1. An old W3 poster
    November 30, 2012 by Walden3

    I found a copy of this old poster the other day, back when we were beating the drum and trying to get the attention of, and the support from, the individuals in Seattle who possessed the means to really activate a cultural renaissance in Seattle. The idea was, if you look back on any of the great artistic and cultural advances, the golden eras of art and expression, they had, almost without exception, the backing of a few very wealthy individuals. The Medici family sponsored the Italian Renaissance, Peggy Guggenheim and David Rockefeller fueled New York’s post WWII golden age of Abstract Expressionism, Post-Modernism and Pop Art, and more recently collectors and patrons such as Eli Broad and the Rubell Family actively shape and support our fine art landscape through their far reaching patronage of visual art.

    With such a great concentration of wealth in the Pacific Northwest, it was hard not to ask, who among them would fuel a cultural golden age and define for themselves a legacy in arts and culture. Of course one cannot simply throw money into a hole and expect greatness. A map was needed, and Walden Three was that map.


  2. Where did the money come from?
    November 29, 2012 by Walden3

    One of the most commonly asked questions is how much does it cost to operate Walden Three, and where on earth did you get the money? Usually that might be something that I hold close to my chest, be coy about, answer  like a politician would, but I think it’s important. This is a new model after all, and it doesn’t help anyone to keep secrets.

    It is important to know the life cycle of W3 and what our expectations are. With a 10 year lease and a 10 year option, we are positioned to run this project for a decade and evaluate its cultural impact and the realities of our financial projections. Over the course of this decade, our projected operation costs are right around 16 million dollars, with a projected income of 13 million, operating at a net loss of 3 million dollars. As a documentary film designed to capture this decade long experiment, as is with all films in the production stage, the project operates at a loss. Whether it is Transformers 5 or or a small independent feature, all films in production mode operate at a loss until distribution. So we chalk up the 3 million as the actual budget for the film. The big difference between W3 and any other film project is the cultural impact it has during the length of production.  We expect to change Seattle culture (and fortify a global arts and culture community) in a long term, significant way well before the documentary film ever screens. But that’s a different topic. The main point is that we needed 10 million to get the project launched, and we expect the project to lose 3 million over the course of a decade. Not bad for what it delivers.

    It’s an unconventional model – a film/technology/art center hybrid, and there really wasn’t a comparable to show investors. What we did instead, is sold the project as a legacy project, and structured the investment capital in a way that kept our upstart costs and annual operations budget under tight control (held in a trust). This gave everyone the confidence that we would see the ten year mark without mismanaging or overspending in the early years. And it also makes us hustle to meet or exceed our projections. No one was going to hand us a check for that kind of money and just wish us luck – they wanted reassurance that we were going to deliver what we promised. And the way to do that was pace distributions as our outline defined – kind of like putting us on allowance. We have to be responsible and accountable.

    As for what our investors got, there were different things we had to offer, and different terms our investors put forward (which was expected). We started off with naming rights, which gave our investors  much deserved credit, as well as long term, global exposure as supporters of Pacific Northwest arts and culture. We structured it as such:

    Roof top deck/garden naming: 1 million

    Non-commercial gallery naming: 2.5 million

    Commercial gallery naming: 2.5 million

    Art school naming: 2.5 million

    Art bazaar naming: 1 million

    Since Walden 3 is operating at a loss for the first decade of filming, we can work in conjunction with Shunpike and accept these investments through a tandem non-profit structure – the idea being that the film is non-income producing in production, and after production ends, the non-profit shell can fall away like the cocoon of a butterfly. This allowed the financial backers the attractive opportunity to use their investment as a tax deduction. Since the production company is a for-profit LLC, some investors chose to go that route, writing off their losses, as the bulk of the investment is spent in the first three years – renovating the building, buying equipment and launching the project. We learned that investors at this level will tell you exactly how it is going to be done – not the other way around – so we pitched it with a lot of flexibility to meet their specific needs. What we demanded was that we had full control over creative content and the type of programming we (Vital 5 Productions and the staff of W3) programmed – no investor could veto or threaten to pull their contribution based upon our curatorial decisions and content.

