Shankar Vedantam Shines a Light on the Hidden Brain

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Shankar Vedantam and Brian Greene will be the keynote speakers for Town Hall’s annual gala fundraiser taking place on April 9 at 7PM PDT. They’ll be discussing the meaning in an evolving universe. The event will be a real-time virtual celebration. Tickets start at just $75, and donations directly support our radically accessible ticket prices. More information can be found HERE.

Our brains are mysterious. There are as many neurons in the brain as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy. That’s a lot of neurons. There’s much we don’t know about what goes on inside our noggins. How do neurons talk to each other? How does the brain compute? Heck, we don’t even quite know what the brain is actually made up of.

Knowing how much we don’t know, it’s no surprise there’s plenty in our brains that remain hidden. Shankar Vedantam is doing his part to shine a light on that. He joins us twice this month; first as a special guest at our virtual gala on 4/9 and then alongside KUOW’s Ross Reynolds on 4/13 for a talk about the power & paradox of the self-deceiving brain. Vedantam is a writer and correspondent who uses journalism and research to inform the public on social science issues. A lecturer at Harvard University and Columbia University, he’s most known for his Hidden Brain book published in 2010 and the subsequent podcast and radio program. It’s been on NPR since 2015. Shankar likes to focus on the effects of unconscious bias in everyday life.

Whether it be the rituals of how we eat pizza, the relative happiness of winning the bronze medal, or eating cupcakes after working out, Vedantam showcases how our mundane day-to-day activities might not be so mundane after all. Indeed, our unconscious patterns drive our human behavior and those biases shape our choices, and those choices trigger actions that change the course of our relationships with others. This is to say, Vedantam teaches a lot about our brains by using his.

Not to be partial—our hidden brains can’t help it!—but we think you should attend Town Hall’s annual gala fundraiser as Vedantam and famed astrophysicist Brian Greene talk about the universe, and don’t miss Shankar’s event with ross Reynolds on 4/13.

It’s not every man that can explain String Theory to Everyman.

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Brian Greene and Shankar Vedantam will be the keynote speakers for Town Hall’s annual gala fundraiser taking place on April 9 at 7 pm PDT. They’ll be discussing the meaning in an evolving universe. The event will be a real-time virtual celebration. Tickets start at just $75, and donations directly support our accessible ticketing strategies. More information can be found HERE.

It’s not every man that can explain String Theory to Everyman. No, most people can’t put into simple terms what a Calabi-Yau manifold is. Nor what Ricci flatness is. Most folks can’t make much sense of the multiverse, even if they did watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Luckily, there are some talented people out there who can take huge mind-blowing questions and concepts and make them understandable to people like, well, us here at Town Hall. Enter Brian Greene.

Brian Greene is a theoretical physicist, mathematician, and string theorist. He is coming to Town Hall to help us understand, in part, the universe. It’s actually something of his forte, synthesizing expert-level ideas in easily digestible ways. Stephen Colbert now understands General Relativity better thanks to Greene. Talking about Einstein, the man who gave us that theory of gravitation, Green, as part of his “Your Daily Equation” video series with World Science Festival briefly highlights what the big deal is with E = MC2. Also, what is String Theory, actually? Greene can answer that with citrus fruit.

A professor at Columbia University, he’s done quite a bit of research on the Calabi-Yau manifolds mentioned above. Don’t know what that is? You’re not alone. You might not know him from theoretical physics circles, but you might from his award-winning books, such as The Elegant Universe, Icarus at the Edge of Time, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and the Hidden Reality. He’s also had PBS specials and, yes, he was indeed in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Greene is known for his pioneering work in superstring theory and has been frequently called one of the great “science communicators” of our time. He uses analogies and thought experiences to provide a means for laypeople to learn about String Theory and other heady topics. Can there be a unification of Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics? Greene thinks so. How many dimensions are there to the universe? More than ten? Green thinks so. What is reality? More specifically, what is spacetime? Greene can walk us through it. What are black holes? Did Disney get it right? Not really at all. Is space an entity? Why does time have a direction? Can we travel to the past? Is our universe the only universe?

The most important question, though, is what do the answers mean for us? How does an ever-expanding universe impact our humanity? Now, that’s a lot to unpack. Luckily, we have a premiere science communicator to help us along the way. Get Greene’s help with these big questions at Town Hall’s annual gala fundraiser. Join us!

