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Liberty Bank Building artwork will honor history of the Central District

The community-led development will feature community-produced art

Courtesy of Capitol Hill Housing

The community-led development at the former site of the Liberty Bank Building is getting closer to breaking ground—and the art that will adorn the building is starting to come to life.

The project is going for “a new standard of development in the Central District.” The community-led development in the historically-black neighborhood is a collaboration between Africatown, the Black Community Impact Alliance, Capitol Hill Housing, and Centerstone.

When it’s finished, the project will have 115 income-restricted affordable units, plus affordable space for small businesses. Typical one-bedrooms will rent for between $504 and $1,008.

A memorandum of understanding codifies several measures to fight black displacement in the Central District by securing long-term African-American ownership, developing and supporting black-owned businesses, prioritizing local and minority subcontractors, and “reaffirm[ing] the Central District as a hub of the pan-African community.”

That applies to the look and feel of the space, too—and the art and design inside the building is also coming straight from the community. Several works of art, including hand-painted murals, mixed-media collage, bronze sculpture, and concrete and tile works, will adorn the building inside and out.

Project co-curator Al Doggett, who is also producing art for the building, spoke with Curbed Seattle over the phone.

Doggett created one of the more finished designs that will eventually grace a wall along the courtyard of the building: a hand-painted piece showcasing both the community’s cultural heritage and an “ancestral connection to Africa.”

Courtesy of Capitol Hill Housing

Liberty Bank, which operated on the site from 1968 through 1988, is itself a huge part of Seattle’s black heritage and the Central District. “I had a chance to see it functioning and see how it did help out businesses of loans and things like that,” said Doggett. “A few of the artists are assigned to give some history of the bank itself and how it played a role in the community.”

One artist will be doing a series of portraits of the bank’s nine founders. “Not straight photographic images,” said Doggett, but work “with various symbols of who they were and the bank itself.”

Both the art and architecture will nod to Liberty Bank and its role in the community, including the use of Liberty Bank’s logo and use of some of the old building’s honey-colored bricks.

“[Architects] kept some of the key aspects, like the vault door, and that’s going to be part of the art feature,” Doggett explained. “That’s going to be part of the interior. There’s going to be four pieces of artwork [alongside the vault], again, tying into the bank itself and the history of the bank.”

Doggett said the artistic works will show “a combination of bank-related history and African-American community history.”

A piece Doggett is working on for the interior of the building is “really focused on the history of the Central District community, using components telling the local story of businesses that existed in the area. Some of the key organizations, community groups, things that existed within the Central District.”

“It’s a composition that again I’m showing an ancestral connection to Africa, but a lot of that particular piece is going to be highlighting various aspects of the Central District, whether it’s people, businesses, things that existed that pulled the community together,” Doggett told us.

He specifically nodded to a few community staples he’ll be showcasing in his design, including former radio station KYAC, the theater Black Arts/West, and some local churches.

Several art installations will tell stories about the Central District, too. Doggett said a piece by one artist who is also a poet and creative writing instructor will combine visual art installation with writing on brass plates mounted inside and outside the building.

Four other pieces will be created by Doggett’s co-curator, artist Esther Ervin.

All of the artists involved are black—and most, if not all, have some connection to the neighborhood.

“The amazing thing is that developers are listening to the community groups and reaching out to get their take on it,” said Doggett of the process.

Part of the artistic process has been staying involved with the community. The latest works-in-progress will be shown at an open house on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Centerstone.

Some pieces will be farther along than others at the open house, but attendees should still be able to get a general sense of the vision.

Art concepts will be printed and displayed, so the open house will be as much like an art show as possible.

“I thought let’s make this a little more special,” said Doggett. “People can come in, get a sense of the images that artists are working on.”

The project officially breaks ground on June 19—Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The building is expected to start accepting tenants a year later, in June 2018.

This article has been updated since its original publication to clarify some points of the interview.