Community Post

End of The Corner Exhibit

I want to let you know that the artists who created The Corner installation at 23rd  Avenue and East Union Street will be dismantling it today and tomorrow.

Recently, I was contacted by a police officer who asked me to remove the installation, saying that he’s received complaints from citizens about it. Jim Mueller, who owns the lot where the installation sits on 23rd and Union, asked that I comply with the officer and I am honoring Jim’s wishes.

If you’ve passed by 23rd and Union anytime in the past year you’ve no doubt seen Inye Wokoma’s larger-than-life photographs of neighbors looking out at you. But perhaps you wonder what the project is about.  

The Corner is first and foremost a collaborative community storytelling project. Last summer, The Corner operated a ‘story hotline.’ Callers heard first-person stories about 23rd and Union, and were invited to respond to essential questions like “Whose corner is this?” and “What do you remember?”  875 callers left more than 200 messages on The Corner‘s hot line. Some of those stories aired on KUOW 94.9 Public Radio, and all are preserved on The Corner’s Web site.

The Corner created a forum – on the phone, on the street, and amongst its Facebook fans – where people with strongly divergent opinions felt welcome to express themselves. It was a platform for a dialogue about challenging issues of race and class. Images and audio collected by The Corner represent the diversity of the Central District, including an older African American woman who still attends church next door to her childhood home but can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood, a white resident who was mugged by a young black man and got involved in anti-racist work as a result, and a former Black Panther who fondly remembers a soul club on the corner.

I want to thank Jim Mueller for generously donating use of his property for the past year. The installation has remained up long beyond my original expectations. I’ve heard from countless people who say that the artwork has inspired them, led them to learn more about the Central District and its history, and have conversations with neighbors. I’m proud to say that we look forward to displaying the artwork – as well as the audio stories – at the Northwest African American Museum in 2011.

I know I will feel sad to see an empty lot where the artwork stood. Jim Mueller has been very receptive to displaying artwork on his property. I would encourage any neighborhood artists or groups who are capable of building and maintaining a large scale, temporary public artwork to consider pitching your idea to him. I’d be happy to offer advice.

Finally, thank you to everyone who worked on this project – from the artists and Web developers, volunteers who distributed postcards and posters, everyone who came to the public barbeque and brought food, and every person who told a story on the Corner’s hotline. I’m grateful beyond words.

To learn more about The Corner please visit our Web site http://23rdandunion.org
Here is an article about the ‘making of’ the Corner: http://transom.org/?p=3894   

- Jenny Asarnow, creator, The Corner

jennya@kuow.org

32 thoughts on “End of The Corner Exhibit

  1. Jenny I really enjoyed the installation, so sorry to see it leave. I cannot imagine what the complaint against it sounded like. Too much art??

  2. I want to share my son’s words when he saw Mr. Inye Wokoma walking down the street. “Mom–there’s that guy we see on the corner, you know the one where his picture is!”
    Sure enough, it was…thanks Jenny for a great project!

  3. What, exactly, were the nature of the complaints and wouldnt the city (as opposed to a police officer) be the governmental body to determine whether or not these complains had merit? Where was the due process here?! :-)

    Shame. But something is fishy about this.

  4. When I walk or drive past this corner, I always take a moment to admire the handy work and creativity that went into this wonderful expression of neighborhood pride. The photos are truely beautiful and engaging, and when combined with the artistic talent that went into their framing, the results were dramatic.

    Sad to see this well cared for art work and joyful community expression, be removed in favor of restoring this space to it’s former overgrown, vacant lot condition. My thanks to the artisticly talented folks that both created and maintained this display, and most especially to the lot owner for allowing its use for such a loved community project.

  5. the art on the corner was wonderful and a great community addition…why would that be an issue…but thompsons isnt?

  6. I would like to file a complaint about the complaint that was laid out against the artwork display. Since a complaint seems to be all that is needed, this should counteract the initial complaint, yes?

    Seriously. A complaint brings the whole thing down? What about the people who enjoy it?

  7. i’ve never lived in a city that embodied the saying “squeaky wheel gets the oil” more than seattle.

    “a” complaint. what a joke.

  8. And when the complaint is a veritable outcry about housing for ex-cons, the city has a tin ear. Go figure.

  9. I agree, a police officer would not be the one to make the decision. It seems odd that the police were even involved unless an earlier legal notice was not honored. Whatever the reason, the truth would be nice about who made the decision, the city?, Jim Mueller? hmmm. Who can legally make the decision?