A Reflection from Masao Yamada on Global Rhythm’s Mako and Munjuru

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January 23, 2021. This date was marked on my calendar for a couple of reasons, one being the kick off to Town Hall Seattle’s Global Rhythms Series. It wasn’t just that I was excited to see local musicians who carry the musical traditions of their homelands—but because it was my culture and homeland that was being represented.

While Mako and Munjuru performed traditional Okinawan music, dance, and storytelling that helps deepen our understanding of their community and culture, I had the very distinct pleasure to have a running commentary from my mom who provided an additional perspective on the traditions of the Okinawan culture. Breaking down the instruments, the different styles of Okinawan music, and the differences between Ryusou Fashion and how it differs from the traditional attire of the main Japanese island. This led us to what we call the “Okinawan Room” at my parents house. Here you can see a beautiful Hanagasa (traditional Okinawan Hat) hanging from the wall and a sanshin on display – just don’t ask any of us to play it.

Watching the performance also led us to some deeper conversations and stories that I had never known: from my mom being taught to hide in the sugar cane fields whenever she saw US military soldiers to using caves for shelter as air strikes were happening to the villages. As my mom told these stories, there was something about having Mako and Munjuru’s style of koten music playing in the background that provided a perfect score to my mom’s life.

I want to thank Town Hall Seattle for providing me the opportunity to openly connect with my culture through their Global Rhythm Series, and more importantly for igniting conversations with my (Okasan) mother about her truths and history of Okinawa. We are planning a trip to the homeland once we feel it is safe to travel again.

Masao Yamada is a community leader who has founded youth programs/organizations with a focus on career development, arts equity, civic engagement, social justice and more. Yamada has recently developed and guided youth in co-founding a youth-led/operated radio station, Ground Zero Radio, and is part of a city-wide Creative Advantage initiative to establish equitable access to arts education for every student in Seattle Public Schools. Yamada currently sits on the Board of Directors for WheelLab and the Intiman Theatre, and is an Board Member for the Melodic Caring Project and One Love Foundation. In summer 202, Yamada became an organizer for the Seattle Children’s March and is an adult advisor to the Youth Advocates for System Change Council. To learn more about Yamada, you can follow him on Instagram @y_masao .


If you missed Mako and Munjuru’s performance, you can still purchase a subscription to the series until March 10, which will grant you exclusive access to a replay of this impactful program.

Black History Month at Town Hall

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Today is February 1, which marks the beginning of Black History Month. Black History Month was established in 1976, and what you may not know is that there is a theme every year. The theme is decided by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and the 2021 theme is “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” exploring the African diaspora, and the spread of Black families across the United States. We have put together a calendar of programs that support this theme, and we’ll also be taking a look back in our Media Library at past events that are worth revisiting this month.

Upcoming

Conversations on our In The Moment podcast will feature Black authors and poets throughout the month. (As a reminder, these episodes are released at 1 PM on Mondays, and available anytime after that.) Historian Thomas C. Holt (2/1) will be talking with correspondent and local journalist Mike Davis, contending with how the civil rights movement has been misrepresented and misunderstood. The next week, Shin Yu Pai welcomes poet Gary Copeland Lilley (2/8) to the February Lyric World episode for a dialogue about the creative and intellectual influences that have shaped his work. And finally, poet and novelist Véronique Tadjo (2/22) discusses her new book, a timely fable drawing on real accounts of the Ebola outbreak, with correspondent Kevin Kibet.

Most of us grew up with images of African women that were purely anthropological-bright displays of exotica where the deeper personhood seemed tucked away. Or were chronicles of war and “poverty porn.” But curator Catherine E. McKinley (2/10) says these images tell a different story of African women: how deeply cosmopolitan and modern they are in their style, how they were able to reclaim the tools of the colonial oppression that threatened their selfhood and livelihoods. She’ll be in conversation with fellow curator and designer Erika Dalya Massaquoi to discuss her takeaways while collecting images in her new book The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women.

Black contribution to musical history is undeniable. Renowned bass player, five-time Grammy winner, and author Victor L. Wooten (2/13) invites us to stretch our imaginations and our awareness of our interaction with music in a wholly unique presentation that provides a poignant reminder of the healing power—and humanity—in music.

