What’s Your Curiosity Craving?

At Town Hall, we often invite folks to feed their curiosities, and for our Homecoming Festival, we’re asking: what is your curiosity craving? In this series, Town Hall staffers will turn their own curiosity cravings into custom festival itineraries. Interested in sharing your own craving and the Homecoming lineup that satisfies it? Write us at communications@townhallseattle.org for the chance to be featured here. If selected, we’ll give you free tickets to your custom itinerary!

Alexander Eby, Town Hall’s staff writer, shares his itinerary:

My curiosity is craving unexpected perspectives. If you’re looking for lateral thinkers who upend established systems, check out these experts who bring us subversive strategies for bettering society and ourselves. Whether it’s rebuking propaganda in widespread media, reviving a farm by letting it go wild and overgrown, or remodeling healthcare and housing around the American tradition of the public option, these big thinkers present new takes on the way we do things. Listen in as renowned speakers like Chase Jarvis, Naomi Klein, and Jonathan Safran Foer bring us surprising and urgent ways we can change for the better—and why it’s vital that we should.

-9/2 Alex Gallo Brown: Variations of Labor

Alex Gallo-Brown shares poetry and real human stories to illustrate and combat the grind of labor in modern-day America.

-9/6 Ganesh Sitaraman: Public Options for Creating Freedom, Opportunity, and Equality

Ganesh Sitaraman explores how public options—libraries, post offices, parks, and more—can transform American civic life.

-9/10 Peter Pomerantsev: This Is Not Propaganda

Peter Pomerantsev alerts us to trends of modern propaganda, disinformation, and information warfare.

-9/23 Chase Jarvis: Following Your Creative Calling 

Local luminary Chase Jarvis shows us ways we can cultivate habits of creativity to transform our lives and deliver vitality to everything we do. 

-9/24 Naomi Klein: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal

Naomi Klein investigates the discussion of our modern climate crisis and presents her urgent case for a Green New Deal.

-9/25 Jonathan Safran Foer: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast

Author Jonathan Safran Foer offers us a new approach to saving the planet from climate change, starting with what we eat for breakfast.

-9/25 Timothy Faust: Single Payer Healthcare and What Comes Next

Timothy Faust advocates for the simple but practical concept of single payer healthcare—and outlines what our nation must do to get there.

-9/26 Isabella Tree: A Farm’s Return to the Wild

Travel writer Isabella Tree recounts the unique and wild process of reviving her 3,500 acre farm by letting it return to nature.

These events, and plenty more, are a part of Town Hall’s exciting Homecoming Festival happening throughout the month of September.

Tickets are on sale now!

Listening Guide: In The Moment Ep. 37

In episode #37 of In The Moment, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talked with Alva Noë (5:48) about the philosophy of baseball. Noë explores the benefits of a slow and easy game and how it provides time and room for reflection. He asserts that, in a way, we’re all playing the game by asking the same questions as the players do in the moment. The pair pays tribute to ex-Mariners player Ichiro Suzuki and the generational magic of watching a game with your kids, meeting the players, and catching a ball. 

Host Jini Palmer talked with Edward Wolcher and Megan Castillo (17:50), Town Hall’s Curator of Lectures and Community Engagement Manager, about our upcoming Homecoming festival in September. They tell us about the lineup of speakers, artists, and fun unique programs in store—what’s new, what to expect, and what to look out for. 

Still Curious?

-Hear a Big Think interview with Alva Noë discussing contemporary research on human consciousness.

-Join Edward Wolcher for a discussion on solving climate change in an August installment of Town Hall’s beloved Penny University series.

-Check out Town Hall’s Homecoming Festival lineup!

Listening Guide: In The Moment Ep. 36

In episode #36 of In The Moment, Correspondent Grace Madigan sits down with Ed Levine (3:33) to explore his journey and the inspirations that led him to create his food blog Serious Eats. Levine names some of his favorite foods and food memories, and delves into the ways his passion for food has always brought him joy.

Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talks with Charles Fishman (12:07) about the unsung heroes of NASA behind our trip to the moon. Although the astronauts got all the coverage at the time, Fishman talks about his fascination with the people involved behind the scenes. Fishman and Steve chat about how people love space—whether it’s the hardware, the equipment, or the museums. They close with a discussion of the ways in which the things we do on earth requires outreach and investment into space in the form of satellites and other infrastructure.

Host Jini Palmer highlights a segment from Lee McIntyre (21:49) in his June 3 program in defense of science. McIntyre contends that scientific evidence can’t be used to convince people who don’t believe in evidence. He tells us that in order to sway anti-evidence thinkers, we need to influence their reasoning and establishing trust. McIntyre outlines how people often believe speakers who they think they can trust rather than listening to facts, data, and science. With the rise of the information age, McIntyre asserts that people can go online and find multiple arguments—many of which are conspiratorial and unsupported—that support their views. He closes by arguing that this trend is creating what he calls a “culture of denial.”

Still Curious?

Charles Fishman appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air to discuss his upcoming book about the 1969 moon landing, One Giant Leap.

-Check out Ed Levine’s blog Serious Eats—just be prepared to get hungry!

In an interview with CBC Radio, Lee McIntyre expounds on the “culture of denial” facing modern science.

A Spellar Performance

The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee broadcast its finals on ESPN’s streaming service at 8:30pm on May 30. Spelling fans tuned in everywhere to watch deft spellers vanquish word after word, until the list was exhausted and not one but eight students were still standing. The biggest victory tie in Scripps history left audiences applauding as eight champions held up the trophy together.

Every year, Town Hall hosts the King-Snohomish County Regional Spelling Bee. The winner of this heated trial of vocabulary moves on from local to national, joining the ranks of spellers competing in the Scripps Bee. This year representing Seattle was Nidhi Achanta, who knocked it out of the park and advanced to Round 3 of the Scripps Bee by nailing words such as porphyry (a hard igneous rock OR a Roman philosopher, depending on who you ask), calligram (an image made of words that are thematically connected to its meaning), and tachycardia (a medical condition that causes increased heart rate).

From among thousands of participants nationwide Nidhi succeeded round after round and made it to just before the finals. She can count herself as one of the best spellers in the nation. That’s no easy task! Congratulations Nidhi! This summer, Nidhi plans on presenting Spelling Bee prep ideas in local libraries to encourage other spellers from our state to take on the spelling bee C-H-A-L-L-E-N-G-E.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be a champion speller? Take the Scripps National Spelling Bee Preliminary Test and see if you can ace some of these tricky words!

Listening Guide: In The Moment Ep. 34

Episode 34:

Bonus Content:

This listening guide is a two-parter! In episode #34 of In The Moment, Chief Correspondent Steve talks with Rachel Louise Snyder (5:25) about her research on domestic abuse and sexual intimate partner violence. Snyder upends many myths and misunderstandings about what is commonly called “domestic violence.” She outlines how even the language we use doesn’t fully capture its insidiousness. Snyder addresses domestic violence as a global epidemic and talks about how some people are trying to end it.

Host Jini Palmer covers a conversation between Executive Director Wier Harman and Town Hall founder David Brewster (15:51). Wier and David spoke at this year’s Director’s Dinner about Town Hall’s past, present and future. David gives us a glimpse into some of the problems he ran into when trying to get Town Hall off the ground, and they banter about the visions and plans for Town Hall that have stayed true since the beginning.

Then in a bonus episode, Correspondent Charles Cross talks with John Waters (1:08) about his transgressive movies, living with stars, and some shared moments in Seattle. Waters reflects on what he’s learned along the way and where he’s going now.

Still Curious?

-Rachel Louise Snyder has spoken in numerous segments on NPR’s “All Things Considered” as well as APM’s “Marketplace” and PRX’s “Global Guru” series.

