Seattle, WA
March 21, 2023

A Shield as a Weapon Against Intolerance

It’s a funny thing—the skinny guy with the turban, glasses, and big beard wandering around New York City dressed up like Captain America. People are smiling. People are laughing. People are joyously putting their arms around him to get a selfie. Sikh Captain America is a popular guy in the streets with that charming outfit, that disarming smile, that shield. Hashtag superhero. Tweet. Retweet. Instagram heart. Facebook post. Heart emoji. Hashtag America.

Sikh Captain America’s name is Vishavjit Singh and he’s had a mob come to his house to murder his family. He’s been called names: “clown,” “genie,” “raghead.” Singh wears a turban. He has a beard. He has brown skin. After 9/11 he didn’t leave his house for two weeks, afraid to. Once he did he was eyed, ridiculed, made fun of, yelled at, derided. Once, not five minutes after taking off his Captain America outfit and getting back into his street clothes, someone yelled at him across the street, “Osama bin Laden!”

Singh started writing cartoons of Sikh characters soon after 9/11. He himself grew up in the Sikh faith (the 5th largest religion in the world) and wanted to start making Sikh characters known. One day he drew a Sikh Captain America. Drawing the Sikh superhero he thought we should relish our diversity and understand our commonalities. Then, in 2012, a mass shooting took place at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. A white supremacist opened fire, fatally shooting six people and wounding four more.

The shooting affected him. Perhaps, he thought with much cajoling from friends and associates, he should don the Captain America costume and step out into the streets. Those horrible tragedies led him to this—the smiling people, the laughing people, the people eager to take their photo with him. “My palms were sweating,” he says on that first foray into New York’s streets. “I was scared out of my mind.” He got hugs. Cops came up to take pictures of him. A fire station invited him in. He was pulled into a wedding. “I quickly realized I was onto something good.” Ever since, he’s traveled throughout the country, and beyond, to fight intolerance. “We all have stories to tell,” he says. “We just have to reach out to people and ask what theirs is.”

I asked Singh for his story.

He was born in Washington, DC but moved to India as a young child. He left India and came back to the states soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. The news spread fast the day of Gandhi’s death; the assassins were her own bodyguards and those bodyguards were Sikh. Mobs, eager for revenge, roared into the streets looking for Sikhs.  The Singh family was terrified. They survived, with the help of their neighbors, but thousands were not so lucky. Sikh men and boys were burned alive. Sikh women were victims of sexual violence. Sikh businesses, homes, and houses of worship were gutted. He’s drawn these experiences into his cartoons. “We need to read our history, tell our stories, and make more connecting points.”

He returned to America and attended college, turbaned and bearded. People laughed at him, and told him to go back to where he came from. He’s an American citizen. “I began questioning why I needed to stand out. People look at me wherever I go.” He took off his turban, got a haircut, and shaved his beard. After he did it, “No one was looking at me! People thought I was Hispanic and started speaking to me in Spanish. I told them I didn’t speak Spanish. They asked, ‘Then what are you?’.”

Singh’s return to his Sikh roots took years. He’s grown his hair long again. He’s grown his beard back. He wears a turban. Also? He wears a superhero costume. “I’m trying to confuse peoples’ initial perceptions. Confusion leads to exploration, exploration to learning, and learning to understanding.”

“Why can’t we all be Captain America?” Singh asks. “We all can be Captain America. Why can’t a girl be Captain America? A black person?  A woman? An old man? A child? We’re all Americans. We should not be defined by labels…I am more,” Singh says, “than what you see.”

An introvert by nature, Singh has certainly stepped out of his comfort zone and he suggests that we all take a few steps outside of our own comfort:  “We need to create a safe space for each other. We can learn so much from each other.” As Captain America he goes to comic book conventions, camps, retreats. He lectures to children and adults, and he exhibits at museums  (including WHAM! BAM! POW! Cartoons, Turbans & Confronting Hate, now showing at the Wing Luke Museum).

Why? He doesn’t want anyone to feel like he’s felt his whole life: like ‘an other.’ “We write our story every day. Find a way to tell it,” he implores us. “Find your voice. We all have a voice.”

