Looking for a way to flex your writing muscles in a supportive, casual space? Join us on 10/5 for the inaugural meeting of our new On Topic Writing Club! Facilitated by local writer and theatre artist Miriam Tobin ofSCRiB LAB, writers will focus on themes of recognition and belonging inspired by Michèle Lamont’s Seeing Others. No preparation is needed — just bring your own writing tools of choice and get ready to flow!
Check out upcoming community programs (including On Topic: Writing Club) at our Community Programs page!
As we celebrate Town Hall Seattle’s 25th season – our silver anniversary – we invite our community to step up to the “Silver Soapbox” and celebrate with us!
Around the turn of the 19th century, public orators made use of overturned, wooden soap crates to elevate their voices. Today, someone might be told to “get off their soapbox” when delivering a particularly passionate, loud message. But to Town Hall, the soapbox signifies a space for sharing ideas, listening, and finding inspiration – a space to be part of, not a space to step down from. It’s exactly the kind of space that we strive to create at Town Hall.
From civics talks to vibrant musical performances, Town Hall is a platform for a multitude of opinions, ideas, and forms of expression – just like the century-old soapboxes that preceded us. As we head into our 25th season, we hope you’ll step up on the Silver Soapbox with us and celebrate Town Hall’s past, present, and future!
Town Hall is pleased to announce our new Venue Access Program (VAP) partner, Orquesta Northwest! Part of 4Culture’s Building for Equity program, our VAP was launched last season to build a long-term partnership with a small-scale, BIPOC-led nonprofit and offer free access to Town Hall’s stages throughout the season. We couldn’t be more excited for Orquesta Northwest to join us in the program’s inaugural year to fill our spaces with vibrant music and community.
Under the guidance of acclaimed conductor Paula Nava Madrigal, Orquesta Northwest serves as the umbrella organization for three incredible initiatives in the Puget Sound area: The Ballard Civic Orchestra, a prominent hub for Latinx musicians performing under Maestra Paula’s leadership; Cascade Conducting, an annual week-long conducting masterclass; and World Youth Orchestra, which provides free instruction and instruments to underrepresented students, with a focus on empowering Latinx youth.
Orquesta Northwest kicks things off with an El Grito celebration (9/17) in collaboration with the Consulate of Mexico. In honor of Mexican Independence Day, join us for performances by CeAtl Tonalli Aztec Dancers, Ballard Civic Orchestra, Trío Guadalevín, Mariachi Guadalajara, Bailadores de Bronce, and more! Admission is free, and the festivities begin at 1PM.
P.S. Orquesta is looking for musicians! Visit their website to learn more and get involved.
I’m collecting stories. Thank you, Town Hall, for giving me a residency where I can focus on these stories. I’m collecting stories from people about what they remember from when they were 12 years old. Do you have any vivid memories of that year?
Maybe you remember getting braces or growing taller. Maybe you remember a big news story that upset your parents.
During that pivot, we begin to open the bubble of childhood and notice things we didn’t notice before. Not just other kids, but adult comments that land heavily on us.
That’s what happened for New York Times bestselling author Laurel Braitman. She shared a story with me when she was in town to be on stage here in March.
Her rabbi came over to the house while the family was planning her Bat Mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age ritual and party. He asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But he asked it so seriously that she was inspired and felt he genuinely wanted this prediction. She told him she wanted to write about animals, travel, and work for National Geographic. Even now, all these years later, she remembers that he took in her words and said “Sounds pretty reasonable.”
Years later, she watched an old VHS recording of the Rabbi’s speech from the ceremony. In it, he talked about how she was named for a tree, and like a tree becoming a book, that trees are sources of knowledge.
“It was so beautiful and so kind to believe in a 12-year-old who had never met a writer … By taking the dream of a 12-year-old seriously, it gave me license to take my own dreams seriously. And I don’t know, that must have gotten into my subconscious. I couldn’t have told you he told me that without discovering this film recently, but I know he did. And that was profound.”
(If you don’t know, Laurel is a science writer who has written about many animals and teaches writing at Stanford Medical School. Learn about her talk at Town Hall and pick up a copy of her new book, What Looks Like Bravery,here.)
Following an extensive search, Town Hall Seattle is thrilled to announce that David Song has been selected as Town Hall’s new Executive Director and will step into the role on April 24, 2023.
