Even though there is a giant, multi-billion dollar hole under our earthquake-doomed city, the most polarizing topic in recent months is still the ever-changing state of Capitol Hill. It’s the hot # for armchair intellectuals, artists and blowhard, attention-seekers alike. Whether you side with the team that sees the new Hill as an enviable extension of a rapidly expanding downtown or the one that sees it as a bastion of Seattle creativity that needs to be preserved from the influx of monied “Cap Hill” adapters- You can’t argue with numbers. Should you find yourself needing a break amidst the revelry of this weekend’s CHBP festivities, stumble over to 1515 Broadway to check out what some would consider the actual price of admission.
The #LOVETHEHILL installation aims to present objective facts on the most controversial ‘Hood in the city. Conceived as a project for the two-year design program at Seattle Central Creative Academy by Gregory John Smith and Jessica Ornelas the project is meant to not only to inform people of the monetary actualities of a neighborhood in flux but to educate visitors about the neighborhood’s history. The school had taken ownership of a building once belonging to vintage clothiers Atlas and offered the team its windows for their work. Said Smith, “We knew what we wanted to talk about, but it took awhile to find the way we wanted to talk about it and let our design speak. We wanted the community to be heard, but we didn’t want to get bogged down in a “shit sucks” attitude- we wanted the art to be neutral, and factually based.” Ornelas added, “We wanted it to be positive and informational so people have an understanding of the area. Who actually lives here and what the Hill is about.”
As momentum for the project increased, so did the level of civic emotion regarding rent hikes and suburban invaders. “As we were working on the project, we just saw building, after building, after building, after building going up and as we were creating our work it was almost “tit for tat” as they were putting up buildings we were designing our installation “buildings”. The team took it as a compliment as when the incredibly professional nature of the installation lead some folks to believe the project was a marketing gimmick. Said Smith, “I had a buddy, who said “What is this “Love the Hill” thing you’re doing? Did you get hired by some construction company to promote the “New Hill”?” He laughed, “No. We just have a clean, professional esthetic.”
Videographer Tim Haddock happened to be documenting their process as the team started putting out their 16-page proposal. They were able to secure funding with a major contribution from Cafe Vita -long time supporters of the Arts on Capitol Hill- and donations from a list of luminaries ranging from Ben Haggerty and Tricia Davis to Linda Derschang. While shopping their proposal they started fielding suggestions of folks who could give them insight or a unique take on the neighborhood, which segued into the idea to create a visual companion piece where people were free to discuss the role Capitol Hill had played in their lives.
The pair were particularly taken with the story of Hugh Saffel, (of Saffel Creative) a longtime Hill resident. Smith mused “ If you’ve lived here awhile you know the scene you know the players. Someone I didn’t know who left an impression was Hugh, who has worked on 11th and Pike for years. I have his picture on my phone. If I had just interviewed him for our the story, it would have been enough. He has raised a family here, started a small business and found success here, yet he’s not known like Dave Meinert or Jason Lajeunesse via Social Media. Hugh keeps his head down and does his work, put his kids through college by living and working on that corner. I would have never known that. Through those hard partying evenings in my past, I didn’t even realize those people existed.”
As a member of the Seattle music scene, Smith – who also goes by the moniker Radjaw- was a member of the well known, Hip-Hop Collective Mad Rad. “We were able to be a band because we were able to find a cheap enough place (on the Hill) where we could all live together, make art and land food service jobs in the area”, he said. “We and our girlfriends all lived in a $1200, two bedroom. It was the Mad Rad headquarters. Without that apartment, we wouldn’t have been anything at all. We would have never made art or hung any posters. We might have made music, but we wouldn’t have become a promotional machine or formed a label because that money would have gone elsewhere.”
He continued, “Mad Rad was a product of the Capitol Hill environment, we were fortunate to be part of a scene that consisted of all of us together living on the Hill. We went through trials and tribulations with the neighborhood too, but things life the DJ nights on Mondays at Moe Bar were community supported. No one from the suburbs was coming to Moe Bar Mondays. It was the kids and bartenders who attended that was a night that defined our scene.” Some of the acts who came up in that time period (like Champagne, Champagne) bring a musical charge to #LOVETHEHILL with a compilation of new music assembled to pay tribute to the neighborhood.
For Ornelas who moved from the Queen Anne neighborhood in 2010, the rise in rents really hit home when she watched an efficiency studio she was renting where, as she put it, “ “the kitchen” was just a hot plate” get a four hundred dollar rent increase in a matter of months.
As Seattle Central Design Academy has no immediate plans for the host space, #LOVETHEHILL has an indefinite home. Ornelas and Smith hope their work will continue to inspire a constructive dialog on how we can preserve what long time residents love about the Hill while exploring the potential benefits of expansion. Said Smith, “We’ve gotten mostly positive responses, aside from some tagging. Folks are interested in what other people have to say on our note card portion of the exhibit. There are some things new residents understand and some they just don’t get because they weren’t here before. It’s been fun to watch people share their stories sparked from reminiscences of a favorite spot back in the day or telling their friends about the good times they had at old locations.” Ornelas added, “It is a hot topic that people have opinions on. They seem to have caught on to the synergy of the project, that it’s more timely than reactionary, and people are saying “Thanks for talking about it in the light. I’m sick of talking about it in a negative light,” Smith stated, “People are like “We are still here. We still live here and work here and there is no other place I’d want to be. I appreciate you guys coming with this angle because now I have something to add to this conversation without people being negative.” As for the projects take away, he concluded, “Whether you are coming in to build a new building or coming in on a Friday night. Know where you are. Please approach Capitol Hill with respect and awareness”.