February 2015 Letter From The Editor: Urban Renewal

Posted on February 05, 2015, 2:04 am
9 mins

Dear Reader,

February is the briefest month, which may bring to mind the brevity of all things as we watch things change faster than we can reckon. Indeed, our town is changing more rapidly than some feel we can properly adapt, but this sort of change is in fact a constant in a place built on the edge of the continent and the American empire—a pioneer town, fashioned and refashioned by economic bubbles and their burst. From start-ups and new tech, to the very earthquake-prone ground we stand upon, things are shaky. One bubble or earthquake later, and it will be a new ruin.

This month, we examine the feverish and often peevish atmosphere of this region, which attempts a placid mien in spite of the great energetic stress behind it. There are several exhibits and events that nod to this in a more direct fashion, but we will also look at the overall climate and assess how we are all responding to the cycle of destruction and renewal that defines this volcanic land of ours.

Most Seattleites are aware of the endless conversation regarding gentrification in the city, notably in Capitol Hill, recently named the city’s first official Arts District. Those of us who remember it as a haven in the 80s for gays, single moms, racial minorities, artists and anyone who would never fit the suburban template, it has been disconcerting to see the influx of techies and bros with plenty of cash to change things swiftly by throwing up some disappointing architecture and expensive street food. We’re not ready to say that it’s all bad here at Vanguard Seattle—and who knows? Maybe in the process of extending our cultural gaze we can dig up more hipness that isn’t hipster, overcome  the geographical limitations of the city that can isolate groups, and thus expand participation in the arts and culture. Personally, I’ll be happy to see concepts of “culture” expand beyond stuffing our faces with the latest food fad. Let the bros have that one.


That brings us to the theme of the month, “Urban Renewal.” Physically and metaphysically, this is quite an exciting time to reflect, assess and emerge. February is an underrated month, but holds much hope and promise. Yes, our Seahawks kicked off the first day with a shocking loss. The first few days were quiet as the 12th man shook it off. Some have latched onto conspiracy theories about the fateful call, but we’d rather latch onto how the fervor around the team pulled the city together in a way that often feels lacking. Our hope is that as the city changes and things are renewed, the defining sense will be of greater investment in ourselves, our surroundings and each other.

This is the time of year when our personal goals are often set high in the best way. We’re cleaning up our diets and working out, making this the perfect season for re-styling as well. Women’s fashion writer Lisa Cole covers the theme of renewal brilliantly by giving us re-purposed, re-invented, re-imagined and even romantic urban looks for modern women in her article Be Mine: February Fashion Reimagined.

The Henry Gala is themed “Future History” this year, and the tagline: Artists illuminate our past They ignite our future—explains it all. The attire is Futuristic Retro and our new men’s fashion writer Anthony Lemus makes some inspiring suggestions in his debut article How To Dress: Futuristic Retro.

The steampunk fantasy of Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities are a different spin (an aerial one, perhaps) on the intersection of past and future. Society writer Leslie Wheatley brings us an interview with Bruno Darmagnac, artistic director of the new show, which revisits the dawn of the industrial age and the fantastic ideas and imagined inventions that it inspired. The lustrous wonder of that period is conjured by Cirque du Soleil through physical feats that also defy expectations of what is possible.

It’s a month for spectacle of all sorts—awards month. To mark it, film writer Marcie McCabe explores the history of The Academy Awards. She points out that this ceremony was at first an afterthought, but quickly became a phenomenon. We have an innate need to honor each other and our achievements, to collectively preserve our stories and art. I remember this notion being beautifully expressed at the Mayor’s Arts Award last summer by a representative of the Snoqualmie Tribe, who received one of the awards for cultural stewardship. Through ceremony, the witnesses become as important to their longevity as the artists and storytellers creating them.

Great and small, we are building and preserving our culture. Artist Rodrigo Valenzuela’s Future Ruins takes this subject on in its own way. In her review Claire Reiner, notes that the work is timely and circumspect in its approach to issues of class, gentrification, destruction and creation. Never one to disappoint art lovers, the opening party last weekend at The Frye Art Museum was another spectacular event. Our new event photographer Mitchell Dasteel, got his feet wet and managed to get some shots of attendees which we feature in our On the Town post.

In the month of Valentine’s Day, we’re offered Handel’s Semele by The Seattle Opera which will be reviewed by music writer Johann Van Niekerk. For those unfamiliar, the protagonist Semele falls fatally in love with the god Jupiter and rejects her marriage to a prince. In her ambition to become immortal herself, she is tricked by her jealous rival Juno and becomes consumed by fire while making love to Jupiter in his godly state. It is from her ashes that Bacchus rises like the Phoenix. Nothing says “Seattle” or gentrification more than the idea of dowsing a lover with fire and somehow bringing the point around to wine.

What’s more is that Handel was originally commissioned to write an oratorio for the Lenten season but instead produced a racy, delirious opera derived from Greek mythology. Winton Dean in his book Handel’s Dramatic Oratorios:

“The public [in 1744] found [Semele’s] tone too close to that of the discredited Italian opera and set it down as an oratorio manqué; where they expected wholesome Lenten bread, they received a glittering stone dug from the ruins of Greek mythology.”

Renewal indeed.

We know that flowers and chocolates are crucial gifts for Valentine’s Day and nothing renews the soul better than love and romance (just ask Semele). Do not compromise quality when it comes to indulging the object of your affection—give good chocolate. In the spirit of the season, managing editor T.s. Flock hosted a chocolate truffle tasting for the Vanguard Seattle staff last week and weighs in on our top picks from local chocolate makers for your sweetheart.

Upcoming essays include: essays on some of Seattle’s historical and cultural hotspots, including an essay by arts writer David Strand examining why Capitol Hill remains a vital intersection of visual and performing art; upcycled accessories from Alchemy Goods; great day dates in Seattle neighborhoods; and of course more reviews and interviews. Thanks for reading and Happy February.


Cover image by Ken McCarty

Cover image by Ken McCarty

Sarah Caples has lived in Seattle since 2004 working as a fashion stylist for private clients. Sarah launched an art and society blog in 2008, along with a monthly salon at The Sorrento Hotel, which ran until June 2012. As executive editor of VanguardSeattle.com, Caples hopes to cultivate an informed dialog about regional culture and bring people of diverse backgrounds together in support of nonprofits, artists and community builders.