A tiny, fastidiously-dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to become the mentor to a generation of young artists, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence. He coined the term “New Negro” for this generation, a reference to the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness. Have you heard of Alain Locke? Professor Jeffrey Stewart (2/18) brings Locke’s story to the forefront, exploring his legacy and impact in promoting the cultural heritage of Black people with LaNesha DeBardelaben of the Northwest African American Museum for this co-presented program.

Dr. Ronald A Crutcher (2/20), a national leader in higher education and a distinguished classical musician and Professor of Music, joins us to share lessons captured in his memoir I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership. He relates how he found success as a Black intellectual steering through highly charged social issues, to become President at the University of Richmond.

Have you wondered how educators can help destroy entrenched inequalities and enact values of Black Lives Matter in their classrooms, schools, and communities? Educators and members of the Black Lives Matter at School movement Jesse Hagopian and Denisha Jones (2/24) have gathered essential essays, interviews, poems, resolutions, and more from educators, students, and activists. They join us to lay bare the institutional racism inherent in our educational system, and present a critical call to radically reshape learning environments.

From the Library

1/19/2021: Tyler Stovall with ChrisTiana ObeySumner about the intertwined histories of racism and freedom, specifically using America and France as reference points

12/14/2020: On this episode of In The Moment, sociologist Matthew Clair discussed how race and class matter in criminal court with correspondent Marcus Harrison Green

12/10/2020: The Seattle Human Rights Commission and UW Center for Human Rights hosted a panel about the Black experience in Seattle

12/8/2020: Michael Eric Dyson talked with Robin DiAngelo about reckoning with race on America

11/15/2020: Tamara Payne—along with her mother and brother—talked about the National Book Award-winning biography of Malcolm X, written over decades by her father, which she completed after his unexpected death

11/9/2020: Daudi Abe talked with Geo Quibuyen about the history of hip hop in Seattle

10/21/2020: A panel hosted by Town Hall, Seattle Disabilities Commission, and Seattle LGBTQ+ Commission discussed the unique wisdom of intersectional identities

10/2/2020: On this episode of In The Moment, professor Dr. Eddie Cole was in conversation with correspondent Shaun Scott about the role of campus activism in the fight for social equality

9/22/2020: Mychal Denzel Smith discussed how he believes there are shortcomings in the stories we tell ourselves about our American identity, in conversation with author R. O. Kwon

9/14/2020: This episode of In The Moment featured acclaimed writer Calvin Baker about his book arguing that the only meaningful remedy to our civil rights efforts is true integration, with correspondent Shaun Scott

9/6/2020: The Deep End Friends podcast talked about Black healing, exploring liberation, healing, hope, joy, and wholeness

And more. Visit our Media Library to see past events.


Black history and Black accomplishments have been minimized and erased, and it is wonderful to be take this time to celebrate Black people’s many contributions, to all industries and communities. But most importantly, Black history is American history—this month and every month—and we look forward to continuing to celebrate Black voices year-round.

The Symbiosis Between Town Hall and Bushwick Book Club Seattle

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Community and relationships have never been as important as they are right now. It does seem weird to say since I have not been able to shake someone’s hand in over 9 months, unless you count my new office mate Gus (he’s a dog—he’s not a good assistant, but he is a good boy). Our connections have shifted, and in some cases have become stronger and more apparent.

The importance of community and relationships also makes complete sense as we struggle through this challenging time. When there’s struggle, it’s always important to reach out a hand to offer help and partnership. Supporting the spectrum of arts, civics  and cultural groups of the city will bring this community to a stronger place. And I hope to continue with partnerships like the one between Town Hall Seattle and Bushwick Seattle.

Town Hall Seattle has always been an organization that reaches out. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from Town Hall is the importance of strong partnerships in the community. Let the roots grow deep with those who share your vision.

I’ve been working at Town Hall in various capacities for many of the past 15 years. I could never bring myself to fully step away from the Town Hall team that has been so supportive and educational for me and my work with Bushwick. I’m still happy to work and stay connected with the event and office staff while I learn more about production and connection. I look forward to supporting Town Hall again in person when we can all be welcomed back into performance spaces.

