1. The Importance of a Lobster Telephone: Notes on The NW Surrealists Show at Dearborn Gallery
    December 5, 2012 by Walden3

    Leiv Fagereng “Time Out” 2009

    Programming this month at W3 has made for an inspiring nod to the powers of surrealist vision in contemporary thought. First, it is undeniable that the Pacific Northwest, for whatever reason, has become home to a disproportionately high concentration of surrealist artists. This is something I had seen sporadically through the art scene in the last couple of decades- from Vital 5’s “Sixpack” show in 2002 to Jason Puccinelli’s “Dazzle Camouflage” performance (for lack of a better word) at ConWorks in 2003, to Jeremy Mangan’s show recently at Linda Hodges and Kirsten Anderson’s vivd programming at Roq LaRue over the last 15 years. Maybe it’s the many months of inward-looking weather or the unlikely rockscapes of the Cascades, but the extended body of work gives testimony to a liberal embrace of the absurd and the impossible in the creative culture here.
    So, currently on display at the Dearborn Gallery are paintings and sculptures from 26 Northwest artists. Mangan’s photoreal paintings of canyons throwing parties, Leiv Fagereng’s immaculate landscapes filled with airborne pharmaceuticals, and Rich Lehl’s ectoplasm-conjuring professors are dazzling works as flawless in technique as they are absurd in concept. I witnessed so many instances of people leaving the gallery with bemused smirks on their faces, like they had just had some sort of whimsical catharsis, and there was one well-put-together man in an expensive suit who literally doubled over with laughter in front of a painting of an apparent fight between two unmanned Caterpillar construction machines. The notion of a gallery experience that could be so readily measured by the facial expressions and emotional outbursts of its patrons is something I’m more than a little bit proud of.
    But then there’s the DIY Surrealist sculpture workshop I sat in on, where Erin Shafkind had a throng of local middle school students making things in the corner of the gallery that answered the question “Why isn’t there a….?” A line of pedestals were topped with ice cream airplanes and crab shoes, and a wall bore sketches of an umbrella made out of battery-powered fans and a some sort of collapsible suitcase car. “It’s like a patent office in Neverland,” she said, while showing a young woman how to use a hot-glue gun to join what looked like an industrial slinky to a Frisbee.
    And I was fortunate to catch John Boylan’s lecture on the Denny stairs about the connection between figureheads of innovation like Nikolai Tesla and Steve Jobs and their art collections, which were all filled with works by artists like Rene Magritte and Dorothea Tanning.
    Can pushing the boundaries of creative thought in the painting studio inspire inventors, architects, and technologists to expand our limits of the possible? Maybe it was the strength of Boylan’s well-crafted parallels, but I left feeling like the world could use a few more lobster telephones out there…and from the looks of it, there’s plenty of evidence that there will be.

    “The imaginary is what tends to become real” – Andre Breton


  2. 10 years of Arbitrary Art Grants
    December 2, 2012 by Walden3


    Winner of the Arbitrary Art Grant for Performance Art – Garrett Hobba

    One of the most important aspects of Walden 3, and preconditions of a healthy cultural community is the pursuit of inclusiveness. There are way too many people in the world that believe that art is for the rich, for the young, for people who study it, or wear odd clothing, or live in the city. Sure that may sound funny to you, but it is true. Over the years I’ve heard all sorts of excuses why people don’t go to galleries or museums or paint or try and make something of their own.

    “I’m too old.”

    “I don’t know how.”

    “I have kids.”

    The list goes on and on, and all of these excuses I find absurd and shocking. Art is nothing more than a way to communicate to strangers and process our own ideas about the world. I say that all people are artists and some people roll their eyes. And I view that as either snobbery or insecurity – or both, it’s hard to tell. But I truly believe that anyone with a voice, anyone that can hold onto a pen or imagine or feel anything is an artist of some degree. Sure you may not be able to paint like Caravaggio or sing like Aretha Franklin, but that does not mean you don’t have a heart or an opinion or a desire to be understood. The success of contemporary art (on a level Thoreau would call ‘the mass of men’) depends on art being inclusive, accessible and, to some degree, pleasurable.

    Founded in 2000 by Vital 5 Productions, Arbitrary Art Grants were designed to fortify the arts community, reinforce the ideology that all people are artists, and serve as catalysts to create large-scale group projects and performances. The grants stand as testaments that $500.00 can inspire a community to participate and create art without judgment or competition.

    When drafting the budget for Walden Three, there was a little bit of resistance to include Arbitrary Art Grants in the budget. Sure they were only $500.00 a pop, but the plan called for one a month for the next ten years. 120 total. $60,000.00 thrown right out the window. But it was a line item I fought for. It was advertising. It was public outreach. It was fun. And 60k really didn’t seem like a lot of money in the big picture.