-Interested in attending next year’s Director’s Dinner? Town Hall members get an invitation every year! To learn about other benefits of membership, visit our membership page.

-Check out this NPR spotlight featuring John Waters on the May 20, 2019 episode of Fresh Air.

Music as a Bridge

With our Great Hall reopening, we’re excited to get back into our historic home and see what the space can do. To help put the Great Hall through its paces and show us a truly unique musical experience, composer and Fremont Bridge Resident Paurl Walsh is coming to Town Hall on May 23 to present his incredible concert Bascule. FREE tickets are available now. Town Hall’s Copywriter Alexander Eby sat down with Paurl to talk about Fremont fulcrums, and the ways music can help us connect to each other.

AE: What can you tell me about the concert?

PW: The concert is six movements—three long movements interspersed between which are three short movements from string quartets. The show features a pianist and four string players who send their music as signals to me directly, and I use electronic mixing equipment to process and shape their sounds in real time. There’s also a unique visual component to the piece which mirrors the electronic mixing, presenting everyday images that have been heavily abstracted. It’s the culmination of a year-long project that I did as the 2018 Fremont Bridge Composer in Residence.

AE: Can you tell me more about the Fremont Bridge Residency? What was it like to work creatively in that environment?

PW: It was such a cool opportunity to be able to write music in such a weird space. The northwest tower of the Fremont Bridge is a small office about twelve foot square, but with 360 degree windows all around. You can see out over the water and down to the ship canal. You can see Lake Union and the Aurora Bridge towering above, and Gas Works Park splayed out on the left. You can see over to Queen Anne Hill and down into Fremont proper. It’s a beautiful view. I was in there about 20 hours a week with my laptop, notebooks, and speakers working on music.

It’s noisy in there. Lots of it was from traffic. Whenever a bus would cross the bridge, the whole room would vibrate and shake. And then there were the actual movements of the bridge. Fremont Bridge is one of the busiest bridges in the country, with an average I think of 15 openings per day during the summer for everything from shipping traffic to sailboats. The operator in the south tower would have to call me on the intercom every time the bridge opened to make sure I was clear. So there were lots of distractions; you can imagine trying to write music in that context. It took me probably a good month or so to adapt, just to get to the point where I wasn’t hearing it anymore, and to be able to get back on my train of thought in between interruptions.

My hope was that the environment would sort of seep into my work through osmosis. If I had tried to write this piece while all isolated in my studio I think it would have come out entirely different, so I like to think that the environment has seeped into the thesis of the music.

AE: Was there a part of the bridge that you feel most influenced your work?

PW: One of the coolest parts was actually a safety orientation that I had to take. The Department of Transportation had to show me all the safety stuff related to the bridge, and part of that involved going on a full tour of all the inner workings. I got to go down into the bowels of the bridge and see all its mechanics, and while we were down there I got to stand in the middle of a pivot point while the bridge was opening.

There’s this fulcrum point that the whole half of the bridge tilts on. Behind that point, dug into the side of the hill, is a huge concrete counterweight. I stood on a gangplank between the two, totally open to the air with the water directly below me. The bridge started to open, and it felt like the whole planet had started to shift, and for a split second I had no real sense of up or down. It was a very disorienting and very interesting sensation. I wanted to recreate that feeling in my music—that intense feeling of disorientation followed by an adjustment that makes this strange and uncanny sensation suddenly feel normal.

AE: Where did the name Bascule come from?

PW: Bascule is a technical term for a drawbridge. Specifically, it’s what engineers call the type of bridge that the Fremont Bridge is—a Bascule bridge. But in my mind, this piece of music isn’t about all bridges or waterways but the Fremont Bridge specifically. I was inspired to apply for this Residency because I felt like I had something really unique to say that involved the Fremont Bridge.

