April 2018

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Art in the Seattle Times

Thursday I visited Seattle City Hall’s first floor gallery to see about fifty works of art by people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  The show’s opening of “The Art of Alzheimer's: The Artist Within” was so popular that it was sometimes difficult for me, walking with my cane, to move safely to each work, but I managed, and it was worth the effort. The art attests to brilliance that expresses itself more effectively in images than in words, the vision that people with Alzheimer’s have to share, and the role of art in building community by allowing us to understand one another in new ways.

Did today’s Seattle Times NWArts&Life section run a review of this exhibit? No. Instead, the section ran on its front page a column called “The List” in which Seattle Times staff stereotyped people who bug them on the bus: The Yakker, The Bus Hiker, and The Pothead. Because journalists at their best help us to understand peoples’ stories we might otherwise misunderstand, I was shocked by the shallowness and laziness of this “story.” The list’s assumptions about people, the article’s implication that there wasn’t worthwhile art to write about, and the editor’s apparent belief that such a story deserved a front page spot offended me.

I ride the bus multiple times a day and offer these three categories to The Seattle Times staff categories: 

The Giver
In December on the #43, a man who wore the worn jeans and rugged beard of someone who was homeless got on the bus and said to a man who looked like he might have immigrated from Africa: “I love that coat! It looks so warm!” The rider, in his long black coat with a faux fur-lined hood, said, “You can have it. Where are you getting off?” And the man who had initiated the conversation replied, “Are you serious? Thanks so much, man! I’ll get off wherever you. I sleep in my van, and it was cold last night. That coat will really help.”

The Driver
In the fall, on the #48, three teenage sisters from Ethiopia gathered around the bus driver to ask how to get home. Their English wasn’t strong, and this was their first day out on their own, but their father had written the address (and the home phone number) on a piece of paper for them. After another rider called the father and figured out that he had left off the “NE” part of the address, the driver pulled over, motioned for them to cross the street, and tried to communicate how they would get home. Because I sit in the front seat for people with disabilities, I often witness how helpful and patient drivers generally are with people who are confused or lost.

The Social Network
A few years ago, a woman boarded the #3 near Harborview Hospital one evening, distraught because she was suicidal and the psychiatric unit had released her. Other riders listened to her story and told her about resources that she could access. As we rode the bus, she called and got a bed in a place accessible by bus. The community also told her how to get there.

I hope in the future the Arts&Life writers will share the stories behind their stereotypes and will work harder to report on meaningful stories from Seattle’s art community.

I have written a shorter version of this letter to them. I wonder if they’ll read it.

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