Over the 10 years of partnership between Town Hall and Bushwick we have seen music inspired by The Bible, Winnie the Pooh, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Humpty Dumpty, Michael Pollen, Cheryl Strayed, and Shel Silverstein—and that’s just to name a few of the wonderful events we’ve shared together on the Town Hall stages. There have been singer-songwriters, authors, poets, full orchestras, bands, choirs, actors, food and most importantly: community.

In 2010, I remember Town Hall’s Executive Director Wier Harman walking into Bushwick’s very first event down at the Can Can Cabaret, ready to support local art and to provide a future stage. I remember Shirley, Ginny, and Mary excitedly bidding on live auction items in our fundraisers! I remember former Town Hall staffer Anthony Detrano offering our education program, STYLE, our very first Seattle Public School contract. I remember Ashley Toia trusting Bushwick to fill in at the last second for a Saturday Family Concert event.

Since Bushwick’s start back in 2010, Town Hall has treated us like a part of the family. encouraging our work and, more importantly, those who are creating the work. Our artwork is hanging on the office walls. Town Hall staff have become Bushwick performers, and Bushwick performers have become Town Hall staff members. We have multiple Town Hall alum sitting on our Board of Directors as we look into the future.

We are proud to call Town Hall Seattle a partner in bringing music, words and education to the Seattle community, and look forward to many more years ahead.

Maybe There’s A Way to Celebrate with Us After All…

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Hi friends,

On Election Night I wrote to tell you how much we missed you, and missed the chance to share the night’s energy and anticipation with you. I mentioned the power we feel when we’re with people who share our curiosities, our passions, and especially our optimism.

“Optimism” is so often called out as essential to America’s national character. I don’t know if that’s true, but knowing the character of Town Hall for 16 years now I can say that optimism—fundamental to our belief that together we can make the world better for each other—burns hot inside most card-carrying Town Hall-ions, too.

With the last states formally called (if not officially certified) today this election is effectively concluded. And no matter your perspective on the outcome I hope at last you’re getting that sense of closure that allows us to face the future with confidence. I’m going to celebrate with my family tonight—and if you’re in the mood to join me…

A look back through our Media Library will recall some of the extraordinary nights we’ve spent together on the way to this moment: Stacey Abrams and the March for Our Lives, with moving stories of community organization; Amber Tamblyn, on finding political power as you come of age; and World Without Hate, where stories coalesce into a vision of the change we want to see. And from the last three weeks alone–Steve Davis and Chelsea Clinton turn outrage to practical activism; and Jane Fonda/Elizabeth Lesser and Robert Putnam/Shaylin Garrett, issue inspiring calls to overcome self interest in favor of a common interest and heal the country.

After you look back, look forward to tomorrow night’s installment of the Bushwick Book Club, which offers original songs inspired by a book: this time, Eric Liu’s Become America, which collects a number of secular “sermons” from his wonderful Civic Saturdays programs. Many of them are hosted at/with Town Hall. Check out last Saturday’s 11/7 here, and make sure you mark your calendar for next time.

OK, maybe this won’t feel like the laughing, crying, hugging, cheering… But I promise you that in these nights (and too many others to list) you’ll feel the optimism that brought us through to this moment, and the hope that will carry us until we can be together again.

With gratitude and affection,

Wier

Town Hall Land Acknowledgment: Beyond Gestures

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As a practice of recognition, land acknowledgment has the capacity to create broader public awareness of the histories that have led to this moment. On its own, acknowledgment is a small gesture. But when combined with efforts towards cultivating authentic, equitable relationships and informed action that benefits native people, reconciliation and accompliceship become possible. As a space of knowledge and community gathering, Town Hall Seattle embarked on a journey in which we could ask ourselves as an institution, “What do we have to offer?” and “How can we make an impact?” 

In Summer 2019, Town Hall invited Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA) to serve as artists in residence. UNEA convened an intergenerational group of native elders and youth to create a formal Land Acknowledgement for Town Hall that honors the indigenous history and celebrates the indigenous present and future of the land we occupy. UNEA’s Clear Sky Native Youth Council drew inspiration from oral and documented histories, and Land Acknowledgements created by indigenous First Nations in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and parts of the United States to write their statement. 

Clear Sky Native Youth participated in two workshops and met with Snoqualmie Tribe Chief Andy De Los Angeles. Chief Andy De Los Angeles is a direct descendant of dᶻakʷ’yus (“Doctor James Zackuse”), the Lake Union Duwamish district chief and the Healer at Licton Springs who cured David Denny’s daughter of a skin disease that Euro-American doctors could not cure. 