Who is Vishavjit Singh? A Sikh, an American, a cartoonist, a husband, a son, a brother, a writer—more than all that. He teaches us that we’re more than a label, more than the sum of our parts. He’s Captain America, and he’s here to tell us: so are we all.

Don’t miss Singh’s event at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center on October 1st and 7:30PM. Reserve your tickets here.

13 Un-Bee-Lievable Facts About Pollinators

Town Hall is excited to be teaming with The Common Acre to present the Seattle Pollinator Week Symposium at the Rainier Arts Center on June 19. The symposium takes place during National Pollinator Week—approved by the U.S. Senate 11 years ago—as a time to address the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Wild bees and other pollinators contribute to billions of dollars a year in global pollination service, yet relatively little is known about them. Why are they important? Let us tell you, by the numbers:

75%: Percentage of all flowering plant species that need pollinator for fertilization.

$20 billion: The worth of products produced in the United States, due to pollination.

200,000: Approximate amount of insect species that are pollinators, including bees, flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, and moths.

1,000: Approximate amount of vertebrate species that are pollinators, including birds and bats.

1,050: Approximate amount of crop plants grown, including coffee, almonds, and chocolate that wouldn’t grow without pollinators.

1/3: Fraction of all foods and beverages made possible by pollinators.

300: The number of fruits, including mangoes and bananas, pollinated by bats.

0.85 ounces: Approximate weight of a Mexican long-nosed bat—the pollinator of the blue agave plant that gives us tequila.

1,000: The amount of pollen grains required to be deposited on a watermelon flower within only a few hours to get marketable fruit.

1723: The year the word ‘pollen’ was first used. (It’s from Latin, literally ‘fine powder.’)

20,000: Approximate amount of bee species.

50%: The percentage loss of managed honey bee colonies in the United States since 1945.

$14.6 billion: The annual benefit of managed honey bees to agriculture.

Join us at the symposium to learn more about the ways our communities can help preserve our precious pollinators. Bee there!

Pluto – A Planetary Timeline


Planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern and astrobiologist Dr. David Grinspoon will be at the Museum of Flight on May 17 to discuss the New Horizons mission. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006, became the first spacecraft to pass by Pluto. During its flyby, New Horizons made detailed measurements and observations of Pluto and its five moons. This coming New Year’s Eve, New Horizons will offer up images of the most distant body ever explored, provisionally named Ultima Thule. It is an object in the Kuiper Belt, an enormous asteroid belt that extends from the orbit of Neptune to approximately 50 AU from the sun (50 AU = very far away).

Before an astronomically interesting evening with Stern and Grinspoon, here’s a brief timeline exploring the history of our solar system’s controversial “ninth planet.”

4.5 Billion Years Ago: Pluto was formed at the same time as the rest of the planets around the sun during the formation of our solar system. (The oldest mineral dated on earth is a zircon with an age of 4.4 billion years).

1840s: Urbain Le Verrier predicted the not-yet-discovered planet Neptune was beyond Uranus, based on perturbations in Uranus’s orbit. Observations of Neptune—discovered in 1846—made it clear there was ANOTHER planet besides Neptune disturbing Uranus’s orbit. (Spoiler alert: it was Pluto!)

1894: Astronomer and mathematician Percival Lowell founds the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and is integral in the early efforts to find Pluto. (Unfortunately Lowell died in 1916, a full 14 years before the discovery of Pluto).

1905: While observing the orbits of Neptune and Uranus, Lowell believes that they are being displaced from their predicted positions by the gravity of another body. He posits the existence of a possible ninth planet, and begins his search for the elusive ‘Planet X.’

1930: After a week of intense comparison of photographs of the night sky at the Lowell Observatory, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh announces his discovery of a ninth planet.

1930: In a stroke of inspiration, eleven-year-old Venetia Burney living in Oxford, England gives Pluto its name just one day after the announcement of Tombaugh’s discovery. Venetia suggests that, due to its nature as a dark and remote planet far from the warmth of the sun, the planet should be called ‘Pluto’ after the Greek God of the Underworld. Venetia’s grandfather relays the suggestion to his friend Herbert Hall Turner, professor of astronomy at the University of Oxford. The name is a hit, and the newly-discovered celestial body is quickly christened ‘Pluto.’ (The name was beloved not only for being fitting from a mythological standpoint, but also because the first two letters ‘PL’ served as homage to Percival Lowell, who made its discovery possible.)

