Seattle, WA
September 21, 2020

A Retrospective on Town Hall’s 2019/20 Season: Town Green

As we prepare for a new season of programming here at Town Hall, we also want to take the time to reflect on the past season. Although it did not end up looking as we had expected, there were many accomplishments to celebrate.

One of those accomplishments is a seventh year of our Town Green initiative. Town Green is a cross-disciplinary series devoted to the environment, sustainability, and local wildlife. In addition to events with scientists, activists, and policy experts, Town Green also sponsors days of service and provides a forum for all of us to share thoughts, voice opinions, and activate ideas in our community.

We were pleased to present a wide range of over a dozen events during our 2019/20 season that fell under the Town Green umbrella. Here’s a look back at those:

Kicking off the season on September 24 was journalist Naomi Klein with Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda in conversation about the idea of a Green New Deal, with insight from Klein’s book On Fire: The [Burning] Case for a Green New Deal.

The next day, writer Jonathan Safran Foer was in conversation with Town Hall correspondent Steve Scher about Foer’s book We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. Foer discussed his assertion that catastrophic climate change has resulted from the production of meat, and presented a call for collective action.

And in a third consecutive night of Town Green events, award-winning travel writer Isabella Tree joined us on September 26 to enlighten us on the trials and outcomes of her bold plan to let her farm go wild, with thoughts from her book Wilding – The Return of Nature to an English Farm.

A week later, journalist and author Florence Williams was in conversation with president/CEO of The Trust for Public Land Diane Regas about the positive effects of nature on the brain, based on her Williams’ book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.

One of the most effective ways of helping the environment is public transportation. Writer Christof Spieler was in the building to bring us his vision of some of the most important discussions in transportation, encapsulated in his book Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit.

Mycologist Lawrence Millman introduced us to the remarkable universe of fungi, drawing from his book Fungipedia: A Brief Compendium of Mushroom Lore, combining ecological, ethnographic, historical, and contemporary knowledge.

There are few remaining frontiers on our planet, but perhaps the wildest and least understood are the world’s oceans. Investigative reporter Ian Urbina joined us to share from five years of perilous and intrepid research in his book The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier.

Feeding a global population is an incredibly daunting endeavor. Senior researcher Timothy A. Wise was in conversation with bio-cultural diversity expect Million Belay to assert their belief that we must rely on small-scale farmers to show the way forward as the world warms and the population increases.

In a panel discussion moderated by Northwest Harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds, Congresswoman Kim Schrier, entrepreneur Taylor Hoang, and PLU’s Director of Multicultural Outreach and Engagement Melannie Cunningham discussed food as a human right, and hunger as an absence of justice.

To celebrate a new multimedia book and campaign, We Are Puget Sound: Discovering and Recovering the Salish Sea, we hosted an evening to hear from some of the book contributors, like Mindy Roberts, Director of Washington Environmental Council People for Puget Sound; Leonard Forsman, the Suquamish Tribal Chairman; and Les Purce, the co-chair for the Orca Recovery Task Force.

Professor and author Robert H. Frank drew our attention to the threat of climate change, and recommended a possible solution for creating action around it: peer pressure.

Elephants are one of the most charismatic of megafauna. However, their rapidly declining numbers are troubling. But photographer Art Wolfe and author Dr. Samuel Wasser joined us to offer hope that all is not lost with inspiring accounts from their book Wild Elephants: Conservation in the Age of Extinction.

In an enlightening discussion, an all-star panel of experts answered the question: how are the health of soil, plants, bees, and humans connected? Panelists Elissa Arnheim, Anne Bikle, Dr. William DePaolo, and Dr. Jenifer Walke were joined by moderator Bob Redmond of Survivor Bee.

In conversation with Town Hall correspondent Steve Scher, professor and author Daniel C. Esty joined us with excerpts from A Better Planet: Forty Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future, a collection of essays on ecology, environmental justice, Big Data, public health, and climate change, all with an emphasis on sustainability.

We celebrated the magnificence of waterbird migration along the Pacific Flyway with authors Audrey DeLella Benedict, Dr. Robert Butler, Dr. Geoffrey Hammerson, and Gerrit Vyn.

Horticulturalist Ross Bayton presented a crash course in plant history, ruminating on the origin and significance of scientific plant names.

Is organic food really worth it? What does it mean if something’s labeled “Fair Trade,” or “Biodynamic,” or “Cage Free”? Health, nutrition and sustainability expert Sophie Egan joined us in conversation with environmental author Tim Egan to explore the world of ethical food choices, drawing from her book How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet.