Town Hall’s collaboration with Clear Sky Native Youth Council resulted in this written Land Acknowledgement: 

We acknowledge that we are in the homeland of Chief Seattle’s dxw’dəwɁábš (People-of-the-Inside, the Duwamish Tribe of Indians), the First People of this land.  The Duwamish are the first Indian Tribe named in the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty’s title.  On January 22, 1855, Chief Seattle was the first signatory to the Point Elliott Treaty at Mukilteo.  Three other chiefs signed the Point Elliott Treaty on behalf of the Duwamish Tribe.  The Duwamish homeland extends from Lake Sammamish west to Elliott Bay, and from Mukilteo south to Federal Way, a total of 54,700 acres. 

The Snoqualmie, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot Tribes are also sovereign nations indigenous to Puget Sound. Many people living at these sovereign nations and elsewhere are descendants of the Duwamish Tribe and have ancestral ties to this land. 

We raise our hands to honor Chief Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe of Indians and all descendants of the Duwamish Tribe. We thank them for their hospitality as the First People of this land, and for our continuing use of the natural resources of their Ancestral Homeland. 

Indigenous contributions and sacrifices are immense, and we acknowledge the ongoing disparities, racism, and political invisibility experienced by the Duwamish and other Indigenous Peoples of Puget Sound. 

In early 2020, we considered the possibility of creating a physical presence in our building that could make UNEA’s statement more visible. Back in our newly remodeled facilities, programming staff raised the idea of placing a sign or plaque in the building that could remind visitors of indigenous displacement. We realized that it was an opportunity to engage with the community that created the work to determine how the piece should be physically represented in the space. It wasn’t ours to interpret, especially as a gathering space committed to full participation and shared power with diverse groups and active collaboration with our community. It felt like the most authentic way to do that was to extend the collaboration with the Native community. This led us to issue a public call for proposals targeted towards Native artists.  

Hailey Tayathy (Quileute Nation) had attended Town Hall programs in the past that featured native voices and saw the public art commission as a way for us to open a path towards better supporting indigenous artists.  

Tayathy is critical of Land Acknowledgments, as they are often oversimplified euphemisms for genocide. But the Artist in Residence program presented a significant opportunity: To incorporate and uplift indigenous voices. In sharing our platform for leading cultural conversations, Town Hall went beyond gestures. We wanted to give power to our community members.  

The selection committee reviewed a pool of half a dozen eligible artists. Made up of UNEA youth Alex Escarcega (Assiniboine Sioux), UNEA board member Marcus Shriver (non native), and artist John Romero (Eastern Shoshone), the group selected Tayathy’s proposal and invited them to complete a residency over the summer. While Tayathy is known as a fiber artist and clothing maker, their work as a Native American drag queen in the Seattle community, often involves collaboration and work with performance collectives. 

Tayathy’s design takes its inspiration from Coast Salish wool blanket weaving. Instead of using traditional weaving methods, their tapestry uses wool melton squares laid out in a chevron motif to mimic a Coast Salish pattern. Each square is appliqued by hand onto a cotton quilt backing. An extremely time-intensive practice, Tayathy’s original approach represents a departure from traditional methods to innovate and reimagine craft. 

The central image of the tapestry focuses on the structure of a longhouse, where various indigenous people gather together. Symbolizing the native reclaiming of space within Town Hall itself, Tayathy’s piece depicts multiple representations of regional tribal groups.  

Town Hall Program Manager Megan Castillo expressed surprise at the development of the artwork. “Our expectations shifted and the collaboration became a huge learning opportunity. Hailey incorporated Coast Salish youth [into the project]. Going into it, we thought we’d have a conversation about the Duwamish.”  

Tayathy went into the community and asked native artists to contribute to the commission. Jac Trautman (Duwamish) contributed an abstract black-and-white photographic portrait made with a long exposure, while Tyson Simmons (Muckleshoot), created a stylized mask that complements Tayathy’s visual representation of Coast Salish people.  

