Grassroot Art in Seattle

This is the part a series travelogue after my U.S. trip at the end of 2004.

Neither The Phantom of Opera in Broadway, nor The Lion King in Paramount Theater, even the Nutcracker in the Lincoln Center surprised me as much as the grassroots art I saw in Seattle. Of cause they are wonderful shows, but my expectation are as high. What I didn’t expect is, at the dirtiest and hard-to-find old abandoned building, there are some artists playing drama tirelessly, and the standard is as high.

The Reason

One night at Seattle, I decide to go to theater. I checked website and found any interesting show. Although the name seems too sexy, the introduction on their website indicates they are serious artist.

I hesitated quite some time before I entered the building. The condition is miserable. It seems to be an abandoned building nobody live in. It is near the viaduct so it is very noisy at night. Later, I discovered at different floors in this building lived photographers, play writers, and painters. The theater was on the second floor.

© Jian Shuo Wang. The building they performs.

This is the stage. They are very professional lighting and audio system, although there are no many seats for audience. 10 persons attended the show that night, and I heard it was among the most crowded show. It is amazing that the performed seriously every night for audience that may be as little as 2 or 3 persons!


Photo in courtesy of Live Girls Theater. Taken inside the room with permission from the theater owner

The Play

Two actors and two actresses performed the one-act play three times according to the three writer’s scripts with the same characters. It was more like an experiment and very interesting. I admit it is a big challenge for my English listening comprehension. I didn’t catch all the details but some scene repeated in my mind the days after.

Secret Gallery

Another great discovery was the secret gallery beside the backstage of the theater (well, they called it theater, which is so different than my previous concept of a theater). The painters or the photographers are normal people who claimed themselves to be artists. It is very inspiring that art is not something we can only find in MoMA or Louver. An big empty room like this works great for displaying personal pictures. They put price tag to the art work so people interested may buy it. It seems more like donation than a deal for these no-so-well-known artists.

The following pictures were taken inside the gallery (with permission).

Art is Everywhere

This is the strongest feeling I had everyday. Imagine a city that has both proven-successful art and grassroots art equally prosperous. At the same night, while Lion King performs in splendid and historical Paramount Theater and well-known painters have their work displayed in SAM (Seattle Art Museum), shows like the Live Girls and painting like those displayed in the gallery also exists. This is quite impressive for me. In Shanghai, I seldom visit any place related to art. This trip changed me a lot. I know there are also lots of art activities in Shanghai. I just didn’t spend time to discover it.

Later, when I visited Chicago and New York, the feeling of art got stronger and stronger. More and more painting like graffiti (thanks Amy), street singers, metro players, but the shock they brought to me didn’t go beyond the experience in Seattle.

10 thoughts on “Grassroot Art in Seattle

  1. Art is indeed everywhere, I am often amazed by the musuem quality art pieces in the ordinary American Household. The owners are not just those cool yuppies in the fashion business, they actually often turn out to be retired school teachers, nurses, housewives or chefs, they are not the wealthy bunch either, but they are so talented and their art pieces make you wow. Right there, you realize that there should be something more than an increasing number of highrises to claim a wonderful nation and culture.

  2. Exactly. This is the feeling. Regarding living standard, richer people in Shanghai can live very good life already. The difference of living standards between U.S. and Shanghai are becoming less obvious. But regarding art, there is still a huge gap, a gap not many people noticed, a gap that is bigger and bigger in the recent years.

  3. Your entries on the US has been very interesting JSW. Looking forward to something similar when eventually you’ll come to Europe. :-)

  4. I hope you don’t mind, and I’m sure I’m not the first, but I just nominated you in the “Best Asian Blog” category over at:

    Hint to the rest of your fans…apparently it takes several nominations to make it to the final voting categories, so don’t hold back. Note that you have to nominate a minimum of three different blogs (in any of the categories) on your ballot, and you can nominate a blog in more than one category. Good luck, Jian Shuo!

  5. Carroll, thanks very much for your vote. Ii will certrainly be very happy if I can get the final vote categories. I will inform otheres in the blogs to come.

  6. The artwork in the first 2 pics is mine.

    The horn thing with branches and all the little drawings in the next pic.

  7. Dear Jian Shuo Wang,

    Hi, I have been enjoying your blog immensely. I am visiting Shanghai for the first time on Feb. 25th and will stay till March 15th. I’m a commercial and fine art New York photographer and I’m looking for someone to accompany me evenings (intern / student) while I photograph on Shanghai subway station platforms. Part of this ongoing fine art series can be viewed at:

    This is an unpaid situation; the person doesn’t have to know anything about photography; just dress warm & comfortably and keep an eye on what’s happening around me so I can concentrate on taking photographs on a tripod. I travel light – – small knapsack that they can wear and a small roller bag that I carry. It would be ideal if they speak Chinese and some English, have a good attitude, low-key, reliable on timing and have a cell phone so I can reach them easily. In exchange, I’d be happy to consult with them about their photography, cameras, info about the arts in NY or professional photography industry. It will be fun and interesting for the right person. Please feel free to pass this along. Or perhaps you know a Shanghai school where I can post my inquiry? If you are interested or know someone, I’d greatly appreciate to hear from you as soon as possible with name, availability, age, e-mail address, home and cell phone #. Thanks for any help you can give.

    D. Saunders

  8. When I searched info about Microsoft Seattle, I found your blog.your blog is good. there are good informations about Microsoft and Seattle. thanks for sharing them.

  9. When I searched info about Microsoft Seattle, I found your blog.your blog is good. there are good informations about Microsoft and Seattle. thanks for sharing them.

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