  10. I’m so sad to see this installation go away! Why in the world would someone want to take it down? If there was a complaint about it, why not help work towards making it even cooler than it is now instead of asking that it be taken down? Let us know how we can help keep the installation at the corner – I prefer it 100 times over an empty lot!!

  11. I really liked The Corner, and the fact that it was temporary was part of its appeal to me. Knowing that it wouldn’t be permanent, it was great to see the artists nevertheless make something that could be appreciated as a true landmark. I also really liked the audio aspect of it, personally.

    I would love to see things like The Corner that are created as permanent fixtures of the public space in the CD. Like the way Fremont has made its permanent public art part of its appeal, not only could public / landmark art be more prominent in the CD, but that art could help express the way the CD is a *real* place (no disrespect meant to the imaginary world of Fremont–I like that about Fremont; and I like how the CD isn’t Fremont).

    Also, like others in this thread, I find it concerning that there’s some suggestion that The Corner is being censored?

  12. Most everybody else is being really nice about this but I’m going to get right to the point. Jenny, you are not respecting this community right now. I kind of knew you didn’t respect it from the get. You put up an installation of people who are supposed to represent this neighborhood. You did not realize some people actually have negative memories of some of the people photographed. Oh well. You asked about the history here, you did not know it. And you obviously did not dig very deep.

    But now a police officer and property developer ask you to take it down and you comply with their wishes? That just shows your commitment to the people in this neighborhood. I hope you got some college credit or something to put on your resume out of this whole project. Because you seem to be more self serving than community minded despite your facade of “community art” on the block.

    You did not have to bend like a fuzzy little pipe cleaner just because the police contacted you. Are you serious??? You were able to install this thing on Jim’s property and now that Jim wants to comply with an officer request you just cave? Did you even try to speak with Jim about this? You and Jim know police officers have no business in this matter. So what’s really going on? I guess it may just be like the reality of this neighborhood where the police and developers’ stance takes precedence. Thanks for being spineless in this matter and not answering any of the questions posted in this thread.

  13. Ms. Asarno,

    Thank you for posting an explanation for the dismantling of The Corner installation at 23rd and Union. It would have been even more troubling to have the art disappear without a clue about the whys and wherefors. But this is still a very disturbing story, and The Story of The Corner is not over. Your post raises several questions which need answering:

    For Ms. Asarno: Who is the police officer that asked you to remove the art installation? How were you approached and what was the tenor of the conversation(s) with this officer? Were you informed about the specifics of the complaints against the art? What was the timeline of events that lead to the dismantling of the installation?

    For Mr. Mueller, the property owner: How were you approached and what was the tenor of your conversation(s) with this officer, and were you informed about the specifics of the complaints against the art?

    For the police officer in question: What, specifically, were the complaints against the art at 23rd and Union? Were the complaints about public safety or the artistic expressions themselves? Why did you feel it was within your authority to ask the artist (and the property owner) to remove the art? Is the report about these complaints and your actions publicly available?

    There is no question that police accountability is an current and important issue in our local news – the videotape of the April 17 violence and racial slurs is still fresh in our minds, as well as the rhetoric of Christopher Monfort as he prepares for his trial on charges of murdering officer Timothy Brenton and wounding officer Britt Sweeney. But police accountability extends beyond the use of violence – as servants of the community and public employees, all police personnel should be accountable for all of their actions. Without answers to our questions, all citizens should be concerned about police involvement in freedom of expression and censorship.

    And finally, Ms. Asarno, you may have taken down the physical art that graced the lot at 23rd and Union, but The Story of The Corner is not over. Take a page from your own writings on the Lessons From The Corner:

    1. Go multi media. — Spread The Story – the questions, the answers – far and wide. Please update the websites. And maybe a piece on that radio station you work at??

    2. Go public. — Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

    3. Share ownership. — You will find you have many allies in the Central District and the artistic community. Spread the word.

    4. Embrace your role. — You are The Artist. The Story is not over….

    5. Embrace failure. — This will only be a failure if the people who live in the Central District and/or care about public art and expression are left with an empty, confused, resentful feeling. The Story is not over.

    Finally, thank you to the artist, Ms. Asarno, for her efforts on conceiving and installing the art project, and to Mr. Mueller for providing the space.

  14. There exists a steering committee for a CD Public Art Project. They have applied for a Dept of N’hoods grant to begin the process of creating more public art in the CD. The CD Garden Tours will be used to raise monies and matching hours for the grant(s). They should hear w/in eight weeks if they get any funds for the ‘gathering community ideas and support phase’ of the project.