“It is an honor to be Town Hall’s next leader,” says Song. “Now, more than ever, the arts and culture landscape needs places like Town Hall where we prioritize accessibility to our programming and to our stages. Town Hall is the kind of organization every city and community should have, a mission that adds so much value through the intellectual, cultural, and artistic connections that form a community.”
Song was selected from a national pool by an eleven-member search committee chaired by Town Hall board members Yazmin Mehdi and Anita Mires, and composed of Town Hall Seattle board and staff, and external community members including Michael Greer (CEO, ArtsFund), Anita Shah (Managing Director, A Contemporary Theatre), and Linda Brown (longtime patron).
Song is Town Hall’s third Executive Director, serving after Wier Harman’s 17-year tenure, and David Brewster’s seven-year tenure as founding Executive Director. He is a lifelong learner and advocate for equity and inclusion and will lead Town Hall with inspiration in building its one-of-a-kind community around ideas, arts, and culture.
Town Hall Seattle is proud to partner with Northwest Folklife this winter and spring to curate a series of Saturday Family Concert events! Through music, dance, and visual art, the series showcases the diverse cultures here in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest and offers a special opportunity for young people and families to interact with culture, not just be witness to it.
The season’s theme focuses on Art as Empowerment, exploring how protest music is a form of liberation, emancipation, and validation of identity. The 4-part Winter/Spring series brings awareness to issues that affect everyone at any age, and encourages and enables young people and families to explore their heritage — past, present and future — as a source for individual and collective identity.
All Saturday Family Concerts are FREE for ages 22 and under.
Here’s the lineup:
1/28 at 11am Gil Scott-Heron Tribute Band
Music, Art, and Poetry of the Civil Rights Movement Get Tickets
2/25 at 11am Adriana Giordano & Special Guests
From Alaska to Amazonas: Indigenous Music, Culture, and Resistance Tickets on sale soon!
3/18 at 11am R E P O S A D O and Jean-Paul Builes
Rediscovering Latinx Heritage through Poetry, Music, and Dance Tickets on sale soon!
5/20 at 11am lhawlhaw
Celebrating Filipino songs of protest past and present Tickets on sale soon!
After credible threats of disruption to Town Hall Seattle’s programs on Thursday, October 20, Reza Aslan’s event has been postponed. Our core mission is to be a collective resource for regional nonprofits and we cannot risk jeopardizing other events in our building. For the additional context of that decision, here’s the note that accompanied our notice of postponement.
Thank you, sincerely, to everyone who reached out with concerns around our previously-scheduled appearance by Reza Aslan. Before addressing this, I wanted to share a few thoughts about our organization generally.
Town Hall Seattle is a 22-year-old nonprofit dedicated to maximizing the expression of ideas and creativity in our region. Programs on our stages originate either with dozens of independent organizations or from the program team at Town Hall itself; when we program an event, we don’t pay and are not paid to host it. Our in-house programs are driven by curiosity, by local relevance, and by the belief that arguments that are respectfully conceived, researched, and delivered will be received as such by a broad, curious audience. We believe that a willingness to consider multiple perspectives can lead to increased empathy that can restore mutual respect to our political and social discourse.
We don’t advocate for specific perspectives; Town Hall Seattle is explicitly non-partisan and the opinions expressed on our stages should in no way be assumed to be those of the organization, its staff, board, membership, or affiliated institutions. In short, we contradict ourselves all the time here — it’s the nature of open discourse.
At the same time, we are also deeply rooted in community — so it’s been important to us to have the chance to hear the feedback we’ve received in the last 24 hours about Dr. Aslan’s planned event on the life of Howard Baskerville. As you may know by now, we’ve decided to postpone his appearance indefinitely, and we will keep all the most thoughtful considerations and concerns in mind in future programming decisions.
Thank you again for taking the time to reach out, and we hope you’ll consider joining us at a future Town Hall event.
For as long I’ve been at Town Hall Seattle — almost 17 people years (or 119 dog years, but who’s counting?) — our organization has been defined by 1) a broad and curious program, brimming with ideas collectively-sourced from across our community and beyond; and 2) the belief that as many as possible should be able to enjoy it. We’ve called this second part acommitment to access. The meaning of “access” has evolved over the years, but we’ve tended to use it in a somewhat limited way: as a commitment to lower financial barriers to producing and attending things here.
We’ve taken a lot of pride in the structural inclusivity of our model, always insisting on the result of a more genuinely welcoming community for all. Town Hall will fulfill its true potential when people who have long felt at home here continue to feel a sense of belonging, while we work to be more deeply meaningful and relevant to even more people across this community. That said, as we work to embrace a richer understanding of accessibility, we want to be clear: our commitment to affordability for all remains critical to the heart of Town Hall.