Acclaimed journalist Dahr Jamail joined us via livestream with a retrospective on his travels across the globe to observe the consequences of climate change, presenting his findings from his book The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption.

And rounding out the season, we were joined by investigative science journalist Sonia Shah to discuss how migration is an essential part of history, and how migration should not be seen as a source of fear, but of hope.


What were your favorites? Did you have any big takeaways from these events?

Did you know that one of the ways that you can think about sustainability is to have a more predictable energy bill? Our #powerfulpartner Puget Sound Energy allows customers to do just that by allowing customers to enroll in their Budget Payment Play, which spreads your estimated winter heating costs over a 12-month period and helps you plan your energy costs into your household budget. Learn how you can save money by visiting pse.com/paymentoptions.

Town Hall Digital Registration Tips & FAQs

As Town Hall continues to pivot and adjust with the ever-changing world, we want to keep you in the know about updates to our livestreaming programs. You made the leap with us, as we (somewhat gracefully) dove into livestreaming last spring. We tested and learned many things and now we are back with new systems in place! Here is what you need to know about livestreaming our content this fall:

After offering free livestream programming since the COVID crisis started, we will be returning to our model of paid registration for digital events. In keeping with Town Hall’s commitment to accessibility, we have several ticket options for our digital events: $5 Individual ticket and a $15 Household ticket. Though we will continue to offer free tickets to anyone 22 & Under, reintroducing ticket income will allow us to continue to produce at our fullest capability.

To buy a ticket:

  1. Click on the event you would like to stream. You will be redirected to Stranger Tickets to complete your purchase.
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Thank you so much for your flexibility and willingness to try new things as we adapt our current systems to continue community conversation.

Life On The Margins Special Editions

The Life on the Margins podcast features co-hosts Marcus Harrison Green, Enrique Cerna, and Jini Palmer as they share stories not just about marginalized communities, but from within, and alongside them. In each bi-weekly installment of this residency podcast, they engage with the narratives and experiences of our city, sharing them more widely with the Town Hall community.

In solidarity with the Black and Brown community in the fight for justice against police brutality and the institutionalized racism that enables it, the hosts of the Life On The Margins podcast have released two special edition episodes featuring discussions of police accountability, racism as a public health threat, the search for answers surrounding the death of Manuel Ellis while in police custody.


June 7, 2020

It Can Happen Here, Too


In this special edition of Life on the Margins, we probe deeply into the case of Manuel Ellis, a Black Tacoma man who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody on March 3rd, 2020. The investigation into his death was seemingly dormant until it roared into the public spotlight this week after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee demanded a full investigation into the 33-year-old’s death. Since then, video footage of his fateful encounter with police, along with an audio recording of him saying the words “I can’t breathe,” have led the mayor of Tacoma to call for the firing of the four officers involved in the case.

We discuss the case and hear directly from the Ellis family, about their hard-fought battle for the truth. We also discuss how it relates to the national unrest currently raging around police accountability.

June 5, 2020

Rage, Riot, Racism : The Killing of George Floyd

The May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Minneapolis police sparked outrage and protests across the nation that sees no signs of abating. If anything, the demonstrations have intensified the longstanding desire for America to address chronic and systemic racial disparities.

Also needing to be addressed, is law enforcement’s accountability to communities of color. Those are issues we continue to have in our own backyard, as the family of a Tacoma man who died in police custody continues to search for answers.

In this special edition, an emotional conversation Dr. Ben Danielson, pediatrician, and medical director at Odessa Brown Clinic in Seattle’s Central District, about racism as a public health threat. We also hear from the family of Manuel Ellis, who are still searching for answers three months after his death in police custody. And Matt Chan has commentary on the relationship between the Asian and Black communities.

Town Hall Seattle Statement on the Deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd

Whether seen as individual lives tragically taken, or the latest examples of our nation’s 400 year history of systematic disregard for Black Americans, the heartbreaking deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd over just ten weeks have left our nation—and this community—convulsed with grief. As sad and shocking as these stories are we know that they are just the reported examples of an incomprehensible structural crisis, at once too big and too painful to comprehend.

As individuals and as an institution, Town Hall Seattle shares the pain felt by so many. We are in solidarity with our Black and Brown colleagues and community members in the fight for justice against police brutality and the institutionalized racism that enables it.

Town Hall is committed to becoming an anti-racist organization. We have made specific commitments around our present and future operations, with the goal of modeling the society we want to live in. We have a very long way to go toward this goal; more information about that process and our commitments is here.

Town Hall Livestream Tips & FAQs

With the recent switch from in person to livestreamed events, we’ve received a few questions about where and how to watch events on our digital platform. We understand that livestreaming is a brave new world for some folks, so we thought we’d include a few tips and tricks to make your event viewing just a little easier.