    If you do the math so far, naming rights only accounted for 9.5 million – still incredible close to our projected budget, but anyone who has ever created a projected budget knows that they rarely fall the way you expect them. So we offered a stake in the content. This “content” included the footage that composed the feature length documentary film, as well as hundreds of shorted, edited films – educational programing, artist lectures, artist biographies, and all of the magic that is unfolding under the roof of Walden Three. This goldmine of documentation holds an unknown value, as it is impossible to extrapolate the future success of the project, the film and the artists involved. Ultimately, we consulted with a company that specializes in creative content (yes, companies like this exist), and the price was assessed at 2 million.

    So we have 6 capital contributors. And a guarantee of 11.5 million dollars. At the end of the first decade (and the end of our lease), we look at the books and see how far off we were from our original projections. If indeed we hit or exceeded them, we have a bank balance of 8.5 million+, which would bank roll the post-production film costs and the next ten years of the project, meaning  we exercise the 10 year option on the lease and turn W3 into a 20 year + project. This 10 year mark is a critical mark and point of retrospection – not only to gauge the perceived success or failure of the project, but to determine if we have the resources and momentum to carry W3 another ten years. I am the first to acknowledge that I have no idea what the year 2024 will look like – for art, for Seattle, or for the world. But I am also the first to acknowledge that the next decade at Walden Three will be nothing short of extraordinary.


  3. Northern Lights at Walden Three
    November 27, 2012 by Walden3

    A busy day collecting art for the Northern Lights exhibition in the Dearborn Gallery. If you missed the Fife/Webb show, it’s a real bummer you couldn’t see it in person, but you can always take the virtual tour, watch the interviews and development of the exhibition online. Still, it was such an amazing show to view in person. You really must come to Seattle for a visit!

    For those of you who don’t know about the Northern Lights exhibit (I can’t imagine how you haven’t, but I suspect it is possible) I’ll give you an overview. The show is our end of the year celebration, highlighting new works from the 2012 calendar year, representing artists from all over the Pacific Northwest. We have about fifty W3 scouts, from Vancouver to Portland, who are always on the lookout for the most dynamic, original and inspired 2 and 3D works (digital media included), that we would never find by ourselves. That, combined with our W3-NLE app (download here), which turns the whole region into a contemporary art treasure hunt, sends thousands of candidates to be considered for the Northern Lights show. It’s pretty amazing so far, and I think it will make for the party/group exhibition of the year.

    About half of the work has already been sold and is on loan, but the point of this annual December show is not so much profit-based, but to uncover new talent, recognize artists outside of our range, and mine for future talent. The phone app allows for you to submit works you see in a gallery or coffee shop or leaning against the artists studio – all you need to do is enter the artists name, the title of the work and some point of contact. And our scouts are diligent, plucking little treasures from student shows and blue chip galleries alike. I do quite a few studio visits and it’s a common experience to be rather unimpressed with a body of work, but be entirely enchanted by a real gem in the mix. The Northern Lights exhibit will show 221 pieces this year – one from 221 different artists, and most of them I have never seen or heard of before. It’s so exciting to see so much new (or recently revealed) talent.

    The open party should be amazing. Group shows always draw a big crowd and throwing in a film crew, a little holiday spirit, and a few glasses of champagne, really makes for a wild night. The 4 Seasons next door is booked solid, and I hope to make it to one of the after parties over there. Who are you going to bring? What are you going to wear? It’s about time Seattle had something to get excited about!


  4. What a great day at Walden Three!
    November 26, 2012 by Walden3

    Doris at Walden 3


    Today is the day after Thanksgiving. I felt like a boa constrictor this morning, like I had swallowed a small goat or a golden retriever in one bite, and was going to live off it for the rest of the month. I had no appetite and even a slip of water would have certainly just leaked out of my mouth. My 14 year old cousin (or second cousin – whatever your cousin’s kids are called) was visiting from Ohio (long story) and she was just dying to check out Walden Three. I wasn’t so shocked that she watched the videos we’ve posted or kept up with the exhibits we were mounting, but from her report over dinner last night, a lot of the kids in her high school were paying attention to Walden Three – talking about the artists like they were household names, and thinking Seattle was some sort of new promise land for art. What about New York I said, and she just shrugged and replied, “New York is so been there done that. Blah.” Huh. Well, she was only 14, but it was curiously strange to hear her reports about what was happening in my town. I’m not sure how much of it was a sincere interest in art, and how much of it was the sprinkle of celebrity (which, come to think about it, has picked up over the last few months), and how much of it is the spectacle of parties, and arbitrary art grants and that out-of- control McMullen project that ended up catapulting a Honda into Elliot Bay, but she was a believer and I, as her cousin(?), as a Seattle artist, was bound to take her there.