    But what exactly is an Arbitrary Art Grant? At W3, we announce the grant on the first of the month and disperse $500.00 cash to the “winning” artist on the last Friday of that same month. Over and over again, for 10 years. The above picture was an Arbitrary Art Grant in Performance Art. We gave $500.00 to one person actively protesting performance art in front of On the Boards – Seattle’s incredible and acclaimed institution that hosts the regions best performance art. Fifty or so people showed up carrying signs and bullhorns protesting and waving their signs and chanting slogans about how bad performance art was – all in front of the opening of a new performance art festival. I was two blocks away staring through a telescope that had earlier in the day been locked down on one particular dot against the buildings facade. And the idea was, whomever was standing in the sights of my telescope at 7:00 pm, would be declared the winner.

    For the next decade, we will be handing out $500.00 on the last Friday of the month to someone participating in dance or music, sculpture or architecture or photography or singing or any number of things. We conceive very strange and creative tasks and challenges (one sculpture grant required artists to build a sculpture inside a shopping cart, using items only pulled from the grocery store it was in) and find very odd ways to pick a winner (guns and leaf blowers and ping pong ball river races come to mind). And sure, some people might call them stupid or unfair or giving arts money to the wrong people, but I entirely disagree. We have never given a dollar to someone that didn’t deserve it, and the simple magic of seeing, or participating in an Arbitrary Art Grant is the best proof that the money is not wasted. $60,000.00 seems like a very small price to pay to inspire a city for a decade.

    An entry for the Arbitrary Art Grant in Sculpture, by Sage Viniconis

  3. One of the things I love about W3 – The Dial
    December 1, 2012 by Walden3

    It is a rainy Friday afternoon and my sights are already set on the big red steam whistle that perches on the door frame of my office. When the clock strikes 5:00 that whistle blows and I slide down the banister like Fred Flintstone, grabbing my lunch pail and jacket and head out the door at a brisk pace.

    It is Friday afternoons like this that your mind drifts a little bit away from art and work, and turns, (just a tad) towards fun and play. And I thought it would be a good time to talk about The Dial – the basement night club at Walden Three.

    Hour for hour, I probably spend just as much time in the exhibition spaces as I do in The Dial, but I should defend my character, and drinking habits, just a bit, as The Dial serves W3 in more ways than parching the thirsts of its guests. Sure we have an entire floor dedicated to production offices and staff meetings, but more work gets done over a beer (or two) than I should probably admit. In nice weather they roll away the whole west wall of the bar that opens out to post alley and the space fills with the smell of fresh air and saltwater. In the winter it is a dark warm enclave that offers a bit more peace than other parts of the building. The room is so flexible that it can serve food, host meetings or turn into a dance party with the turn of a dial(well, there is no real dial, but I’ve seen it turn over pretty quick). Bars often get a bad wrap, but if The Dial wasn’t here, half the guests and all the artists would just be across the street hanging out at the Diller or the Four Seasons bar.

    During the renovation, it was very rightly decided to install as large of an elevator as we possibly could. The main reason was to be able to load in and out large sculpture and installation pieces for the upstairs galleries, but it turned out to have a lot of other really cool functions. Sure it can move 20 people from one floor to the next, that’s to be expected with such a large elevator, but there is so much performance happening in there, mini-installations, tarot readings, DJs, poets – people drag couches in there and just hang out… But The Dial has employed that giant elevator to the very best of purposes. During openings, after-parties and other well attended events, they wheel a bar into the elevator. And leave it there. One time they set up a tequila bar in there and rode it up to the Mercer Gallery. Another time they spooned warm Sangria into wooden bowls and had a record player spinning old Herb Albert vinyl. It’s a pretty novel idea to bring the bar to the party, or just create a party in the 180 square foot space, picking up and dropping off guests on various levels.

    The Dial takes it’s name from an old literary magazine that Emerson and Thoreau used to contribute to (and many other important artists over the years) and though few people appear to pick up the reference, it seems to be where all the visiting writers and critics convene to meet, write, debate, flirt, and not terribly surprising, get loaded. Just last week Christopher Knight and Roberta Smith challenged each other to an arm wrestling match. I won’t say who won, but Roberta is a heck of a lot stronger than she looks. And it’s refreshing to have art critics and writers descend on Seattle. I think they feel a bit like gold prospectors – like they discovered Seattle artists, and that’s just fine with me. Just as long as they keep coming in, reviewing the exhibitions, writing about what Seattle artists are doing and piping in their two cents about what Walden 3 is. But the next time you read a review in the New York Times or Art in America or the Wall Street Journal, just remember that it most likely wasn’t written entirely sober…

    Have a great weekend! I’m cutting out a few minutes early. It’s happy hour at The Dial and I can’t wait to see who is lurking around there tonight.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.