How to watch an upcoming livestream event in Crowdcast 

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*Note you may have to download the Crowdcast app if you are watching the event on an Iphone. 

How to watch an upcoming livestream event on Youtube

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*If the event is in the future, set a reminder for yourself with the date and time to be sure you don’t miss it!

Want to watch an event after it occurred?

We have a wide range of videos in our archive and most events can be watched after the livestream has occurred. Visit our Media Library archive to enjoy our previous events.

Running late to an event?

On Crowdcast or Youtube, it’s easy to rewind an event if you are joining in late.

Just hover your cursor over the video and drag it back to the beginning of the event.

Still having complications?

If you have any trouble logging in, or joining the livestream please feel free to email patronservices@townhallseattle.org. Our friendly Patron Services team will be online before and after each event to assist with any event questions. 

Thank you so much for being patient and willing to try new things as we develop systems to continue community conversation in the new world!

Stay safe and be well,

– Your friends at Town Hall

Can You Help Migrating Birds By Turning Off Your Lights?

Every year, millions of birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway—the migratory path that stretches over 4,000 miles from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Circle. And each year, light pollution from populated areas can disorient and disrupt the rhythms of these birds. This can confuse, exhaust, and even endanger migrating birds—a 2014 study estimated that between 365 and 988 million birds collide with buildings in the US every year!

To explore the massive world of migration, listen to the full recording of our 2/19 panel discussion on The Pacific Flyway. And to learn more about light, energy, and sustainability in the Pacific Northwest, take a look at the resources offered by Puget Sound Energy. 

Town Hall is proud to announce our Powerful Partnership with Puget Sound Energy! With their support, we’re continuing our Town Green series, combining activist perspectives and policy-oriented programs with cutting edge research from climate studies and environmental sciences. 

For more community conversations focused on sustainability, check out Town Hall’s Town Green series. And to learn about simple energy-saving steps you can take in your home, check in with our Powerful Partners at PSE.

Turn off the lights to help save the earth—and a few birds!

Checking in with Cheikh Lo: A Global Rhythms Concert Review

Emily Slider, a local world music aficionado, was in attendance at our most recent Global Rhythms Concert. She was kind enough to send along this review.  She’s reviewed Town Hall concerts in the past for KEXP

Friday, January 17th, at Town Hall Seattle, the Great Hall was transported around the world by the warm African sounds of Cheikh Lo and Thione Diop. The evening began with a solo performance on the kora, a West-African lute. One member of Thione Diop’s ensemble came out after the lights went down and danced his hands on the strings of the instrument, plucking them upward and outward to fill the hall with a harp-like sound. The entire ensemble came onstage after the kora player had disappeared backstage. The instruments played by the group were percussion, but a few of them, like the xylophone and the cowbells, played tones that became the melodies. Each song felt like a jaunty saunter through lush faraway lands. Thione Diop demonstrated his djembe prowess with a captivating solo. He leaned into his drums with the audience leaning forward in anticipation of his next strike, both the drums and the audience under his command. The ensemble carried equal weight as they waded further into a colorful landscape of sound together. After a couple of songs, of the bell player passed off his instrument and got up to dance. He delivered a beautifully choreographed dance, moving each section of his body independently then interweaving his motions to the roll of the song. He sat down without even breaking a sweat and began playing with the ensemble again. Two more dancers came out wearing ropes and grasses as ornaments to their dancing and each taking a turn demonstrating how to move to the music. The only female dancer was particularly graceful and athletic. When she sat down and began to jam with the rest of the ensemble, the hall was left to wonder how much talent can fit inside one body, and whether they had just witnessed the depth of her talent or only the tip of it. 

Photo by Roy Kuraisa

Cheikh Lo took the stage after a generous last jam session with Thione Diop wrapped up. He began his set at the front of the stage flanked by members of his ensemble on either side. He strummed a mellow song and released his raspy, burdened voice out into the hall. Without speaking his language, the audience could get a sense of his message just by the way he expressed himself. His necklace, a custom made leather and wood holds an image of his spiritual leader close to his heart to guide him while he plays. This, along with the crown of dreadlocks wrapped atop his head, signify his allegiance to Baye Fall, a Senegalese Muslim sect. The band had a more western representation of instruments, using a full drum set and a saxophone, but the sound was quintessentially African. The bass and percussion reigned supreme supported by an intermittent vocal melody. Cheikh Lo shifted from leading up front to behind the drumset, the spot where he began his career more than forty years ago with Volta Jazz. He started this portion of the set happily riding the hi-hat and snare, coaxing his ensemble into his sound. His lead guitar player played a tremolo on the neck of his instrument before surfing his fingers down the instrument and exploding into sound. Pockets of people began dancing. Some groups wandered onto the stage, danced for Cheikh Lo, and then exited to shimmy just offstage. The energy in the room relaxed enough for the audience to empty the pews and begin to dance with each other. The crowd cut loose as Chiekh continued to jam.

