dickey's last day as head of Seattle Arts and Lectures. Dickey has been at the helm of the literary arts organization since 2013. She will soon be the new executive director of the National Book Foundation, which is the presenter of one of the most prestigious awards in the literary world — the National Book Awards.

Courtesy of Humanities WA

Washington has a new state poet laureate. Rena Priest officially took the mantle in a ceremony Wednesday evening, hosted at the Lummi Nation, where she is from.

Rena Priest, a member of the Lummi Nation and a Bellingham writer, has become the first Native American poet to serve as Washington state’s poet laureate.

Kate Olson at Seattle Art Museum, Tim Kennedy in background
Lisa Hagen Glynn Photography

After being hit hard by the pandemic, local jazz musicians like saxophonist Kate Olson hope the public will again support live music as venues reopen.

This image shows the 1956 painting "Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840—115,773" by Jacob Lawrence. The painting is panel 28 from a 30-panel series, "Struggle: From the History of the American People.” It had been missing for 60 years.
The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation/Artists Rights Society / Peabody Essex Museum via AP


A second panel from American artist Jacob Lawrence's sweeping series “Struggle: From the History of the American People" that has been hidden from public view for decades has been located, the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts announced Tuesday.

Courtesy of Afua Kouyate

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.

It seems especially timely after a year of racial unrest that a new play brings to light the life of someone who fought so hard for equality. Seattle playwright Cheryl West has written a new play called "Fannie," which highlights the life of activist Fannie Lou Hamer. I spoke to her about the play and Hamer's legacy.

Alfredo Arreguin paints a portrait of Frida Kahlo, who he says makes him think of his mother. Arreguin said his mother wanted to be an artist, but because she was a woman, was never taken seriously by the art world.
Kevin Cruff

When you call Alfredo Arreguin on the phone, you aren’t strangers for long.

Arreguin, 86, has built a reputation as a painter of bright, vibrant works – full of bold colors and animals and nature … big shots of warmth in what has, lately, felt like a cold world. His work is in two Smithsonian museums, and he’s been widely praised and awarded for his painting.

The Washington State Historical Society is collaborating with Write253 on a poetry event to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
Washington State Historical Society

In Tacoma, the observation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day is typically marked by celebrations, workshops and performances across the city. But this year, civic-minded organizations are finding ways to engage participants from a distance. The Washington State Historical Society, in collaboration with literary arts organization Write253, is doing this through poetry. 

Steven Schardt / Courtesy of Megan Griffiths

Author’s note: My most memorable story from 2020 was about honoring the legacy of Seattle-based filmmaker and television director Lynn Shelton. She died unexpectedly in May. I talked with her friend and fellow filmmaker Megan Griffiths about the posthumous Emmy nomination Lynn received and about the efforts to honor her in the Seattle film community. Megan and I discussed the “Of A Certain Age” grant created in Lynn’s memory, which is being stewarded by the Northwest Film Forum. Since we spoke, the first grant was awarded to Caribbean-American filmmaker Keisha Rae Witherspoon of Miami. Also, at the end of this post, you will find my interviews with Lynn Shelton from 2019 and 2013. (This story originally aired Sept. 18, 2020.)

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX


Musician Danny Torres hails from New York and Latin music royalty. But he had family in the South Sound — uncles who retired here. And he’d been coming out west for visits ever since he was a kid. So it made sense that he would eventually put down roots in Tacoma, where for the past two decades he’s been playing hip-hop, R&B and reggae with various bands.


Janelle Quibuyen, holding her depiction of a pinoy boxer at Hing Hay Park in Seattle, shares her Filipino heritage through art.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

"Anyone can call themselves a Creative Director, but it takes history with a team to honor and trust you with that title. So here we are: an experienced and enthusiastic Creative Director named Janelle Quibuyen." 

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Mirrorgloss is the love-magic-alchemy that occurs when Najamoniq Todd and Del Brown combine creative forces. They’ve been a Tacoma dance-pop musical duo since 2012. But very recently, they grew into a trio when Leigh Anthony Jones, aka DJ LBSTR DelaHoya, stepped in.  

Seattle-based artist Rae Akino photographed at Blagden Alley in Washington, D.C. Akino has temporarily relocated to D.C. during the pandemic. That’s her self-portrait, “I AM. (Name Yourself),” on the right.
Charles Marlowe Jr. / For KNKX

Rae Akino’s work makes me uncomfortable; I’ve never been good with my own vulnerability. Her art reminds me of emotions I’ve pushed aside for far too long that need prioritizing.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Smith-Lewis

Performing arts groups are finding new ways to offer holiday season programs this year due to the coronavirus. In Renton, Evergreen City Ballet is reimagining “The Nutcracker” with a series of films starting Friday.

Paige Pettibon is a multidisciplinary artist with an insatiable desire to explore all the facets of her creativity by boldly diving into wildly varied mediums. And she intends to never stop learning more.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Paige Pettibon wants Tacoma to do more — and be more — for artists.

But we’ll get back to that.