The piece is my way of talking about a very difficult time in my life when I was living in that area. For me, there’s this really visceral connection between the Fremont Bridge and a period of my life when I was experiencing homelessness and dealing with severe depression and serious substance abuse issues. My hope is that this project sheds some light on these topics. The way we treat mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty is really unhealthy. A lot of people are affected really directly by them, but they’re issues we don’t really talk about directly. I want to help destigmatize these issues, to make people feel like they can talk about them and understand them.

As a result, this musical piece very intense. I’ve really tried to design an experience that presents an impression of how it felt to be in that place, and how lost and awful I felt. But I also think there’s moments of really extreme beauty and bittersweet moments in there. My hope is that by telling this story in such an abstract way, the audience can make their own connections and imbue their own sense of meaning with it.

AE: What do you hope that audiences can take away from this piece?

PW: The piece is certainly experimental, but in a lot of ways I think it’s also universal. We all experience periods where we go feel things similar to this. I feel like there’s a lot to identify with in this work, a basic sort of fundamental emotional understanding that we experience as humans. Everyone experiences their own version of the music. No two people’s take on this is going to be the same. But I hope that people respond to the intensity of what I’m making and come out of the concert with some feeling of solidarity, for the audience to feel supported by each other.

We can feel so isolated when we’re having these crises, these feelings of depression or even just all the difficult stuff that comes from being human. My goal with this concert is to create an experience that communicates what that’s like—to present something that everyone can identify with and show that no matter what you’re feeling or how strongly you feel it, you’re not alone.

Join us at Town Hall’s Great Hall on Thursday to hear Walsh’s piece. Tickets are free.

Hello, Cello: A Return to the Great Hall with Joshua Roman

In March 2006, Joshua Roman stepped out of his chair as the youngest principal cellist in the history of Seattle Symphony with a solo recital at Town Hall that introduced him as a powerful new creative force in our city, and helped ignite his career as a featured soloist and curator. Thirteen years later, Joshua has gone on to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony, Mariinsky Orchestra, as well as with Christian Zacharias, Yo-Yo Ma and many others—not to mention serving as Town Music’s Artistic Director.

It’s fitting that Roman’s virtuosic talent will mark the first performance back in the newly renovated Great Hall. To welcome us back to Town Hall and fully explore the Great Hall’s newly expanded acoustic capabilities, we’ve given the stage over to Joshua Roman for an evening of music under his full creative control. Tickets are on sale now.

Roman is the original mind behind the sound of Town Music, and he’s spoken about the ways Town Hall has given him opportunities to grow artistically throughout his career. At Town Hall, he’s performed Bach recitals and cello and violin duos, he’s served as a conductor for the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, and he’s collaborated with renowned groups like JACK Quartet.

Roman’s concert also marks the first show under the Great Hall’s custom-designed acoustic reflector. As part of our renovation we’ve hung a one-of-a-kind acoustic reflector above the Great Hall stage, tuned specifically to the contours of the room to evenly deliver sound from the stage to every seat in the house—with or without a microphone. After nearly two years outside of the building, we’re so excited to see (and hear) what this new reflector can do!

This evening promises to be unforgettable—a reconnection thirteen years in the making. To commemorate our return to the Great Hall, Roman has put together an incredible repertoire. Get your tickets now before they sell out.

Check out the videos below for a preview of some of the night’s lineup!

Town Hall Isn’t City Hall. City Hall Isn’t Town Hall.

I once asked Town Hall’s Ticketing Manager how often we get calls from people attempting to reach City Hall? “At least a couple per week. Maybe even one per day in the summer.” It didn’t take me long to wonder if City Hall got calls intended for us, and whether there was anything we could do to fix that. I had to know more. So in honor of the the 50th Annual Municipal Clerks Week I reached out to City Clerk Jaci Dahlvang, who answered questions all about phone call confusions and day-to-day life in city government.

AE: Can you tell me about a day in the life of a City Clerk? What roles do you play? What’s the most interesting aspect of your job?