Chiekh Lo had not played in Seattle for over twenty years; and considering how much the Seattle crowd picked up whatever Chiekh laid down, another twenty years will not slip by before he returns.

After the concert, Slider was able to talk to Lo through an interpreter. A brief interview is below.

ES: I want to hear about what you’re wearing. Whose image is on your necklace?

CL: This is my spiritual guide.

ES: and you keep him on you all the time?

CL: Yes, all the time.

ES: For those of us who don’t speak your language, what is the message of you music?

CL: Lots of things. I talk about the spiritual, I talk about love, the social issues, and environment.

ES: Seattle loved you, will you come back again soon?

CL: Of course! The people were dancing! It was good.

Global Rhythms returns to Town Hall on March 1. Haram with special guest Marc Ribot will take the Great Hall stage. Tickets are on sale now.

The Ishaque and Maria Mehdi Reading Room

Town Hall’s newest performance space is the Ishaque and Maria Mehdi Reading Room. Located on the lobby level in the former staff offices, the room features sculptures made from Town Hall’s reclaimed organ pipes and ephemera from Ishaque and Maria’s life. The Reading Room hosts community gatherings and intimate performances of all sorts, and when not in use for an event, is also a quiet place to sit with your thoughts or a notebook. We learned more about Maria and Ishaque from Town Hall board member, Yazmin Mehdi.  

“For all of us, it made sense to name this space for Mom and Dad: to have a space to honor them and to be a legacy for their five grandchildren.”
– Yazmin Mehdi

For Liam Lavery and Yazmin, Yusuf and Stephanie Mehdi, Town Hall is a temple of lifelong learning, a place to hear interesting speakers, music from around the world, and more.  They were keen to contribute to Town Hall’s capital program to ensure another 100-year future for the building and this wonderful organization. Below, they share Ishaque’s and Maria’s history. 

Ishaque Mehdi emigrated to the United States from India at 18 to study. He already had a Bachelor of Science in Physics. He earned a second B.S. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Florida, and then got hired by Boeing.  He later earned both a Master’s of Science and an MBA from Seattle University while working full-time. Maria de Lourdes Sotomayor met Ishaque when he took a rare vacation to San Francisco. She was studying the American educational system with a group of teachers from Mexico, and happened to be there at the same time.  Ishaque asked Maria to marry him three days after they met. It took him six months more to get her to agree.

Ishaque was a great believer that a good education was the key to a good life.  And as a trained teacher, Maria agreed. Besides her own teaching – of preschoolers, of adults through The Language School, and of students in the Sunset Elementary immersion program in Bellevue – Maria spent time in schools volunteering in her children’s classrooms, making piñatas for parties and attending science fairs, recitals, soccer games, and all manner of school events.  Ishaque diligently took both of his children to the Renton Public Library every Monday night to exchange their stacks of books from the week before. By example and through story-telling, Maria and Ishaque instilled a deep love of stories and learning in their children. 

All of us at Town Hall Seattle are grateful for the Lavery/Mehdis’ ongoing support and advocacy on behalf of our organization and this place. We are honored to recognize their gift to the Campaign for Town Hall—as well as their family’s legacy—in this room.

Sow Queer: A Conversation Between HATLO and Fox Whitney

On the evening of September 12 Town Hall will open up for a public showcase of works-in-progress by queer performance makers, facilitated by HATLO, Town Hall’s Artist-in-Residence. HATLO’s new project, Sow Queer, brings a diverse group of performance-makers to Town Hall for a 6-week process-focused, co-working community residency to develop new works and ideas with the option to participate in a public sharing. The September 12th public showcase will have a soft start time between 5 – 5:30 with the audience invited in to join artists in a co-working practice space, followed by a few hours of performance experiments that are improvisational, durational, iterative, and installed throughout the space. The evening will culminate with some of the artists sharing work on the Great Hall stage at 8pm. Tickets are FREE. Audiences are invited into a soft relationship to time and curiosity-focused awareness as they witness the growing seeds of projects that have been cultivated at Sow Queer. 
Recently, HATLO sat down with artist Fox Whitney to discuss the project, the creative process, and more. Their interview, unedited and in full, is below:
HATLO: For me the most succinct way of summarizing what Sow Queer is about is queer centered-process space in community, and I’m wondering if that feels important to you and if so, why you think it’s important. And maybe what is curious for you about this specific project.

