Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the unveiling of a public art project, “Home, Change and Survival,” by mostly immigrant Washington Middle School students couldn’t have been timelier.
Started last year, The Gatehouse pilot project takes students in the Out of School Time program at Washington Middle School and works with them to create art for the window niches of the Lincoln Gatehouse at Cal Anderson Park. The first art installation took place last May.
“Home, Change and Survival” addresses movement, migration, displacement and journeys in Seattle through the perspectives of the young artists.
“It’s all personal narratives, and what we found was a connecting and unifying theme,” said art instructor Nate Herth. “What we heard from almost every single person in the place was they’re new to the area.”
Sabiriin Abdi’s artwork shows an hourglass sitting in the middle of the Earth, with a red sun beaming down on it. Below the earth is a row of tombstones.
“My art panel is about being kind to each other, because one day people that we love will basically leave us,” she said, “and we should be able to move on without them, but they’ll always remain in our hearts.”
The panel reads: There’s not time for hate.
“I have learned that we should give new things a try, and that it feels good to have my work in public for everyone,” Abdi said.
Her friend, Hanan Mohamed, said her sun-and-moon piece with spring and nature imagery has the message of love over destruction, and making the world a better place. Before it went on the gatehouse, Mohamed said she wasn’t sure about her artwork.
“Since I’ve seen it, I feel so proud of myself,” she said.
Almost all of the Washington Middle School students that participated are “young, new Americans,” Herth said. The theme for the project was a collaboration guided by their ideas and experiences.
“The word ‘sacrifice’ felt important to them,” he said.
The mayor came down for Saturday’s unveiling, having spent the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency speaking out against a series of executive orders, including to pull funding from Seattle and other cities that support immigrants and refugees, and banning people coming into the United States from seven majority Muslim countries.
“This artwork and themes that you all chose, almost anticipated what happened this week with the new administration’s executive orders,” Murray said. “First, in an attempt to punish cities like Seattle that are going to stand with immigrants. And then, as you all know, this morning at our borders, our refugees are being stopped and detained. So, the fact that you students absolutely anticipated and have a message that’s very different than the message that we’re hearing from the White House, is pretty incredible, and I can’t thank you enough for that.”
While the Lincoln Gatehouse resides in Cal Anderson Park, its former use for the Lincoln Reservoir puts its upkeep under the purview of Seattle Public Utilities. SPU is also funding the pilot, using its 1 percent for capital improvements that’s set aside for public arts.
“It is a key priority for Seattle Public Utilities to use our percent for art funding to engage Seattle’s youth in connecting with environmentalism and equity and civic life,” said SPU director Mami Hara.
The artwork is scheduled to remain on display through May, with the city looking at a possible extension. The pilot requires approval from the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board due the historical status of the park and gatehouse.
“This is what we did,” Herth told a crowd around the Lincoln Gatehouse on Saturday. “We told stories together. We created community. We created a microcosm of the idea of what I think Seattle believes in in our classroom.”
Washington Middle School student Delena Teka told attendees he didn’t take the class seriously when he first started, that he’d intended to skip out.
“After four weeks or so, I was drawing in my notebook about world pollution that is dominating our world today in this society, and it snapped in my head what I wanted to draw,” he said. “And with the help of our colleagues and our teachers, we were able to turn this amazing park into an uplifting place.”