This season, we’re rolling out a new “Sliding Scale” approach to ticket prices for Town Hall-produced lectures. What does that mean for us? People will always be able to choose a $5 ticket for these programs (and tickets will remain free for youth 22 and Under). But the Sliding Scale pricing option is an approach founded on lots of existing data. Over time, we’ve seen that many patrons choose to make an extra contribution to Town Hall when they purchase tickets, and now we’re giving the people the option to pay what they’re comfortable with for Town Hall programming. No matter where you place the sliding scale ticket price, your ticket purchase helps support our programming and our operations.
Town Hall was founded in 1999 and we’re moving into a new era, finally installed in our newly-renovated building and full of the optimism and possibility of new leadership, all while serving a society in flux. As we begin to imagine the next Town Hall, we need to ensure it can thrive for another 23 years and beyond. In a time of deep vulnerability for cultural presenters like us — financial uncertainty and shifting audience behavior — our goal is to protect our mission-driven commitment to broad community access while securing modest extra revenue that will support our operations and create a solid foundation for the Town Hall to come.
In the end, we hope the new pricing approach is simply an invitation to pay what is comfortable for you. I know you know this, but $5 tickets have never reflected the value of our programs (priceless!) or the true cost of operating Town Hall (pricey-but-worth-it!) We’ve always said that membership here is an act of generosity toward the community at large, assuring affordability for all — and that’s still true. But for some, it’s simply easier to add an extra contribution into the value of their ticket when they can. We believe that in asking those who are inclined to consider paying more, we will create an even deeper sense of belonging and pride within Town Hall’s extraordinary community of supporters.
I can write at this kind of length, with this kind of candor, and all my, let’s call it eccentric punctuation because the Town Hall community is thoughtful and generous. You’re in it for what it means to you, but you’re ALSO in it for each other and for what it means to the city. We are sincerely grateful to all of you, for making Town Hall a uniquely compassionate and collegial place, defined by a thoughtful, caring, and honest community. You can prove it by telling us honestly what you feel about this pricing approach (or anything else) at email@example.com.
Part One in an Occasional Series About How You “Do” Town Hall
For the last 15 years, I’ve visited Munich annually with Barbara and the girls to see their grandparents. This rhythm means I miss a bunch of stuff at Town Hall every summer — and this time, that includes an event that I’m really drawn to, personally.
First, a little backstory. Questions about technology and its social implications have been woven throughout our calendar for years, as far back as 2006 when Ray Kurzweil gave me the chills at a packed Great Hall conversation about his book The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Who wants or needs anything like “a singularity,” I asked? (Note: I have subsequently asked the same thing about NFTs and blockchain, but I remain optimistic that I need not fret about the answers to those questions.)
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is different. In its implementation, we’re asking and answering questions about what (and eventually, who) constitutes humanity, at lightning speed. And when I say “we” I mean the comparatively small group of scientists, researchers, and schemers motivated by altruism, curiosity, or commercial opportunity — or maybe a little of each.
And so this Thursday, July 14, we have the latest stitch in the weave, a powerhouse discussion at what feels like AI’s rubicon moment. Honestly, that moment was probably years ago, maybe even when Ray released that scary book. But I’m talking about last month’s reporting of a Google engineer’s contention that the Google AI chatbot LaMDA has been “consistent in its communications about what it wants and what it believes its rights are as a person.”
Fortunately, some of the brilliant, well-meaning folks building the building are coming over on July 14 to talk me down off the ledge. Blaise Aguera y Arcas is a VP and Fellow at Google Research, and an active participant in big-picture considerations around AI and ethics, fairness, bias, and risk. Melanie Mitchell is a professor at Santa Fe Institute, a student of Douglas Hofstadter, and a leading forecaster and translator of the implications of AI to the general public. And just announced — the event will be moderated by Lili Cheng, Corporate VP for Microsoft’s AI and Research. It will be a spirited discussion featuring three visionaries staring into the world of AI. We couldn’t have asked for more perceptive observers or more respectfully divergent perspectives, and you should come if you can (you can get tickets here)!
And now, here’s the favor — I’ve got a question I’m hoping you can ask during Q&A:
As we invite technology to support/supplant human decision-making across so many fronts, I’ve started to believe that maybe making mistakes and valuing imperfection is essential to humanity. And that we should resist efforts to use technology to eliminate the fallibility of our incomplete knowledge or poor judgment, or to avoid choices that might fail to fulfill expectations and lead to disappointment. As we begin to invite AI into so many dimensions of life, how can we protect space for fallibility?