Fox Whitney: I guess what was interesting to me about this project was I actually haven’t been thinking of that experiment. I’ve been really committed to creating terrain for my own process that could be a rich and rigorous space for artists to work with me in a way that feels queer-centered, in that it would be our priorities, our care, in a very functional way being centered. As opposed to like thinking people would need to be adapting and changing their kind of way they function in artistic process. Which is my experience, I think on the QT (queer, & trans) side of things. Like, ‘oh I have to leave that.’ That being a kind of respect for adaptability or like identity nuance. So when you were talking to me about this, I thought it was very exciting and risky. 

I don’t often consider myself collaborative, or find that I get opportunities to even experiment with the idea of what a queer, collaborative, non-product focused space could or would be. With the exception of my experience with queer punks in living situations, which I’ve been quite fond of, specifically the transparency around what it is we, or a person who has a desire to, is trying to build. There’s a trust that can be assumed to engage in a deeper way pretty quickly – which is a thing I’m very much a fan of about queer culture. And so I’m excited to talk with you because it’s a few weeks in, and I’m not thinking all sunshine and roses, not that there’s not that, but that part of this experiment for me in the facilitation and wanting to collaborate with you, is wondering what’s possible or what happens when you open up that space? And in such a charged site that’s meant to be for the community, which is not anything I’ve ever dealt with beyond a kind of classroom space. 

H: Yeah. A whole community-focused building take over is an interesting proposition. That is a way so far where Sow Queer is aligning with my intention, especially on Sundays, because I feel a fair amount of ownership of the building by this group of artists. And I like wandering around and stumbling across people that are using the building in different ways, and in ways that are not maybe immediately clear to me and that’s exactly right. That it’s not about legibility or about anything product related, it’s not about anything that’s policing, ‘this is acceptable, this is unacceptable.’ That’s it’s just about people being and having freedom in the space for their process or anti-process, whatever that looks like on a given day. I think the community aspect of it is a curious thing that I am continually navigating. Trying to figure out how to set-up a container…I think I have a desire to make it really attractive, and I keep getting distracted by this idea of high attendance or retention across the 6 weeks, even though neither is actually part of my intention or how I’m interested in measuring success. But in the moment I’ll find myself thinking, ‘oh, how is it the best place anyone’s ever been and the right fit for everyone?’ Which is impossible and not very interesting to me really. 

What I actually want and intended, particularly from the outside, like if I wasn’t the leader, is to have somewhere that folks can go if that’s what feels right for them and for their process. This space is here and available to them, and there will always be other folks to share space with who are also endeavoring in this way. And Sow Queer has been able to function like that so far, which is anti-capitalist expression that feels new for me. Like when you talk about queer punks spaces or queer shared housing and things like that, I think, yes! This is like that, of course it is manifesting that way, even though it wasn’t set-up with that intention exactly. Perhaps that points to a larger need, or a root of my intention. So it’s more like, ‘oh this is an option.’ And some folks are using it a lot, cause that’s what they need. And some folks think they’re gonna use it a lot and then aren’t able to make it out here. And some folks are coming through maybe only once or twice. And this is here for all of that. Because we need spaces that can support all of that. 

FW: A challenge for you that I find interesting, as you were in the dreaming stages of this, you also had to contain this residency to 6 weeks, which is not a lot of time. I feel like that can generate almost just a microcosm of a plan. I wonder, if I was the person who could give this residency or this building for this kind of project, I’d almost just want to give you something like 2 years. Because this feels like maybe something that is only in a prototype stage. And I’ve had questions related to your own practice as an artist: do these ideas and themes and relationships and things live in a more creative zone for you, as opposed to the like leadership structural administrator zone? Because I didn’t really ask you when we were first starting. I just kind of made this assumption I guess because you were like, oh I have this residency opportunity. Because I am interested in the relational aesthetics tangent of contemporary art, so for me it’s super exciting even though I don’t do that as an author or maker, like I really like being an artist and performer as a part of those kinds of ideas. I don’t know because I haven’t yet had a chance to talk much to the other artists, but I think it’s very curious to have an array of perceptions happening and that they can co-exist. That’s inspiring to me in a creative way to have that coexistence and layering happening. 