1978: U.S. Naval Observatory astronomers James Christy and Robert Harrington notice that images taken of Pluto show a bump on its surface—and that the bump is moving. Pluto has a moon. Named Charon (the ferryman of the Underworld’s river of the dead in Greek mythology), it is approximately half the size of Pluto. (Four additional moons have since been discovered: Hydra, Nix, Kerberos, and Styx).

2006: NASA launches New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft in history, travelling at 36,000 mph. The Principle Investigator is Dr. Alan Stern, making New Horizons the 29th NASA space mission that’s seen his participation.

2006: Pluto is demoted to a dwarf planet. Celestial bodies are discovered on the edge of the solar system in the Kuiper Belt, and one of them—Eris—is found to be larger than Pluto. This sparks a heated discussion: should the solar system have more planets, or should ‘planet’ be redefined altogether? After much debate, the International Astronomical Union decides that Pluto, Eris, and Ceres (the largest asteroid that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter) would be designated as dwarf planets.

2015: After 9 ½ years New Horizons reaches its destination, flying within 7,750 miles of Pluto.

2017: Planetary scientists gather at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. One presentation, ‘A Geophysical Planet Definition,’ stated, “In keeping with both sound scientific classification and peoples’ intuition, we propose a geophysically-based definition of ‘planet’ that importantly emphasizes a body’s intrinsic physical properties over its extrinsic orbital properties.” The presentation continues with the assertion: “A simple paraphrase of our planet definition – especially suitable for elementary school students – could be, ‘round objects in space that are smaller than stars.” Given that definition, Pluto is a planet.

2018: Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon discuss Pluto as part of Town Hall’s Inside/Out season. Get your tickets here.

Story written by Jonathan Shipley.

Impossible Monuments to a 100 Year Migration Crisis

Mary Ann Peters is an artist whose combined studio work, installations, public art projects and arts activism have made noted contributions to the Northwest and nationally for over 30 years. Most recently her work has focused on the overlap of contemporary events with splintered histories of the Middle East.

She will speak about her artwork at our upcoming event on Thursday, April 5th with Gary Faigin, who serves as Artistic Director at the Gage Academy of Art. In the meantime, Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley spoke with her about migration, impossible monuments, and making the ugly beautiful.

Make sure to get tickets for her event on Thursday, April 5th.

JS: When you say your artwork is being informed by the migration crisis, what do you mean by that?

MAP: What I have been doing is researching migration patterns that happened at the turn of the 20th century out of what is what is now current day Lebanon and at that time, was Syria. And I’m looking at the pattern and the footprint of that movement through Europe into the Americas and making artwork about it. I’m comparing that historical record to contemporary events that are happening now and looking at how people are moving now.

I would argue, and I will say this, that there isn’t a migration crisis, there’s a humanitarian crisis and I’ve had enough experiences now being in Europe and also in Lebanon to be able to back that up a little bit.

That’s really what the crux, what the focus has been with my work.

You’re looking at the past 100 years or so, then, of that movement?

Yes. I’m comparing the footprint and the experiences 100 years apart.

What has been the most striking to you doing that comparison?

I’m not a researcher, really, I’m just a pretty good snoop, I guess. What I look for is under-noticed incidents that can, in some way, trigger an image I can make, or an installation I can make that would make people think about what would happen there.

Let me give you two historical differences. Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad – this isn’t a hundred years separation but it’s the lineage – attacked the city of Hama in 1982 and I found this by following the history of Hama. Assad’s father besieged the town of Hama for 27 days in order to quell an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood against the government. He closed the borders and he closed the media and nobody really knew the extent of it until years later.

story board 2
watercolor, gouache on clayboard

The reason I was following Hama is, for one, it’s a really beautiful city. It’s kind of the basis of farming country and it has this river that runs through it. It has an incredible aqueduct system with big water wheels in the river. In reading about that, I stumbled onto a ritual that happens. People go to the river in a ceremony. I think it happens once a year and they pour red dye into the river next to the water wheels and it churns up the water and turns it red. It’s like giving life blood back to the river and commemorating, at the same time, the people that died. That’s the way I’ve read the story.  So, I made a painting called Painting the River Red as a consequence of reading about that.