It’s time to level with you. For some, Q&A has long been a controversial part of our programs where people make windy speeches (like the one you just read from me — sorry) before a question that feels like an afterthought. Q&A is central to what makes Town Hall special: bring an open mind, and you get a chance to grapple with a deeply informed perspective on a topic, followed by the honor of an opportunity to interrogate a presenter’s conclusions through a direct question.
Being present for Q&A means you showed up, no matter the weather; you stayed engaged to the end and actively collaborated in the meaning of the event. Great questions help us pick up pieces we missed and help our speakers understand new things about their arguments; great questioners help make meaning for all of us. It’s one of the best ways to “do” Town Hall.
We believe that our programs can be more than infotainment; they help us understand issues and decide how we want to live our lives. Not to mention how we express our desires, especially as our daily lives are yoked to intuitions formulated, data gathered, and decisions made by computers that think.
In the end, AI is poised to change a lot about the society we share, and we all have a right to formulate our own perspectives on how we feel about it. This program will undoubtedly offer a rich conversation, and I hope you will be there to join it — and to tell me how it went!
P.S. We’ve also just announced that the event will feature an appearance by another unintended inevitability of AI: a chatbot evangelist called The Word of the Future. The interactive exhibit by Jacob Peter Fennell and Reilly Donovan was first presented at the Museum of Museums on First Hill last summer. Come early/stay late to be moved by the spirit of a full-on Digital Deity.
The end of the season is always a time of reflection at Town Hall. It’s unsurprising that the 2021-22 season has had its challenges and uncertainties, but times like these can also feel inspiring — that’s the story of this year, too. We learned firsthand that Town Hall remains essential, especially to the members and volunteers who have eagerly returned each time we (re-)opened our doors. Over and over, people have shown their affection for Town Hall by returning to rebuild the community that we have created here.
And so — from my place here in the very middle of the road, as I consider where we’ve been and where we’re headed, inspiration and gratitude as far as I can see — I’m writing to announce my departure from Town Hall Seattle at the end of 2022.
My time at Town Hall (over 17 years!) has been the gift of a lifetime, and I am deeply proud of our accomplishments. Our audience has grown steadily over the past several years, and we’ve welcomed over 100,000 patrons annually for a broad, diverse calendar that embraces an impossible range of issues and ideas. We kept our tickets and rental rates affordable and supported other nonprofits with skilled production and promotional services. We completed an ambitious $35.5 million renovation of our building, spending almost two seasons Inside/Out in dozens of venues and neighborhoods across our region.
But I am most proud of what Town Hall has modeled for our city, and for each other. Town Hall is a place devoted to the pursuit of equity; it’s a place to investigate ideas and share new experiences, where differing and unexpected perspectives are not just tolerated but celebrated; and it is a place of curiosity, creativity, and empathy. Above all, I’m proud of how we model the simple act of showing up with and for each other — learning, tangling with new ideas, and sitting side by side with strangers, neighbors, and friends.
I don’t know anywhere else quite like Town Hall — and believe me, I’ve looked. We have created something entirely unique to Seattle and I am overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to shape this place in real time with each of you — as members, donors, patrons, renters, presenters, and community partners. This has been a joyful experiment in the idea of creating a welcoming community — and YOU have made this work beyond joyful.
I get the platform of writing a note like this, but YOU are the reason for all the good we have done over Town Hall’s 23 years, and you will continue to be the reason for the community we build here in the decades to come. I trust that this place will continue to be the vessel for the experience of community that we all need so much right now. Our role is simple and profound: to remind us that some things must be experienced together, and that “coming together” is often its own reward.
And that’s the core of my gratitude — I don’t know how another job could have possibly offered me so much energy and purpose. I am humbled to have been entrusted with leading Town Hall, and I’m excited to welcome our next leader alongside you all. My family and I are staying in Seattle; my children grew up here — as in, at this building, at our events — so I’m thrilled by the prospect of joining you in the pews as an enthusiastic member and passionate advocate (my predecessor, founder David Brewster, has modeled that for me).
Thank you for being my friends, collaborators, and co-conspirators on the road behind us, and thank you for being my inspiration on the road ahead.
P.S. We’ll have more to share about our transition timeline and the new Executive Director search process at the end of June. In the meantime, please direct any questions to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.