H: I do think that is happening. I think the thing I have been struck by the most about how this process has rolled out, because once you unmoor the ship and let it free – it’s journey is its own thing. I went to Cauleen Smith’s talk at the Frye yesterday about her show Give It or Leave It, which is a really interesting piece that looks at ‘successful’ experiments with Utopia in this country and she talked a lot about ideas of radical generosity. And there’s a way that this residency feels both generous and very selfish to me. It’s selfish in that it is a creation of something I really want and long for all the time, which is more of that coexisting in space, everyone each on their own terms and opportunities to connect across layers of that without requiring that we have bearing on each other even though necessarily there’s an understanding that there’s an impact just from sharing space. And that to me is rich for community and for me community is rich for my process and my understanding of myself. The way that the invitation has manifested for folks; some folks know exactly what they wanna do, for other folks this proposition is scary – that much unstructured possibility in a building feels overwhelming for them in their process. And I’ve encouraged folks to just come try and see, but also, if that’s their first impulse, that they don’t want to come through, I also trust that. It does feel kind of open-ended. And once you get here it’s very self directed. It’s about what’s interesting to you and your agency, where you are and what you want to do. And for me that’s something I’m trying to pay attention to all the time. And here I’m often like, well I could send a bunch of emails, and I could check in with everybody and see how they’re doing, and I like helming the organization of the space as part of my process, so both of those things need to happen. But also, what am I doing? where am I tending to my own artistic process inside of this? And how am I carving out that time? What am I prioritizing? And I’ve been able to find some pockets to do my work. 

In the larger sense in terms of process I’ve been thinking a lot about what comes next in my what mountains end series, or I’m beginning to work out what comes next, and a few of the research layers look at the ecological factors that support an environment rebounding after natural disasters. You said 6 weeks is just enough time to build a prototype, but that feels right for where I’m at. Like, this is a good space to begin to ask my questions about queer survival strategies in community – and specific to Sow Queer how to create an artistically sustaining culture for folks that I see as needing more resources and opportunity. 

FW: Part of why I was excited to contribute more on the facilitation end when you were first talking about it with me is because it really reminded me of the most invaluable thing I got at graduate school in a studio program, maybe that’s why I think maybe 2 – 3 years for something like this. I think it’s specifically why I hold onto a lot of the tenets of a visual art studio practice, because when I talk with other artists with more of a background in writing or other very structured performance training, there’s none of that being pushed off the cliff. It was really different for everybody, but that first time you’re confronted with the space and the site and nobody telling you what it is you’re gonna fill it with is actually such an intense learning experience. When I first encountered it I realized, ‘you know what, a lot of this is queer community building’. But also my experience was very product-driven in Chicago – the idea that I’d go into this program and be a very product-driven artist. Where I was like, what I like about this I didn’t have to pay for at all. Just this idea that you are the captain of your own destiny as an artist and that’s actually not as intuitive as people think. I’ve had a lot of help and encouragement or problems or failures due to that kind of thinking of filling the blank space. Which has been more culturally encouraged, especially in conceptual or abstract zones, of being crazy or risky, or just assuming you’re gonna fuck it up, and that’s maybe what people are wanting to see. Which is a tension for me in that site of academia, but in this site it’s really different. Where its blurry for me in a way, which was my first panic. I was like, ‘oh it blurry, Fox, I don’t know? Is it a mentorship? Or is it like you’re an artist?’ When obviously if I’m asking myself these things or you’re saying these things, it’s because it’s a complex interrelationship of those things. And not just for us, but for everybody, wherever they’re coming from. Which I think is a super queer lens. As opposed to this very ivory tower, institutional idea that somewhere above me there are people knowing better how to do it. And that there’s some kind of hazing process. Which I don’t think is necessary. I feel that actually really kills the spark of the kind of art I love. Or that has no basis in the kind of training that creates the kind of art I love. 

I had another question for you. In your thinking, how does the idea of sharing live within the idea of wanting to make an artistic culture? Or, and I totally understand this, too, is it just about ‘I have this residency and I have this requirement for sharing? So I want it to feel as good for us as I can?’ 

H: For the sharing on the 12th? Y’know one of the phrases that I employed in the communication around this residency is “lifelines over deadlines.” 

FW: Which I love. 