In regards to your process – you read something like the red river – what inspires you to make a painting versus an installation versus a sculpture?

Which way can I best convey the narrative that I’m trying to suggest?

I have been doing a series, that I will be showing several pieces of during the event, called ‘impossible monuments.’ Those are based on contemporary information. Reading about Aleppo. Reading about the White Helmets. Reading about this incredibly beautiful historical site, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and it’s being destroyed. That story got me.

But when you fly on an airplane and you look down it just looks like a beautiful pattern in this ground. You don’t necessarily see the destruction. That piece that I did about Aleppo that I named Ghosting, was about how people hold onto the memories of spaces that then, in turn, informs their holding onto their cultures.

I want to talk about the migration crisis, at the event, as a point of reference for the resilience of cultures that are in forced movement. I want to talk about footprints of cultures in various places that take a stronghold. They don’t move. They just get incorporated into the cultures that they have found themselves in.

You translate information and turn it into art. 

I am an interpreter. I am not duplicating something that happened. I am interpreting something that happened. I am pulling up into the consciousness and into the visual framework for people things that they would not access, not see, not realize, and give it a physical form for them to take away with them to think about.

The very first ‘impossible monument’ that I made was I bronzed a set of pita breads. The reason I did it was because one of the big contributors to what’s happened in Syria in the beginning was drought. I don’t think people understood that. I don’t think they know that there was an uprising; that there was a protest by the farmers for the government to help them because there was a drought and their crops were failing. Most of those crops were tied to wheat, and wheat is what bread is made of and then there was a bread shortage. In the full range of people moving from rural settings to urban settings or moving onto refugee camps, this staple, this thing – it has so many layers of meaning, bread – was in jeopardy. It wasn’t a given that you could get a loaf of bread.

impossible monument
5 unique bronzes
scales variable, 6″-10″

Your artwork seems to be shifting. Previously, it seemed to be of natural disasters, apocalyptic. Now, it’s more focused on a more personal and human element.

I think you’re right. The difference is there’s more of a sensitivity now about the source. The pieces that alluded to disasters are true. They were there but they were much more abstracted.

I went to Lebanon and Syria in 2010, just prior to the Arab Spring. When the Arab Spring happened and then collapsed it just became clear to me that I had nothing to lose by upping the ante on how I was talking about these issues. I thought I had a moral obligation. My family has alignments there. A lot of people of Arab descent were being maligned on a daily basis. The terrorists of the hour. If I can do something with this I really should.

I had no idea I would be doing this work at this point in my life. I have nothing to lose.

If you feel like it’s your moral obligation to make this artwork, what do you hope someone takes away from it then?

I would hope they wouldn’t take for granted these scenarios. The world is in a calamitous state right now, or it, at least, seems that way, since we’re reminded of it all the time. I think it’s really hard for people to process all this stuff and one way to go is not to think about it at all. But you can’t see what’s good in the world unless you take into account how things have gone haywire.

I purposely make things that are quite beautiful. I understand it as a device that I use.

story board 1
oil, ink on clayboard 36″x48″

You mean making the ugly beautiful?

Yes. I really think there’s a place for beauty in these seemingly unbeautiful things and calling attention to them. It’s kind of a seductive way to get at that but that’s what I want. I don’t want people to think they’ve seen this. I want them to walk away with an afterimage. 

Afterimage. What does that mean to you?

An afterimage implies that you still remember but the event is over. In terms of me as an artist, it’s a way, under my hand, of resurfacing things that happened. It’s not the thing; it’s the reference to the thing.

There’s no telling what we’re interested in until we’re interested in it, but do you see yourself continuing doing this politicized artwork in the foreseeable future? 

