Arts at Yesler
In August 2015, the Seattle Housing Authority was granted a unique opportunity, with support from the Kresge Foundation, to infuse an unprecedented roster of arts and culture strategies into the Yesler Terrace redevelopment process. Artists developed community programs to mark moments of transition and acknowledged the histories and experiences of residents through storytelling, dance, photography, and other art making.
Public art artists made investments through arts programming and temporary installations while developing permanent sculptures that give visual form to the interests and hopes of the community. Residents were trained in sewing skills, which seeded small business dreams, and gave back to the community through Pop Up Sewing events, some of the most well attended programs at Yesler. Youth presented their own visions of place through collaborative documentary and film.
In sum, the arts programs have been an essential driver in helping shape the social and physical qualities of Yesler Terrace. Artists, along with residents, have developed new forms of community bonding and action, made permanent contributions to the landscape of Yesler, and experimented with multiple methods for presenting stories and envisioning the neighborhood’s future.
Artists and art programs were also instrumental in lifting up the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing to the neighborhood new initiatives such as a community newspaper, courtyard listening sessions, and cultural care packages coordinated with emergency food delivery systems. The sum of activities represents an approach to neighborhood and community development championed by SHA and a strong belief in resident voice and creative problem solving as a transformative force in housing development.