Pettibon (Salish and Black) is a multidisciplinary artist, working in mixed media, jewelry design, graphic arts, Lushootseed language and creative writing – and that’s just the beginning. She has an insatiable desire to explore all the facets of her creativity by boldly diving into wildly varied mediums. And she intends to never stop learning more.

Dance is Victoria Tangata’s first love; it is about moving freely and exploring storytelling. But she also wants to use the power of photography, poetry and film to open people's minds about how Black women/African women move through this world.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Victoria Tangata’s eyes are bright, large and smoky. They either want to tell you a secret or take in all of the secrets your ancestors ever held. She is a proud African woman from Kenya; she moved to the United States at the age of 8. She believes in God. The more I talk with her, the more I walk and relax in my own relationship with God. 

In Seattle, spoken word and social justice are deeply intertwined. For Ebo Barton, their connection to the form is a historical one, dating back to the oral traditions of many Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

It’s after 1 a.m. at the Capitol Hill IHOP in Seattle. Ebo Barton is sitting in a corner booth with another poet, both of whom had performed earlier at Re-Bar in South Lake Union, home of the Seattle Poetry Slam. A few of us have stumbled in, closing out another Seattle summer night filled with poetry and juvenilia. It’s the first time I meet Barton.

Eric “Blakk Soul” Mercer, Jr. is a singer-songwriter from Tacoma who has written songs for industry heavyweights such as Dr. Dre and Macklemore.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Eric “Blakk Soul” Mercer, Jr. is a singer-songwriter from Tacoma. Known as a soul man of the highest order, “Blakk” is respected across the music industry for a haunting, muscular voice and evocative, romantic lyricism. His songs are best described as dispatches from the heart of the modern man through all of its variations and situations.

For Perry Porter, art and activism are one and the same. He may not go out of his way to “Do the whole activism thing,” but it is there embedded in his work. “Sometimes just being a Black man doing what I do is a form of activism in itself.”
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Pablo Picasso once said: All children are artists. But the problem is how to remain an artist once the child grows up. This has not been an issue for Tacoma painter and rapper Perry Porter, whose mother encouraged him to be as creative as he wanted. 

“She made me a very fierce person and allowed me to chase my dreams,” he says. 

A public art installation by Tacoma's Jessica Spring allowed the public to take a poster in exhange for their own messages of healing.
Courtesy of Jessica Spring

If you’re traveling around Tacoma this month, you might see something that makes you smile. On the roof of the First Methodist Church, there’s a giant paper-mache megaphone and “I LOVE YOU ALL” spelled out in LED lights. This is one of 14 temporary art installations, created by public artists who received training and mentorship through the Public Art Reaching Community (PARC) program. Many of the artists are new to public art. 

Saiyare Refaei stands in front of the Parkland Community Mural project she organized. The mural on the side of the Post Office building spells out “PARKLAND,” with each letter representing a theme drawn from community discussions.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Saiyare Refaei’s art and activism does not prioritize the prestige of spaces like galleries or museums, but rather the value of community. The Tacoma artist’s work lives at the intersection of the issues and the communities affected by them.

“I feel more like this conduit or bridge,” Refaei says.

Adrian Florez / KNKX

UPDATE, Sept. 12: Thank you for attending Pandemic and Protests. If you were unable to attend or would like to view the program again, please see the link below. 

KNKX and Fresh Ground Stories present Pandemic and Protests: A Live Virtual Storytelling Event on Zoom on Friday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. PDT. Hosted by KNKX's Jennifer Wing and Fresh Ground Stories' Paul Currington. Supported by Story Fruition through its work with new storytellers.

Northwest Folklife Festival has shifted online and will take place May 23-25.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Nelson

Countless staple regional events that typically mark the start of summer have been canceled due to COVID-19. But the 49th annual Northwest Folklife Festival has made the shift to online. “From Home to Home: Northwest Folklife Festival” takes place this Memorial Day weekend. 

Portland Art Museum / Courtesy of the US General Services Administration

Margaret Bullock did not expect the latest exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum to be so timely. And it’s fair to say she didn’t want it to be timely, either.

That’s because “Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s” focuses on a time of economic catastrophe in the United States, when the federal government commissioned artists to paint murals and complete other works, as part of the massive effort to get people earning paychecks during the Great Depression.

Photo courtesy of Amy Piñon

When schools closed as a result of the pandemic, the local art education organization Arts Corps quickly shifted online. But its teaching artists worried that students without access to internet or art supplies would have challenges continuing their learning online.

So, the organization has been assembling art kits full of various supplies. The kits are distributed at locations mostly in the areas Arts Corps serves, including some school meal pick-up locations.

Seattle musician Tomo Nakayama
Tomo Nakayama

Most of the news about airports these days is about empty concourses and cancelled flights due to the coronavirus. But, 23 airports in North America are changing that up today by hosting a live on-line music festival. The JetStream Music Festival begins at 3 p.m. (PDT) on Facebook Live. It’s hosted out of Austin and features musicians who, during normal times, entertain passengers by busking at airports.