The dingy former office building at 710 Cherry St. underneath Interstate 5 is decorated by graffiti-style street art with an occasional sleeping bag lining the shaded entrance. Just a few weeks ago, all the carpet and most usable pieces of furniture were taken out, leaving only bare walls and windows partially covered by the graffiti outside. Today, artists are hard at work installing projectors or artwork or modifying their space into something they can work with.
“I want to lay down my roots in Seattle,” said Seattle artist Cleo Barnett, standing inside the abandoned building. Barnett, Facing Homelessness and LoveCityLove, an organization dedicated to using abandoned buildings set for demolition as art spaces, plan to turn the desolate office space and its surrounding lot into a collaborative performance space titled “nowHERE” Aug. 23 from noon to 9 p.m.
LoveCityLove found the Cherry Street building. Since 2011, LoveCityLove has hosted myriad arts events focused on community healing and social justice issues. Last year, for example, they hosted “Untitled Woman,” a collaborative display of work meant to combat commodification of female bodies in mainstream photography.
Members Jessica Carter and Lucien Pellegrin will co-curate “nowHERE” with Barnett, while the LoveCityLove Music Collective will play from 6 to 9 p.m.
The artists hope to transform this space into a place of sustenance without any modicum of destruction, to show that even places many call “nowhere” require attention and community action — not remodeling — to be made beautiful. Through “nowHERE,” organizers are pushing for a communally created world of equals speaking across class lines.
“NowHERE” will feature portraits, live music and other art focusing on interactivity. Barnett is excited about one exhibit arranged by Facing Homelessness, a nonprofit organization committed to building a new awareness about our relationship to homelessness (“About Face,” RC, May 27). Volunteers will be making hand-painted cardboard signs with the message: “Just Say Hello.” “NowHERE” will display them at the building and later all across Seattle. An accompanying video is in the works, which they will release afterward.
Originally from Ballard, Barnett has spent the last eight years living in New Zealand, where she attended Auckland University.
“I was getting my degree in politics and international business,” said Barnett, “and I was focusing on refugees, migrants, homeless people and human trafficking. It got me super depressed because it seemed there was no way out. It just seemed like the world was doomed.”
Barnett dropped out of school and started placemaking, which is a people-centered approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces, in New Zealand.
“It’s my way of empowering and providing platforms for young people to have a voice and work together on solutions to issues,” she said.
After returning to Auckland University to finish her degree, Barnett decided to look at life and her work through a different lens.
“I realized that public art for social good, socially conscious art, is an amazing way to tackle some really serious, heavy issues in a lighter, more beautiful way,” she said. “Ultimately, I want to make the world a more beautiful, peaceful place.”
Encouraging interaction between people of varied socioeconomic classes is at the heart of “nowHERE.” As an interactive social art exhibition, its primary mission is to get people from different backgrounds to communicate through workshops, discussions and live music. To Barnett, this is not an unachievable goal or an impossible ideal. “We’re creating a space for dialogue,” she said.