H: Yeah, TM! I googled it and it didn’t come up really, though I’m sure I’m not the first person whose said it. Anyway, I was thinking about that and as I’ve had all these coffee conversations with artists about Sow Queer over the last month, one of the things that has come up a lot is that for many folks it’s helpful to have a deadline in their process. And the sharing is like a deadline and that’s helpful because they don’t make work without a deadline. So gradually I’ve been thinking what is the way to recontextualize that sharing as a lifeline instead of a deadline? Because I work similarly – I use that language all the time. So I’m wondering what would change if the way I’m talking about what the sharing is, or an invitation for folks of how they might use that date and what they’re going to share as a lifeline? And I absolutely want folks to define what that means for themselves, but as I’ve been thinking about it for me, how can sharing where I’m at with an audience in this moment breathe into what I’m working on in a way that allows it to continue? To continue the metaphor of the sower for this whole residency, how can I treat that like sunlight for a seed? And also, something that was important to me in the sort of non-hierarchical space inside of the culture building is to allow everything to be elective or optional. So I feel like that becomes its own lifeline. Like if it’s stressful for you or not helpful to you to think about this as something where you have to share, then you don’t have to do that part. Another thing that was interesting to me, was if you’re working without the pressure of a deadline, or pressure for output, as we get closer to when this is finished, does sharing where are you now – and in maybe a different relationship than you’ve had to sharing – become more interesting to you? Or does it change the thing you’d want to share? I think that’s ultimately more interesting to me than the people who day one, when invited to the residency, knew exactly what they were going to share on the Great Hall mainstage. But, honestly, that’s also great. 

FW: Right, but that’s not as related to the process. 

H: Right. Totally. And that’s gonna be a swath of what we share and all the folks I invited are people who, at the end of the day, I feel like them being in this city and making their work in this city makes it more possible for me to continue to be and make my work here. So, however they want to share I am interested in supporting and making space for. But also, for me and my own process, I don’t know if I’m going to know what or if I’m going to share until probably two weeks from now. Which is fine. And there’s space for that built into this for artists to be in that space, too. 

FW: When you were first talking about this I related it to our experience working together on Melted Riot for the Gender Tender project, and that is not actually an action for community building, but it’s a way I’ve found as an artist who has a practice that is quite purposefully either extremely for an audience or extremely not for any audience. In some ways my thinking in my practice is about the experience of the performance from the side of the performance and therefore maybe doesn’t need an audience, or the audience is there even if it’s just me. But I wonder about this idea of being neutral, because I actually favor the output of these kinds of processes in the end because of an interest I have in concept. 

Because already, even though I haven’t participated much yet, what I find curious in talking to you, is this idea of this thing I say in class a lot, ‘what if we just notice what happens before we think we need to do something/’ And I do it, too, that’s why I say it all the time. But, what if I notice what happens before I think there’s something I need to do about it. So in this mix of people, and we’re talking about the artistic culture of Seattle, you have some people who have reacted to the part of the call that’s about an opportunity to share which to me highlights a need in our city. We have so many amazing artists here and they’re responding to the call, notice that. They may not want so much the process time. And also there’s some of us who do, who are prioritizing that. 

I guess to me it shows waves of the city, which I wonder about, how will it play out over the next few weeks because there’s a lot of people coming through and it’s not like 30 different things coming up. That’s what I find very curious, like a kind of tuning of the needs of an artistic culture which is part of what I love about being an artist. Where you realize you’re not this individual voice, you’re this kind of ray in a sphere of awesomeness that is relating to itself. Which to me is a totally beautiful poetic concept – before the content of work to notice where people show up, what they show up for, what they say – to trust people right in this way I work with which is like, ‘Oh, you said you could come but obviously things came up, obviously, so what’s that mean though? I’m an artist but I’m also this person, I’m also in a relationship, I also have children’ . . . that it’s like actually these things are happening all at the same time. 

My question, and maybe it’s a thinly veiled suggestion, for when you’re talking about these different states of sharing and using the site in the kind of way it’s speaking to you, right because it spoke to you in this way to have these three different kinds of ideas happening? But like is it because in this improvisational terrain, which it seems like is maybe not the focus right now, but what happens with artists who are drawn to that who may actually feel like, even for me, it feels really restrictive, Hatlo, that you’re just like, ‘durational things happen here.’ And I’m like, ‘but can’t I just wait until the day?’ Or I think there’s that navigation for folks, maybe for people in this space currently who are more in that terrain of, ‘wait, I just gotta feel it out, I may change my mind, is that ok? And whose it for?’ But what I love actually is that being the final state – representative of a kind of non-binary state or questioning state as a super valid definitive state. I think I have a desire for that in art-making and artistic terrain, and not in a way that I’m saying I think people don’t want it. It’s more like the structures and the sites and the timelines don’t make space for that kind of process. 