    The history of the CD is part of the inspiration for the proposed art, whether it be information kiosks, banners, or public art pieces. Maybe some new ideas will come out of design charettes that will be held, open to all interested parties.

    They are looking for participants and volunteers at all levels, including the steering committee. Stay tuned to CD News for contact info, website and further updates.

  15. So, the photos are being removed???? I noticed that one reader mentioned a police officer by name, has that been confirmed that he was the one behind this??? and i have to ask (like other posters before me) where does the police get the authority to have these photos removed????? Scott, cant you get some official confirmation as to what is really going on here? It seems that this is a bit deeper then a “complaint”.

  16. Many of us thought the idea of the project was fantastic, but as one other poster pointed out, the people chosen to “represent” the neighborhood are what killed the project. Why choose an admitted, convicted murderer and recent crack dealer as a subject? To show our children “Look how much our community embraces and glorifies this person!”? Down the street is a painting of MLK so moving that when my son was little he asked me, ‘Is he a God?’ when he saw that painting. What are our youth to think of your giving the same artistic importance to a murderer turned crack dealer? What on earth kind of message is that?! This was a beautiful, moving project spoiled by extremely poor choices.

  17. The police didn’t have the photos removed. They conveyed to the project folks that the neighbors were asking for the removal of the photo of a convicted murderer, charged in June with selling crack and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Neighbors complaining about a crack dealer is nothing new in the CD, seeing that person glorified in art as an example for our children is. The project folks, or the property owner, might have just removed the one photo. Instead, they’re bailing on the whole project rather than “disrespect” the crack dealer. Amazing.

  18. Thank you for the clarifications regarding the situation. CDparent has a point and also there are many other long-time African American residents here who could be pictured, especially since there were few photos and each could be considered representative of more than just themselves.

  19. Wow this all stinks. I didn’t know that the police were acting as messengers. Who would call the police to complain about artwork? Really!? wouldn’t they contact the project artists first? Smells like oppression to me. Why wasn’t anyone complaining over a year ago when they put up Saviors picture? Was it his ALLEGED criminal activity, or was it personal?

  20. I am glad that CDparent clarified this. It makes a little more sense now. I do however agree with the watcher about the lines of communication. Starting with the project owner first may have put this in a different light. I also agree with CDparent that other residents could be pictured and maybe the removal of one could have been accomplished without taking down the entire display.

  21. You know what I want to see? Something built on the empty lot, and something in the old Philly’s spot. That’s the best kind of art for that intersection.

  22. Hi everyone,
    Thanks you to everyone who shared kind words. Although it’s harder to read, I also appreciate the public debate. I’ll answer the questions I can.

    I would also encourage you to look at the reports on KUOW and KING5 as I think they both did a good job explaining the story. I will add that I myself don’t feel I know all of the facts.

    1. The officer is Tim Greeley.

    2. chris, sadandconfused, etc: I don’t know who complained or what their complaint(s) consisted of. Officer Greeley said “numerous citizens” complained and they considered Savior Knowledge to be “one of the problems.” The officer’s complaint came to me out of the blue and the police have not shared any other details of the complaint(s).

    3. joanna: The property belongs to Jim Mueller. Originally he granted permission to host The Corner exhibit for three months last summer. At the end of that period (August 31, 2009) he agreed to let the artwork stay on his property. My agreement with him stated that he could ask me to remove the artwork at any time.

    4. heated: Yes, I did speak with Jim about this. And no, keeping it up was not an option.

    5. cronopio: I was approached via two brief emails from Officer Greeley in an official capacity.

    To clarify the timeline –
    I received an email from Officer Greeley.
    Jim Mueller asked me to take the installation down.
    I initially agreed.
    The artists and I came up with a plan to keep up the structures, and get artists to volunteer to make paintings in place of the photographs. Jim was open to this idea but it fell through when we couldn’t find artists willing to do it.
    At that point about a month had gone by, and I received a second email from Officer Greeley asking when the installation was coming down. I replied. Then Jim asked us take it down immediately.

    6. CDparent: Jim Mueller asked me to take down the whole installation. I also feel strongly that the artwork was one whole, representing both a coherent visual design, and a snapshot of the corner in the summer of 2009. I would not have taken down only one photo.

    Jenny Asarnow

  23. Thanks for this explanation, Jenny.

    I was not aware of any controversy over the project. I thought it was a wonderful exhibit, but I did think it had perhaps outlived its usefulness because most everyone had seen it for so long that we no longer really looked at it as much. And it certainly was better than the vacant lot that it has reverted to!

