Editor’s note: our art critic, Susan Platt is recovering from surgery and we are grateful to Esther Ervin for contributing this month.
This quote from a local, celebrated Black artist who grew up in Auburn, Washington captures the force and feeling that brought the Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery into being:
“Racism—it was waiting for me as I left my mother’s womb. It is institutional. It is built into society. The traditional values and beliefs of people of color hold the universal consciousness of mankind. We have racism because this consciousness has been silenced. Art can make this consciousness heard by creating an equitable reality where cultural diversity flourishes. Cultural diversity needs to be nurtured and valued.”
~Marita Dingus, 1992
To help advance the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), the Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery (EHAG) was established by the City of Seattle Employee Affinity Groups to showcase established and emerging artists of color from four ethnic and cultural communities. By providing a location to show ethnic artwork on a rotating schedule, they help recognize the contributions and cultural arts of the greater Seattle community.
The Employee Affinity Groups began by approaching Deborah Paine, (now retired) then Curator and Collections Manager for the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, (Office of Arts & Culture’s name at that time,) in 2008 to forge an alliance, and establish and maintain gallery space on Level 3 and in the 6th floor lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower (SMT.) This agreement also called for regular assessments to assure quality and professionalism in the management of the gallery space. The management of SMT was also a party to the agreement.
The arrangement was solidified in a written proposal to the General Manager of the Seattle Municipal Tower in January of 2009, requesting the specific areas to be used. Those submitting the proposal were representatives of the City of Seattle Employee Affinity Groups: Preston Hampton of the City Light Black Employees Association and the Citywide Black Caucus, Pamela Masterman of the Native American Civic Employees, Patricia Lopez, President of the Latino City Employees and Brenda M. Sevilla of the Filipino-American Civic Employees of Seattle.
Deborah Paine, also communicated with the General Manager, offering her support as a consultant for exhibition planning and installation. These combined actions established a home for the Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery on Level 3 of the Seattle Municipal Tower, where EHAG has run continuous quarterly exhibitions since January of 2009.
The operational rules of EHAG and it’s board are outlined in the EHAG Charter of 2014, which defines the roles of the Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery and of Arts & Culture with respect to gallery publicity, installation, de-installation and other management duties. The main goals of this Coalition are to:
Build and strengthen relationships between ethnic communities and the City of Seattle
Foster pride and appreciation for diverse cultures within the workplace and the community at large
Showcase and support local artists of color
Nurture appreciation for the cultural diversity of art
The current exhibit at the EHAG is A Persian Spectra, an exhibition of oil and acrylic paintings by Nasrin Afrouz. The artist was born in Tehran, Iran where she graduated from the University of Tehran with a bachelor’s degree in fine art in 1987. She also completed a thesis in Persian Mythology entitled Mehr Means Love, about the Persian God Mithra. She moved to Seattle in 1994 and studied English at the local Community College. In 1997, she earned a certificate in Visual Communication Technology in the field of Graphic Design and Electronic Prepress.
While still a student during the Iran-Iraq war, Nasrin traveled and witnessed the devastation in the war-torn cities. As a woman, she was not permitted to go to the front lines of war. However, she was touched by the pain and suffering inflicted upon her countrywomen, and was especially influenced by the ceremonies and rituals performed for the dead. This motivated her to study these rituals along with the ancient mythology and rituals of Iran, which culminated in the writing of her thesis Mehr Means Love.
The EHAG is located on the Third Floor Arcade level of the Seattle Municipal Tower. The current Curator and Collections Manager is Blake Haygood. For more information, email: EthnicArtGallery@seattle.gov.
The EHAG follows a quarterly schedule: Jan–Apr is the Black Heritage Exhibit, Apr–Jul is the Asian Pacific Heritage Exhibit, Jul–Oct is the Latino Heritage Exhibit and Oct–Jan is the Native American Heritage Exhibit.
The Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery
Jan 16–Apr 15, 2019; Mon–Fri, 7am–7pm
Third Floor Arcade Level, Seattle Municipal Tower
700 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104
Credit for this article is due to Bradley Wilburn and Preston Hampton, who have generously provided the source material.