Since fabrication started, Tayathy has worked each weekend for 20 to 24 hours on the project. Sewing alone has taken close to 200 hours. They experimented with a number of image transfer methods to incorporate Duwamish photographer Jac Trautman’s imagery into the tapestry. Ultimately, Trautman’s contribution will be custom printed on fabric and then sewn onto the tapestry. Currently, Tayathy is also working to identify a Suquamish artist who will contribute to the piece.  

Tayathy hopes to complete their commission by November 2020. 


Editor’s Note: 

Participants in creating this Clear Sky Land Acknowledgement included Alexander, Asia, Alex, Akichita, Chayton, Cante, Snoqualmie Tribe Chief Andy De Los Angeles, Snoqualmie Tribe member Sabeqwa De Los Angeles, past UNEA program director AJ Oguara, and UNEA Elder and Duwamish Tribe member Tom Speer. 

This document was prepared by lakwalás (Place-of-the-Fire, Tom Speer), dxw’dəwɁábš (People-of-the-Inside, the Duwamish Tribe of Indians, the Duwamish First Nation), at dzidzəlál’ič (Little-Place-Where-One-Crosses-Over, Chief Seattle City). 

 

 

Always Be… Creating

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Hi friends,

Nothing about the Town Hall 20-21 calendar is normal. Coronavirus left no aspect of society untouched but perhaps nothing yielded so quickly, so uncontroversially, as our choice to gather—for art, for community, for worship, for anything.

We can choose not to gather, but artists never really choose not to create. Because music isn’t summoned by a concert. Sculpture doesn’t materialize in a museum. Fiction doesn’t assemble itself into a bound volume. A devoted artist is always singing, shaping, reaching; every finished work is the start of the next. Artists are explorers at the edge of human expression and discovery; the places and moments where we gather with them are just appointments with their life’s work in progress.

Last month you might have noticed that Town Hall’s first ever Digital Season started heavy on conversations. Our spring events showed us they translate online without much “signal loss”; they actually gain a cool informality. But figuring out what music can be online requires considerably more inspiration.

Curators Joshua Roman (Town Music) and Jon Kertzer (Global Rhythms) assured us that this moment demanded a different way of connecting for artists and audiences; all our existing shows for this year needed to be postponed or reimagined. Global Rhythms will begin its reboot after the new year, but Town Music kicks off this month with a season devoted, essentially, to what artists do in that space between concerts—space experienced by audiences as a kind of “silence” that’s, in reality, anything but.

To open the season Joshua decided to come back to Seattle, where he began his professional career. It’s the last place he truly called home, and he’s returning not for an appointment but for a 10 week performance period. This Fermata will be the busiest silence you’ve ever heard, featuring rehearsals or jam sessions, conversations or composition or concerts, all captured and shared through our Digital Stage. The programming will be whatever emerges between an artist and a producer and an audience in a period of personal and societal pause.

Joshua and Town Hall envision this event as a time to find new strength; a time to reconnect with priorities and possibilities; a time to prepare for what comes next, knowing that nothing is guaranteed. Town Music has always provided up-close access to Joshua’s artistic curiosity and we hope this will be the perfect culmination of a relationship we’ve developed over his 13 seasons as Artistic Director.

Along with the calendar’s other arts offerings this month—the return of Philharmonia Northwest; three extraordinary Earshot Jazz shows from our Forum (which converts rather nicely into an intimate online club for the 2020 Festival); the warmly hilarious Katsura Sunshine, live from Japan with a modern expression of the 400 year old tradition of Rakugo comic “standup” and storytelling; and Arts Adventure, a city-wide, all ages scavenger hunt featuring dozens of local arts partners—Joshua’s program marks a perfect kickoff for our exploration of how the internet can actually enhance our experience of art, rather than simply remind us of what we’re missing…

Because let’s be honest—none of us expected to unpack our beautiful new home, only to box it up six months later and move it all online.

We can’t wait until we are able to gather with you together again, but until then we will do everything we can to offer the sustenance of issues, ideas and inspiration, and to help make this time of exile as rich and fulfilling as possible.

 

Wier

A Five-Decade Debate as Important as Ever: James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr.

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On February 20 at Town Hall, Nick Buccola brings to the the stage a debate about race reverberating 50 years on. 