    I wish the dispute had been publicized in a timely way so that those of us who had participated and/or just liked it could have put in our two cents worth to the conversation and perhaps resolved the problem in some way other than removing it under the hurtful circumstances that came about. It’s our corner too!

    In retrospect, maybe it would have been good to rotate the pictures at regular intervals, replacing the existing ones with some that were not used, and if the supply was not extensive, then putting the original ones back but varying the placement so that ones that were less visible the first time around were more prominent in a later view, and continuing this process until Jim needed his property use back.

    The project was about how this corner has been, how it is now, and how these contribute to the seeds of how it will evolve. There’s good and bad in each of us who identify with 23rd and Union, and together we are a microcosm of the world. Our rough edges are more visible than in many other places; perhaps some prefer the pretense that hides the ugly parts of areas that are considered “better.”

    Thank you for doing the project. I loved it and understood it, and I’m sorry it ended the way it did. I’d have tried to help save it if I’d known it was in jeopardy.

  24. His criminal activity isn’t alleged. He spoke on TV, when interviewed in front of the post office, quite openly about what he did and why he went to prison.

  25. When the artist says “I would not have taken down only one photo,” she disrespects the people in the neighborhood horrified by the glorification of an admitted murderer and accused crack dealer / felon w/firearm. I agree that putting up such art right down the street from the picture of MLK many of us have found moving for so many years, is another slap in the face. Jenny Asarnow chose to make a very political piece of art, rather than just honoring the truly amazing, non-murderers in the neighborhood. She shouldn’t complain then if the response was not all roses. And for those stating that the complainers should have been more public about their complaints, the man they were complaining about went on TV stating that he was a murderer! Go figure that they don’t want to advertise their names and addresses.

  26. I think that your words are a bit harsh when you say that the artist “disrespected the people…” Ms. Asarnow did not disrespect the neighborhood, she gave an accurate representation of the neighborhood. Yes, there maybe some people in your neighborhood that are not the best representation of an area, however, to overlook someone because they are not to your liking is just not an accurate picture. However, that is my opinion. To me, the real problem is the way that the situation was handled from the beginning. To have an uniformed officer deliver the message is just plain wrong. This really implies some other message, regardless of whether or not that was the intent. SPD should be much more involved in the criminal side of business, not passing along messages. If there was a need for police involvement, then that is the role of the public affairs officer, who speaks for the police department as a whole. Not one uniformed officer who, again just my opinion, crossed the line of his professional role of a police officer. Who wouldnt comply when a uniformed officer makes a request????? I dont think that Ms. Asarnow is complaining that all responses were not positive, many artists make statements with their work, and sometimes the reason for the artwork or project is to promote a dialogue within and amongst people. The communication between the artist, and the property owner, and the concerned citizens should have been better. I dont disagree with perhaps having other residents featured. That is my opinion, the artist for whatever her reasons chose the residents she chose. Thats the beauty of freedom of speech. As for wanting to keep confidential the names of the people that wanted this artwork removed, there could have been some way to better handle that. Secrets, police, infringement of rights, to me, doesnt seem like the best mixture. Today, it was artwork, tomorrow could be something or someone different. Gia

  27. “SPD should be much more involved in the criminal side of business, not passing along messages…that is the role of the public affairs officer, who speaks for the police department as a whole.”

    Your statement shows a total lack of understanding of the role of the Community Police team, a staple in the CD for 20 or more years.

    “As for wanting to keep confidential the names of the people that wanted this artwork removed, there could have been some way to better handle that.”

    As someone who has tried to work with my neighbors to battle the relentless drug related crime on my doorstep in the CD since 1987, and as someone who has watched neighbors threaten neighbors, vandalize eachother’s proerty, and literally run lifelong residents out of their homes for expressing opposition to the few but very active, very violent criminals among us, the idea that people openly and without fear can express distrust in relation to an admitted murderer and currently accused crack dealer/felon with a firearm, is quite simply naive.

    “Secrets, police, infringement of rights, to me, doesnt seem like the best mixture.”

    People have a right to speak privately to the police.
    People are naturally afraid to openly oppose admitted murderers.
    Whose rights were infringed upon? The artist herself states that she didn’t want to work with the community by taking down the 1 photo glorifying a murderer, but would rather scrap the whole project than do so. The property owner made the decision he did and he might just as well have made another.
    The police were well within their duties as community police to convey the concerns of the community to the property owner.