I think of it as political but mostly cultural. For me it’s as much about elevating cultural records as it is about the politics of that. They’re different but, sometimes, the politics can’t be avoided. 

I’m looking a lot right now at the architecture of war. There actually is a way to be trained to make structures that accommodate war.  That’s everything from refugee camps, whose schematics can be quite beautiful, to calculated tactics like the Israeli government dictating that new settlements have red roofs so that when their Air Force goes out on maneuvers they know what not to bomb. There is software that examines incidents and recreates the sites to better understand factors beyond relying on eyewitnesses.

I have no idea where I’m going with this inquiry, but something will surface that I hope will be informing.

Peters will be joined onstage by realist painter Gary Faigin, who serves as the Artistic Director at the Gage Academy of Art. Sit in with Peters and Faigin as they discuss the shift in Peters’ work, and how through research, intuition, and gut feeling, her pieces come together.

Get tickets for the event on Thursday, April 5th.

The High Cost of Living With Conviction


Town Hall presents Living With Conviction—Sentenced to Debt for Life in Washington State on Tuesday, March 27th.

Keshena is $50,000 in debt; she’s filed for bankruptcy. Her husband and step-father are serving time in prison, leaving her to care for her two young boys. She has served time herself, and has found it immensely difficult to raise a family and readjust to everyday life on top of paying Washington’s Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs). Michael is a disabled veteran. He served a five-year sentence in prison and was ordered to pay $11,000 in LFOs. Despite the $75 a month he’s paid for the last five years, he now owes $17,000 due to interest. Sue suffered from poverty and abuse in her early life, and soon found herself the victim of domestic violence and drug addiction. She served 15 months in prison over a decade ago, and is still paying off legal fees to the state of Washington—most of which are accrued interest.

Deborah Espinosa knows Keshena, Michael, Sue, and many others in our state saddled by crippling debt due to fines, fees, and victim restitution costs. Espinosa’s research on debtors’ prisons in Africa (and in the US) has made her eager to humanize these legal issues—eager to put a face to the problem. That’s why Espinosa founded the visual storytelling project “Living With Conviction”, composed of her photos of individuals suffering from the seemingly inescapable financial burden of Washington’s legal system. “It’s a visual storytelling project about how the State of Washington sentences people to not just prison, but to a lifetime of debt.”

Sabrina: “$39,000 in fines doesn’t affect somebody who doesn’t care. It doesn’t affect a junkie in a basement shooting up. . . . But for somebody like me, doing everything they are supposed to be doing, . . . People should care. They could arrest me. I live in fear of it. But I just don’t have the money.” * Sabrina and her husband have six children and one baby girl on the way. As a child and into her teens, she was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. She started using methamphetamines at 17 to to connect with her mother. * This project, “Living with Conviction: Sentenced to Debt for Life in Washington State” is on the impacts of court-imposed legal financial obligations (LFOs) on formerly incarcerated individuals and their families in Washington State. LFOs accrue interest at an interest rate of 12%. Failure to make one payment can result in arrest. * Right now, the State Legislature is considering House Bill 1783 to reform LFOs. * “It’s an act of love and an act of faith to allow yourself to feel the pain of another.” * ~ Isabel Wilkerson * #Livingwithconviction #Massincarceration #LFODebtforLife #VisualizeJustice #cjreform

A post shared by Deborah Espinosa (@sameskyphoto) on

“My intent with this project is to amplify the voices of formerly incarcerated individuals who are struggling to survive, and thereby bring an end to the imposition of such costs on the poor and marginalized.” She believes the purpose of law is to serve communities and level the playing field, creating a more just society. And according to her, Washington’s LFO policies do the opposite. She sees the LFO policy as designed to fund the criminal justice system on the backs of the poor and racial minorities, perpetuating cycles of incarceration and poverty. On her website, Espinosa decries this cycle as fundamentally unjust and asserts that Washington’s LFO system “represents institutional discrimination and structural racism at their finest.”