“I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I was going to use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” James Baldwin grew up poor in Harlem in New York City. His stepfather treated him harshly, so from a young age Baldwin retreated to libraries where he read and started to write. By his 35th birthday, he’d become one of America’s great writers, penning such books as Go Tell It On the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son. He also came to be considered one of America’s great thinkers and human rights advocates, stepping forward to guide critical discussions in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

“Liberals claim they want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” William F. Buckley Jr. was born in 1925, not long after Baldwin, in the same city. Privileged, his mother filled their home with servants and tutors. Buckley attended Yale, became an informant for the FBI, and worked for a time with the CIA. He also founded National Review, a publication that has become a prominent voice on the American right and has played a significant role in the development of conservatism in the United States.

These two men—diametrically opposed intellectuals—met at the University of Cambridge on February 18, 1965. There they debated the question “Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?” Yes, said Baldwin. “I picked the cotton, and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing.” No, said Buckley. “The fact that your skin is black is utterly irrelevant to the arguments you raise.” Buckley positioned himself in the debate as a reasonable moderate, one that resisted social transformations Baldwin sought—in particular, desegregation. “The fundamental friend of the Negro people of the United States is the good nature and is the generosity and the good wishes…the fundamental decency,” Buckley said, “of the American people.”  

Fifty-some years later, debates on race relations are still at the fore of our country. Viewpoints on race are still in sharp contrast; in a 2018 Gallup Poll 54% of non-Hispanic whites said black and white relations are good, as opposed to 40% of blacks who said the same. This is marked drop even from 2001 where 70% of blacks said relations were good—more so, at that time, than whites (62%).

On February 20, Linfield College professor of political science Nicholas Buccola joins us to tell the full story of the Baldwin Buckley debates. His book The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William Buckley Jr, and the Debate Over Race in America explores the radically different paths of Baldwin and Buckley and the controversies that followed their fraught conversations. Buccola shows how the decades-long clash between these two men illuminates America’s racial divide today and echoes the necessary work still to be done by liberals and conservatives alike. 

Buccola delves into Baldwin and Buckley’s conversation as a remarkable story of race and the American dream that still resonates today—an unforgettable confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy.


Join us on February 20 for this important talk. Tickets are on sale now ($5, and FREE for anyone under the age of 22).

The debate:

We Did It!

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Our General Manager, Mary Cutler, floated into the office this morning, arms swaying and voice sing-song: “Today is a normal day. Let’s all pretend it’s a normal day.” It is, decidedly, not a normal day. But we echoed her feigned calm and did our best to think about anything other than what was happening across the street. Our final inspection was underway. If given the thumbs up, the building—after nearly two full seasons of renovation—would officially be ours again.

That calm pretense was traded for cheers as Mary shared the good news: we passed. As of 11:46 am today, May 16, Town Hall Seattle is no longer a construction site.

The staff raced over and (without hard hats!) entered through the freshly painted 8th Ave doors, explored stairwells, and marveled at the Reading Room’s bare but beautiful form. We gathered on the Great Hall stage to pop a bottle of champagne, toast one another and the community that made this possible—and also to really feel what’s on the horizon. Wier’s toast hit home: “Twenty years of Town Hall. And now, right now, we get to start it all again.”

Whether you’ve been with us since 1999, met us during Inside/Out, or are stumbling across this post because a friend happened to share a link: we are so incredibly glad you’re here. The future and possibilities of Town Hall have never been quite so bright, and each of us are necessary to manifesting its potential.

We mean that in the grand sense, and also in the practical. This summer is our soft launch; there’s still a lot of fine tuning ahead of us and we need your help–your presence and participation–to get it right. Please lend us your patience (and opinions!) as we grow into the new building, and we hope you’ll enjoy new details coming into place every time you visit this spring and summer (from smaller items like wayfinding signage to big things like bar service and commissioned artwork). With your help, the building will be the best version of itself in time for our big Homecoming festival this September!

Our very first event in the Great Hall is just days away (Tuesday, May 21), and we can’t imagine a more fitting debut for the room. Joshua Roman, our longtime friend and Town Music Artistic Director, will lend us his virtuosic talents in a solo cello concert. There are still a few tickets remaining, and we hope you’ll join us to help mark the moment.

Even as we celebrate the end of our own renovation, we should note: more than just Town Hall has been under construction. Our full block is in the midst of being developed. While the plaza and Ovation towers are being built, the Forum is accessible via our new at-grade West Entrance, reachable from the loading zone on Seneca street.

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