    We arrived just before noon and found the place to be pretty buzzing with the escapees of other family functions and a weird collection of misfit teenagers, fashion people, and lots of tourists milling about. Doris was brimming when she saw the big yellow signs announcing that filming was in progress and to step onto the set of Walden Three you were giving your consent, etc… and almost hyperventilated pulling out the permission slip her mom had signed. We checked in and I started to head towards the Denny Stairs to see what the class was today. Twenty step later I realized Doris was not in tow, and I headed back to the reception area. I’m getting fixed up. Doris was seated in an old barber chair with three stylists from Vain already inspecting her head to toe. Are you sure? Yes. Okay, I’ll be on the stairs over there, come find me when you are done? Sure thing!

    I wasn’t entirely sold on the stylist stations, but they did prove to be very popular, and did make the crowd more interesting. The idea, initially, was that people in Seattle, as a whole, did not know how to dress, or give fashion much attention in any regard. And that if Walden Three was going to film and export the art and image of Seattle, we had to help the visitors, we had to make them more interesting, and craft a better image of fashion in Seattle. Was it manipulation? Sure it was. Propaganda? Yes. Smoke and mirrors? Definitely. But marketing artists and cities and renaissances is not an unfiltered business. It is the job of Walden Three to present the Pacific Northwest and it’s residents in the most compelling, interesting way, and if we can veto a flannel shirt here and a North Face jacket here, I’m all for it. When viewing W3 as a film set, it did kinda make sense to have hair and makeup and costumes to “dress” the “extras” that visit the set. Vain and Gene Juarez and a healthy dose of art students volunteered their time, and there was always a mountain of used clothing and wigs and accessories, and enough fashion talent on hand to keep the experiment from entirely derailing. So those kids you see with torch-burnt cut-off overalls and magenta eyeliner didn’t all arrive that way. The W3 stylist station transformed them right at the entrance.

    Jed Dunkerley was just starting a lecture called “I could have made that” which followed the careers of a lot of twentieth century artists that seemingly lacked any real talent, but did change the way we viewed art through simply being the first to do something – to lay claim to a new idea or new way of looking at art. It was a lot more interesting than I can describe (hey watch the video if you have the time) and the huge projection screen flipped through example after example in tempo with Jed’s well played argument. It was well worth my buck (I suspect they charge a dollar to keep the riff-raff out?) and gave me a new appreciation for Jeff Koons and Cristo – not so much for Damien Hirst…

    I came looking for Doris and could only see her sneakers under a dressing room cover. You all right in there? Yup! You wanna come out and see the exhibit upstairs? In a minute, almost done – you go up and I’ll find you! I gave the look of a concerned parent, and one of the girls helping her gave me a reassuring glace. I shrugged and marched off to the Mercer Gallery.

    As excellent of a show as it is, I’d seen the Scott Fife/Dan  Webb show in the Dearborn Gallery a dozen times and really wanted to check out Emilio Caliente’s new show on the top floor. Caliente is a 16 year old from Wenatchee and I don’t know how he popped up on the W3 radar. One of the floor managers once said, it’s like putting a streetlamp in the forest – it’s naturally going to attract all sorts of things. I got the feeling there was no shortage of proposals coming in, and Caliente just happened to make the cut. I saw the title of the show ‘String Theory’ right as Doris tugged on my hand. Oh shit! Is that a wig or did they really dye your hair silver? Her brow stiffens and her lips tighten, but she is too excited to be angry. My 14 year old cousin does not look at all like my 14 year old cousin, she looks like… she is about to shoot a music video for Japanese pop band, or maybe a character from Alice in Wonderland… I remember that she isn’t my kid, and her mom did sign the permission slip, so just nod and tell her she looks very chic. I wasn’t a lying.