“Living With Conviction” is Espinosa’s way of introducing us to the people in Washington who are suffering from LFOs—showing us their faces and enshrining moments from their lives in photography. “It is about formerly incarcerated individuals as they struggle to re-enter their communities following prison, burdened with substantial debt, as well as obstacles to finding housing and jobs.” Espinosa’s work has appeared in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Foreign Affairs, O Magazine, and the Harvard International Review, among other publications. Her work is currently in a 10-year exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

“Visual storytelling makes us all realize that we are talking about real people,” says Espinosa. She uses the hashtag #VisualizeJustice to catalog her work, and to illustrate the inequality issues of LFOs not as abstract legal concepts but in terms of the people they affect. “As an attorney, an officer of the court, I feel a sense of responsibility to correct legal and structural wrongs.”

“A goal of mine is for people to open their hearts to this population.” This population includes Keshena, Michael, Sue, and all those Deborah Espinosa has photographed—and all those still faceless in the state’s criminal justice system.

“Whether we are incarcerated or not, we still are living marginalized lives. . . . You are taking away access to the American dream. Everybody should be entitled to that – to be able to work hard and see the benefits of their hard work. And not to be penalized for things that maybe happened years ago. Things that happened as a result of a disease. Addiction, alcoholism, or mental health.” ~ Carmen . . . This project, “Living with Conviction: Sentenced to Debt for Life in Washington State” is on the impacts of court-imposed legal financial obligations (LFOs) on formerly incarcerated individuals and their families in Washington State. LFOs accrue interest at an interest rate of 12% from the day of sentencing. Failure to make one payment can result in arrest. . . . Right now, the State Legislature is considering House Bill 1783 to reform LFOs. . . . @acluwa @marshallproj #Livingwithconviction #Massincarceration #LFODebtforLife #cjreform #documentaryphotography #VisualizeJustice

A post shared by Deborah Espinosa (@sameskyphoto) on

Deborah Espinosa will be joining Peter DiCampo—Town Hall’s Inside/Out Neighborhood Resident for the U District and Ravenna—to discuss Living With Conviction and the power of documentary photography as a tool to oppose poverty and inequity. Join us on March 27 at University Lutheran Church and explore Espinosa’s photographic struggle against injustice.

Kory Stamper Would Like a Word

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer who worked for nearly two decades at Merriam-Webster dictionary, a world she reveals in the new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. She will be speaking about the book at her upcoming Town Hall event on Sunday, March 25th. In the meantime, Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley spoke with her about her love of language, the lexical merits of emojis, and the wonderfully weird word that is ‘gardyloo.’

Get tickets for Kory’s upcoming event on 3/25.


You’re a lexicographer. For the common person, what is that?
A lexicographer is a writer and editor of dictionaries.

Have you always had an interest in words and writing and reading?
I always loved reading but really in high school I started loving individual words—the way that individual words sounded, or what they meant, or how they could be deployed.

Anytime I told people what I did for a living I was bombarded with questions and assumptions about what the job was and lots of assumptions about what English was that just aren’t true.

I started blogging about language and then decided to write this book as a behind-the-scenes of how dictionaries are made but also to give people some kind of entry point into what English actually is. As a dictionary writer, you often hear from people who think English is dying and they complain that English is falling by the way side, and kids these days and so forth.

Texting and emojis…
Exactly. Soon we’re all going to devolve into gestures and grunts. But the reality is that all of things actually enrich English. English is such a resilient and wild and beautiful language. I wanted to write the book as a love letter to this oft-maligned language that is actually really inventive and beautiful.

What do you hope readers gain from reading your book, then?
The recognition that language is dynamic and dictionaries are dynamic. That neither of those things are, or should be, static. Language changes at a really quick pace and that’s good and right, so dictionaries should also change and that is also right.

I suppose people are often surprised that dictionaries don’t just sit at the library, the giant tome opened up. I’m assuming a lot of people believe that’s still the case. It’s just a thing that existed and it is never edited, reworked, redone. It’s just like the Bible.
The analogy of the Bible is a really good one because it’s not that it doesn’t move or change but for some people the dictionary has this elevated status. It is the arbiter of good English. It tells you exactly where the language is. That’s just not the case. Dictionaries just record the language which is terrifying when people realize what that means. The language is pretty wild. You can’t really stuff it into a box very easily.