H: Right and inside of this sharing, whatever ends up happening on the 12th, I think part of it is I’m interested in performance spaces where my questions about, you know it’s so inculcated to be like this is good or this is bad and I just think as I get older I’m just like . . . how useless. Of course this still comes up and I’m like – valid! Sometimes it’s really important to be able gush non-critically, or to free up the mental space of writing something off. And also, I think what really excites me about work-in-process, work-in-progress, which this will be, even with people who knew since day one 100% exactly what they were going to be sharing on the mainstage – that even inside of that, for me it’s still works in progress. Nothing is being built to be shared at Town Hall, everything is being built as part of larger artistic processes however that extends out. Because on the other side of that certainty, for some people this invitation is them kickstarting the conception of a process, like Emily piece is going through notebooks from the 90s and going through video and photo documentation that she hasn’t looked at it in years. 

FW: That’s cool. 

H: Yeah, you know, and has no idea what she’ll share. And it’s like great, awesome! You know, it’s not about anybody being invited in to have a qualitative judgment about what’s happening. It’s just an opportunity to come in and witness. And to trust, based on language that I put together, that you support, that I glean and gather from this whole group, that this is important. To be witnessing. Just to be available. 

FW: It makes me wonder too about a frustration I had, right cause these ideas really speak to visual art, visual culture ideas. Like I hate museums and in a way this site feels like a museum, right? Where you want to be like, but we’re alive! Like when I hear you talk like that it inspires me, cause I’m like, well can’t the way we go in and look at archived experiences of passed and exterminated existences, isn’t there a way to like be . . y’know I don’t think audience so much, I don’t know, I think more like living museum goer. Which to me is super exciting and what I always desire in those spaces, instead of a mausoleum. Cause there’s a bunch of living people around me – I want to know what’s alive. 

H: Right! And an invitation for an audience to show up and be like, and I can’t control this communication going out exactly, although maybe this helps, but just the idea of coming in and being like, ‘Oh, my presence is more about functioning like sunlight than it is about being a consumer.’ Which is a relationship I’m always interested in shaping and changing and challenging for myself, who ‘consumes’ a ton of art of all the time and that’s a perception shift I want to make and to be thinking about more. That’ll be a long process, I doubt it’ll ever be like, ‘100% I am sunlight! I am stardust!’ 

FW: You never know! I’m an Aquarian. I’m optimistic. 

H – Right, it is possible! But it is something I’m paying attention to. And if I’m having a particularly rageful response to something I’m watching and it’s not good for me to stay in the room then I can remember my own agency to take a walk. I can take care of myself and I can decide this art isn’t for me right now. Or also if I’m loving something, that I have the capacity to notice that inside of myself without making it about me or making the performance for me, that I just turn my focus on it and understand collectively that maybe my witness is growing the work and that’s productive for the artist. Anyway, that’s the way I’m interested in organizing and orienting this event for a Town Hall audience. 

Reserve your tickets for the Sow Queer event here. And for information about all of Town Hall’s Homecoming Festival, go here.

Meet the Otto

Located in the Forum, the Otto is a great spot to meet with friends before an event or keep the conversation going afterward! Here’s everything you need to know to make yourself at home at Town Hall’s newest bar:

When is the Otto open?

Throughout Homecoming (September 2 – 29, 2019), the Otto is open most event nights from 5:30pm – 10:30pm. Exceptions are below:

  • The Otto is closed Tuesday 9/3, Sunday 9/15, Tuesday, 9/17, and Friday 9/27.
  • The Otto has different hours Saturday 9/7 (1:30pm – 10:30pm), Sunday 9/8 (3pm – 7:30pm), Saturday 9/21 (3:30pm – 10:30pm), Sunday 9/22 (3pm – 7:30pm), and Sunday 9/29 (5:30pm – 7:30pm).

What does the Otto serve?

You can purchase beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages. You can also bring in your own snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.

Please note: Guests are not allowed to bring their own alcohol, and any alcohol purchased at Town Hall must be consumed on the premises in a safe and responsible manner. Town Hall staff will refuse sale to impaired or underage guests.

Is the Otto an all-ages space?

Yes! Everyone is welcome at the Otto. 

Is the Otto open while there’s an event in the Forum?

Service is usually paused during Forum events, but the space is still open. (You’re welcome to buy a ticket for the night’s program and stick around.) On evenings where there is a program in the Great Hall, but not the Forum, the Otto remains open for service throughout.

How did the Otto get its name?

The Otto is named after Otto Haas, the beloved grandfather of Duncan Haas of the Wyncote Foundation NW. Duncan is a visionary investor in Town Hall and gave a naming gift for the Forum during the renovation. It seemed fitting to honor his grandfather’s memory within the space!

What’s up with the wood on the bar?

The bar is made from reclaimed organ pipes from our old organ loft. (You can find even more of our former organ transformed into benches throughout the space and as a sculpture in the Reading Room.)

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