    Caliente’s installation consisted of what looked like an intricate pattern of colored string – hundreds of feet of it – weaving and overlapping through the gallery, all parallel to the floor and strung tight in a maze of straight-lined vectors. It reminded me a little bit line 70’s yarn art, or lasers bouncing off mirrors – each color starting at an eye bolt anchored to the wall and shooting off into the space, overlapping, crossing over, running tandem, and shooting across the room like a colorful spiders web (minus the symmetry). To the right, as we both walked in, was what we believed to be the beginning of the show, with names penciled onto the white wall in the same color as the string. Doris and I decided to follow different people – she choice “Tara Moore” and I picked Ernest Heckenbock. About every ten feet was a flashcard clipped to the string with a short paragraph describing something about Mr. Heckenbock (what was quickly revealed as a fictional character). Mr. Heckenbock was a big alcoholic, and loved to drink Evan Williams whiskey. And below the card were three empty bottles of Evan Williams. Ten feet later another card read “after spending two hours looking for his car keys, Ernest drove drunk through town, trying to remember where the Taco Bell was.” And then I spot Doris, and our lines are close to crossing over one another. “Ernest says hello to Tara who is working the register, and orders 7 beef burritos.” Doris says hi, and we cross over each other, she following the story of Tara Moore, and me following the drunken day of Ernest Heckenbock as he drinks and crashes and pukes and meets old friends, with props and crossing strings and note cards leading me on a zig-zag journey through the gallery. But I’m telling too much! You really should check out the show yourself. This 16 year old is pretty brilliant.

    Doris and I spend an hour following the different characters in String Theory, and awkwardly say hi to the other visitors we pass following other strings. When we started walking back down to the main floor, I asked her if she asked for an autograph and she looked at me entirely puzzled. Who’s autograph? That guy you were  talking to, who was reading Vera Morellis’s storyline. That old guy? We where just playing along with the story… Who was he? That’s funny! I thought for sure you were  asking for his autograph. WHO WAS HE!!! That was Steve Martin. Huh. She shrugs. Never heard of him.

    We ended up going down to the artist bazaar so she could pick up Walden Three t-shirt for her and her friends and ended up buying a bracket and a little painting of a cat throwing rocks at windows. I bought a nice Shaun Kardinal piece – a vintage photo of the moon with string threaded through it in a geometric pattern. I’ve always liked his work, and it left me with a memory of the show upstairs.

    In the end, it was a great day and Doris  was thrilled by it all. I was a bit worried what her mother would say when we got home, but she just couldn’t stop laughing, so I guess all is well.


  5. One of the things I love about W3 – The Denny Stairs
    November 20, 2012 by Walden3

    The Denny Stairs are not a thousand concrete steps that runners climb up and down to the beach and back for a really great cardiovascular workout. There are only 19 of them and they exist inside Walden Three, between the first avenue ground floor and the artists bazaar one level down. It is a broad wooden staircase, 18 feet across, with painted stripes and numbers on the treads like a high school basketball court. What I love about these stairs is not their stripes or width or the design of the handrails (though they are a nice industrial touch), but the different functions the stairs employ.  It is an inviting, easy access to the artists bazaar, bringing light and bodies into the 3,500 square feet of artists booths. We get a lot of foot traffic from the neighboring Pike Place Market, the Seattle Art Museum, and local and tourists alike that are looking for something well outside the conventions and watered-down wears of other tourist-oriented markets. I’m really quite impressed with the quality of the artwork on display – paintings, small sculpture, handmade clothing, jewelry, small press books and local zines, photography, smart industrial design products and of course a fair amount of Walden Three merchandise. And more often than not there is a DJ spinning what they sell – another cool idea, as I’ve walked away with more than one record wandering through the booths talking to friends and seeing what is new.

    But back to the Denny Stairs. Back to the lines painted on the heavily varnished treads. The staircase is also the seating for the Denny Art School, and those lines indicate seating and aisles to make sure shoppers can still pass by and access the bazaar. The stairs can seat 150 people, and face the “students” towards the raised platform, podium and 18′ x 18′ projection screen used for presentations, lectures and, in the evenings, to showcase other digital media. The Denny Art School hosts at least two lectures a day, one over the lunch hour so office workers can eat their lunch and learn about art history, what regional artists are working on, and a host of other interesting topics. And there is always a “happy hour” class at 6:00, for catching the downtown crowd before they head home (granted a lot of them end up in the bar after class). There are two full time art educators employed at W3, and when they aren’t presenting their own lectures, they are curating other discussions from leading artists, thinkers and creative types – all of which are filmed and live-streamed over the Walden Three website. The two W3 educators also program studio art classes on the main floor, but these stairs are exciting – as classroom seating, as the portal to the bazaar, as a way to inform and educate not only the people of Seattle, but to provide a free online educational content on a global platform – it’s space well used. Oh, did I say that classes cost a dollar? Classes cost a buck. Not a bad deal at all…