JD: On any given day we can be found registering domestic partnerships, accepting claims for damages, explaining where a bill is in the legislative process, training folks on legislative research, or helping candidates begin the process of running for office. If you’ve ever signed a Seattle Initiative Measure, it was filed here first!

This office is also home to the Seattle Municipal Archives, a treasure trove of City records of enduring value. We can help you find out what the legislation says, but they can help you put it in context. I’m a huge nerd, so I love that I’m now a part of Seattle history. I wrote City Council meeting minutes during my first year here, so now my name is in bound volumes that will stay in the Archives forever. I also love puzzles, so any day that I get to dig in and help solve a legislative mystery with a researcher is a good day. We’re proud of the part we play in maintaining government transparency and supporting democracy in action.

I’m part of a team of Legislative Information Specialists. We are just one part of the Office of the City Clerk, but we are the face of the office. We’re the folks who answer calls, emails, and in person questions about City filings, the legislative process, and more.

AE: If there was one thing you wished people knew about City Clerks (or about city government in general) what would it be?

JD: That we exist! I didn’t know anything about City Clerks until I started working here. The City Clerk is a public officer who takes an oath of office, and some of the important responsibilities of the position include providing neutral stewardship of the legislative and election processes, as well as supporting meeting and record management requirements, all in service of civic engagement and transparency.

City Clerks are often the first point of reference in a city, though Seattle has the tremendous folks in the Customer Service Bureau as well. In addition to the services above, the Office of the City Clerk also manages official filings from departments across the city and, of course, assists city staff with their research, which means we have a broad awareness to help direct the public.

We have many online resources, including title records of legislation all the way back to 1869. Old legislation and filings are fascinating; they are the record of Seattle figuring out what it values as a city.

Also, searching for animal-related terms is a gold mine. One of my favorite records is a collection of protests against stabling horses in the basement of the Opera House during the World’s Fair.

Also, not enough people know about our research room! Come on in and look at City Council records on microfiche (it’s not scary, we promise) or check out holdings from the Archives. We love showing people our discoveries, and we love learning from your questions.

AE: How often do you get calls intended for Town Hall? What do you usually tell them?

JD: It is more common for us to get calls intended for the courts or for the County. In short, we handle records related to the City and the County handles records related to people. We’ll always do our best to get people where they need to be! It’s hard to say, because we get so many calls that are not intended for us!

AE: What’s the most memorable conversation you’ve had with a Town Hall caller?

JD: My favorite calls are from people looking to make change, be they residents looking to file an initiative or connect with their councilmember, or officials from other jurisdictions looking to replicate legislation Seattle has passed. Helping lead other cities, or guide them with our history, is always satisfying.

AE: If you could put on your own Town Hall talk, what would it be about?

JD: I’m a year-round volunteer for SIFF and I write a film blog, so mine would probably film related. My team could speak on digital equity, family history as local history, how to fight City Hall (but not the people who work there), the history of clerks, and Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science as adapted for the government context (this is something we discuss a lot as a team).

AE: To help alleviate the confusion, is there any chance City Hall could change its name? What would you change it to?

JD: It looks like City Hall is only mentioned once by name in the Seattle Municipal Code, so that wouldn’t involve as many amendments as I’d feared. Though to be fair, City government has had a City Hall off and on since the late 1800s, and you’ve only been Town Hall since 1998, so maybe we should reconsider who’s responsible for the confusion!

AE: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Any final thought you would like to leave us with?

JD: We always want people more involved in their city government, and we welcome all your questions! If you like information, and lots of it—in great detail—we hope you’ll stop by or give us a call.


There’s plenty going on at Town Hall and at City Hall—and both are here to make Seattle a better place. Just be sure you call the right one!