Do you get complaints when people think there’s a word that isn’t elevated enough to be placed in the dictionary?
They’ll always find something that they don’t think deserve to be in the language. just this week announced that they’re trying something new. They’re going to enter some emoji into their dictionary. From a lexical and linguistic standpoint, emoji are used as lexical items. So that makes sense. The response to that has been like is blowing up the English language. Because people are responding with ‘Those aren’t words.’ ‘That’s not real communication.’ ‘Only kids use those.’ People find just amazing things to complain about whenever a dictionary does anything.

So, personally what is your least favorite word?
In a professional capacity I have no least favorite word.

Off the record.
Lexicographers are people, too. We all have our own likes and dislikes. I cannot stand the word impactful. I understand that is an irrational dislike. I’m completely aware of how irrational that is. I’ve had to revise the entry for impactful, so I’m very aware of how current it is. It’s just a word I don’t like.

What are some of your favorite words?
One word I love because it makes me laugh that there is a word for this and that there’s enough use of it for it to merit entry into the dictionary is the word gardyloo. Its definition is something like “used as a warning cry in Edinburgh when it was customary to throw slop out the upper story window” I love that there’s a word for that.

The specificity!
Yeah! Only in Edinburgh. Only during this time when it was customary. I love that. Etymologists, people who study word histories, think that gardyloo actually comes from French. Which tells you something about not just the time this was used but also that there was a time when Scotland was under French rule. But it’s a ridiculous word! But I love that it’s ridiculous. I love that it has a place in the language.

For more from Kory Stamper come see her on Sunday, March 25th at 6:00pm at Seattle University, presented by Town Hall Seattle. Thanks for listening.

Jonathan Talks to Jonathan

Jonathan Kauffman, a James Beard Award-winning writer, is returning to Seattle. The former restaurant critic at Seattle Weekly, he will be at West Seattle’s Westside School to discuss his new book, Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat on Tuesday, February 27th at 7:30 pm.

Jonathan recently sat down with Jonathan Shipley, Town Hall’s Marketing Manager, to discuss lentil casseroles, vegetarian cults, and the horror of carob.

JS: You lived in Seattle and now live in San Francisco. What’s different between each city’s food cultures?

JK: They’re really similar. There’s more money in San Francisco and so there are more high-end restaurants. The Chinese population is greater here, so there are better and more Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. Seattle’s got better seafood and, since it’s not as expensive as San Francisco, there’s more willingness to experiment in Seattle. They can try new things.

JS: What do you miss about Seattle?

JK: My family and my friends.

JS: What don’t you miss about Seattle?

JK: I like sunlight. I like that I don’t have to take Vitamin D supplements anymore.

JS: What inspired this new book of yours?

JK: I was having a meal in Seattle at The Sunlight Café on Roosevelt. I was being served steamed vegetable with tahini dressing, and whole wheat pastries, and veggie burgers and I was hit with a sudden sense of nostalgia. I grew up in the middle of Indiana. How did I grow up eating this food? How did lentil casseroles and stir fried vegetables with tofu and South African stews get there?

JS: What hippie food is your favorite?

JK: My reset meal is a big wok full of stir fried vegetables and tofu over brown rice.

JS: What hippie food do you detest?

JK: Carob is horrifying.

JS: Who was the most interesting interview subject in your book?

JK: Former members of the Source Family. They were members of a vegetarian cult in the 1960s and 70s under Father Yod. They dressed in white, lived in a mansion, were in a rock band (Ya Ho Wha 13), and earned their money off an organic vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles. They are pretty lovely people and are very positive about their time.

JS: What fact did you uncover in the book that most delights you?

JK: Tempeh [an Indonesian dish made by deep-frying fermented soybeans] was introduced by The Farm, at one time the biggest commune in America. The Farm, still in operation in Tennessee, have made three lasting contributions to the world: tempeh, home births, and radiation detection. I totally love them.

Whether you’re into granola or sprouts, co-ops or quinoa, Town Hall looks forward to hosting Kauffman at the Westside School. Join us!