Town Hall Seattle: 206-652-4255

Office of the City Clerk: 206-684-8344

Listening Guide: In The Moment Ep. 33


In episode #33 of In The Moment, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talks with Sandro Galea (3:55) about reforming America’s way of thinking about health. Galea invites us to think beyond just insurance and access to doctors or medicine, instead widening our scope to talk about larger systemic issues: how diseases that are biological, environmental, are also inextricably related to stress, opportunity, and security. He asserts that we need to think about health economically and socially, as an issue related to larger political decisions. Galea says that experiences, opportunities, health are a product of our entire life—much of which we have no direct control over. According to him, it’s incorrect and unfair to assume that people have full autonomy over their health; we have to recognize that our collective well-being is a collective responsibility.

Correspondent Minh Nguyen talks with Nancy Fraser and Bhaskar Sunkara (14:02) about how America has been in a political state of neoliberalism roughly 30 years, and how this system is now being widely challenged and questioned. Fraser says that, by coupled terms like “feminism” and “anti-racism” with the progressive neoliberal agenda, neoliberalism led to the election of Donald Trump. She asserts that neoliberalism has contributed to union-breaking, financialisation, and policies that have hollowed the living standards of all working class Americans. Nancy underscores her hope that the public at large can gain a larger understanding that we live in a classist society—one which she hopes we can transform into democratic socialism. Sunkara outlines the idea of what democratic socialism means to them, emphasizing the need for the redistribution of wealth and power. He expresses the importance of the idea that things can change, entreating politicians to lay out clear agendas for reform rooted in real needs.

And host Jini Palmer shares her discussions with Ray Williams (25:08) of Black Farmers’ Collective, as well as other volunteers at our Town Green Day of Service. Jini talks with Ray about the Collective’s plans for creating a model for sustainable urban farming. Their current project is in its beginning stages, and Ray outlines plans for the farm to expand and include a gathering space, an ADA accessible path from the street, and a trench for collecting rainwater. He discusses his hopes for the involvement of local chefs, the gathering of compost and building supplies, and the increased support of local businesses and the community as a whole.

Still Curious?

-Sandro Galea expounds on his collective approach to health in an interview with WBUR.

-Town Hall’s event with Nancy Fraser and Bhaskar Sunkara is part of Red May, Seattle’s month-long festival of radical art and thought. We’re hosting two more of the festival’s events, one on May 17 and one on May 23.

-Want to get to know the work of the Black Farmers’ Collective? Check out their website!

Paint the Town Red

Seattle is a city that demands we think outside the box, and few series exemplify this idea quite like Red May. For the month of May, speakers gather to interrogate contemporary issues through the lens of Marxism, political economy, feminism, race, and philosophy—and three of the festival’s marquee events are coming to paint Town Hall red.

On May 10, Bhaskar Sunkara and Nancy Fraser step up to bolster our faith in neoliberalism. They explore the building blocks of this ideal: the two central tenets of recognition (who deserves rights) and distribution (who deserves income). Sunkara and Fraser highlight the fraying of these ideals and break down the iconic words of political theorist Antonio Gramsci “the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” Together Sunkara and Fraser outline ways we can combat the rising outsider populist politics on the right and left which represent a larger crisis of hegemony for neoliberalism.

Just one week later, the Red May City Council convenes for a panel discussion of our city’s rapid expansion. They address concerns from those who see Seattle as their home—concerns that a new high-paid, high-tech workforce is annexing the city’s spaces with rents and restaurants that only they can afford. They stoke this critical conversation and address the political, philosophical, and existential questions that define our city’s new urban struggle.

Following this discussion of a workforce takeover of Seattle, Red May brings us Down With Work! on May 23, an inquiry into the heart of the capitalist infatuation with work. This panel takes us on a deep dive into the activity we least like doing, questioning the idea that it’s normal and necessary to commit massive amounts of personal time and emotional energy to our jobs. They conceptualize the idea of modern society without work, envisioning alternatives to a civilization—and a population—free of the constraints of a workforce.  

Many of us wonder about alternatives to capitalism, or the high-speed growth of Seattle’s buzzword culture. Red May offers us a refreshing idea: maybe we can’t move beyond capitalism right away, but at least we can take a month-long vacation from it.

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