A Thank You from Wier

Dear Friends,

What a season, and what a final week—thank you to everyone who came out for Groundbreak! This moment has been a long time coming, and it meant more than I can say to celebrate it surrounded by the community who—through 18 years of dialogue and debate, art and ideas—has made Town Hall into the nationally unique institution it has become.

In the last few months the Town Hall community has stepped up to support this place in unprecedented ways. In June alone, you dug deep to raise more than $215,000 to support our historic renovation. Construction begins next month (expect a lot of hard hat pictures and progress updates) and we’ll re-open in fall 2018 for the 2018-19 season.

But so much more than the impending renovation has this place buzzing. While our home is closed, Town Hall is turning itself “Inside/Out”; that means that all the programs you’ve come to expect from Town Hall will come to life in venues scattered in neighborhoods across Seattle. But beyond the “where” of our programs, we’re transforming the “how.”

We often say Town Hall’s calendar is a reflection of this city, an attempt to tell its story. During Inside/Out, we’ll involve our audience more directly in creating that calendar, to become a more complete mirror and tell a richer story. Many events will be programmed in consultation with Neighborhood Steering Committees; some will be co-created by audience members, in collaboration with Artists and Scholars in Community. If we do this right, Inside/Out will create lasting mechanisms to bring grassroots ideas and community-sourced solutions into broad public consideration—and we’ll welcome a whole new slate of exciting voices back to our renovated home. We’ll share more about Inside/Out over the coming months, and I hope you will join us for this transformative year.

And we’ll reach you in another new venue this year—your phone or laptop. Many of you are already accustomed to our livestreams (subscribe to our YouTube channel to know every time one is scheduled) and have enjoyed our Media Library programming; now we’re expanding our digital presence into podcasting. “Feeds” of our Civics, Science, and Arts and Culture programs will directly offer almost every Town Hall-produced program. And in August, we’ll launch a fourth podcast hosted by Steve Scher, longtime host of KUOW’s Weekday, and Town Hall’s Digital Producer Jini Palmer. Learn more and subscribe here. We’ll be posting new podcasts of Town Hall programs all summer long.

Stay tuned for a lot more, but until then: thank youThank you for an incredible season, thank you for your belief in this place, thank you for bringing Town Hall to life.


Wier Harman
Executive Director

Take Civic Action for Town Hall

Since 1991, the Building for the Arts grants program has helped direct state funds to strong nonprofit arts capital projects all across Washington. While the legislature concluded its operating budget last week, they need to return to Olympia to finish the job of funding a statewide capital budget.

In our campaign to raise money for our building renovation, Town Hall was ranked first out of all projects applying for BFA support and received the highest grant recommendation ($1.52 million). It would be a devastating loss to our project (as well as the others around the region) if the capital budget is passed without Building for the Arts funds included.

Please contact your Washington State legislators—and cc the capital budget writers (Sen. Jim Honeyford and Sen. David Frockt on any communication to Senators and Rep. Steve Tharinger and Rep. Richard DeBolt on any House communications)—and ask them to support full funding for Building for the Arts. 

See below for an example letter:

Dear [Your Representative or Senator]:

I’m writing today to urge you to support full funding for Town Hall Seattle and the Building for the Arts program in the 2017-19 capital budget. Full support for Town Hall was included in the Governor’s, House, and Senate capital budgets during the regular session, and I encourage you to advocate for Town Hall and the other important projects across the state during this special session, both within your caucus and with the capital budget writers.

Town Hall is important to me because [include why Town Hall matters to you]. Building for the Arts funding is critical to Town Hall’s necessary renovation and will preserve and strengthen this community resource for generations to come. Support for Town Hall is also support for me and your other constituents, for the 110,000 Washington residents who walk through Town Hall’s doors each year, and for the 90 diverse nonprofits who rely on Town Hall’s affordable stages and support.

The Building for the Arts program has been successfully leveraging the arts as an economic catalyst since 1991. The program is extremely competitive, the projects are thoroughly vetted, and—beyond securing access to arts & culture experiences across Washington state—they make financial sense. The projects create jobs, inspire economic development, and the tax generating benefits outweigh the short and long-term costs.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[Your Name]
[Your Physical Address]

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