The conversations are off for the summer

Hello Everyone,

Attentive readers of these conversation announcements may have noticed a shortage of them over the past couple of months. This has been a tired season for conversations, I’m afraid. Now, as we always do, we’re calling it quits for the summer. Go outside and stay there as much as you can!

It will be a good time for the conversations to regroup, and we’re planning an exceptionally fascinating topic for September, with more to come.

Meanwhile, I’m consumed with work on the Big Project many of you have already heard about, 9e2. We’ll be staging 9 evenings (and days) of art, science, and technology, running from October 21 through 29. The event will commemorate a half century since “9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering” was held in New York City, while at the same time exploring, investigating, and celebrating the interplay between art, science, and technology in the 21st century.

We’ll have performances, installations, exhibit, conversations, working with neuroscience, big data, biotech, ecology, virtual and augmented reality, and more. The whole thing is on track to be one of the most amazing events of the year.

You can learn more at If you want to get updates, subscribe to the 9e2 blog (and be sure to add your email in the box at the bottom of the site home page.) I won’t be sending out any updates to this list, which is mostly just for the conversations. And if you want to support the project or otherwise get involved, feel free to get in touch with me directly. I would love to hear from you.

Hoping you have a wonderful summer.




Next Conversation: “The Art of Politics”

Event Date: Tuesday, March 22, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

The Summary

This time we’re talking about art and electoral politics. Read on for more information.

The Guests (see bios below)

Laura Dean, designer, activist

Pamela Keeley, artist, activist

And we’re working on getting at least one more guest

The Story

We’re back! After our little writer’s block hiatus, we’re ready to have a conversation. This time, we’re looking at the art of politics, and more specifically, the roles that artists and culture workers play in electoral politics.

We have two excellent guests, artist and activist Pam Keeley and designer and activist Laura Dean. We’re looking for at least one more guest.

We’ll talk about electoral politics and about art, and the intersections between the two. In an electoral year that has seen both stunning beauty and vicious brutality, what do artists and other cultural workers bring to everyday politics? Can art and artists change the discourse? Is there something about artistic thinking that can change the ways in which politics happens? Or not?

So much about the political action that we know so well, action around specific issues and causes, lives on the energy of art: street theater, stunning graphics, giant puppets, and more. It’s political action relying on the power of surprise and imagination. But what about electoral politics? Is it doomed to remain a prosaic matter of polls, phone banks, and stump speeches?

Fascism and its offshoots tend to rely on a twisted form of art, a nasty sort of imagination: a theater of brutality, graphics designed to portray raw power, a poetry of death. What is the art of everyday democracy?

Come and talk about it.

A Note about something else that is coming up: Longtime Seattle writer and activist Philip Wohlstetter is putting together a project for May 2017 called “Red May.” (Readers of these announcements may recall that Philip and I created a conversation called “Looking Backward and Looking Forward” in 2009, pulling together a number of younger and older cultural and political activists.)
At one level, Philip’s Red May will bring together a number of activities built around the color red. At the same time, it will look into many facets of the work we do, from dance and theater to physical labor and union organizing.

On April 3, I’m facilitating the first of a series of Red May discussions at INCA Institute on Lower Queen Anne.
Scroll to the bottom of this message to get the details.



The Guests in Detail

Laura Dean studied psychology in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she worked and volunteered with at-risk youth. In 2001, she moved to Seattle to explore how her creative interests could be used to cultivate positive social change. While a security guard at SAM and the Frye, she taught herself animation and web design and then moved to San Francisco to pursue a MA in interaction design. In 2008, she organized a rural county in Wisconsin for Obama before returning to Seattle. Since then she’s worked as an animator, illustrator, hack coder and most predominantly a User Experience Designer, on multiple projects with creative agencies and start-ups, while volunteering for progressive causes on the side. Currently she’s a Director of User Experience with MyGrove, a small start-up based out of Brooklyn and a volunteer organizer with the Bernie campaign. For her, it’s not about winning one election; it‘s about changing the trajectory of US politics.


Pam Keeley writes:

I was born an artist and have been a political activist and nurse for the past forty four years. My political activism began with the campaign of JFK and grew to include multiple civil rights movements of the era. In 1972 I founded the first gay liberation group in Springfield, Illinois and have continued LGBTQ  and other political activities through the decades since. In 1975 I was a founding member of Colorado First Feminist Credit Union (the first such institution in the United States), created specifically to give economic power to women. Being a nurse has only deepened my inclinations to champion the socially wounded.

Locally I’ve been involved with organized labor (shop delegate and executive board member for SEIU 1199) and worked for candidates in numerous political campaigns, including President Obama (national delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention), WA 37th LD Senator Pramila Jayapal, Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant, and Senator Bernie Sanders’ current presidential campaign.

The creative bandwidth of art often provides a unique vehicle for my political concerns – from content in individual works to projects organized with other artists. My collaborative efforts include guerrilla billboards in support of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the late 80’s and early 90’s, installations for women’s rights, and, more recently, a collectively-created mural on the UW Tacoma campus, commemorating the Occupy movement and Wisconsin uprising of 2011. In 2008 I organized a large Artists for Obama fundraiser in Seattle (one-of-a-kind hand-painted t-shirts and other objects) and currently coordinate another group, Artists for Sawant, which has 158 members.



Finally, Philip Wohlstetter’s Red May discussion

Next Red May Open House will take place April 3rd, 4:30-6:30 PM at INCA Institute, 2 West Roy St. on Queen Anne (one block over from On the Boards).  Expect wine, cheese, schmoozing, and for a change of pace, the first in a series of three extended visualization games. We want to ask you to play, to riff together, to collaboratively sketch out an art-political intervention/exhibition on the theme “The Working Day or The Struggle over Time.” Facilitating the process will be John Boylan, moderator of the long running “Conversations” series at Vermillion.


Here is the premise…




Your keystrokes are monitored, your bathroom breaks are timed; you’re pressured to stay after hours, to work off the clock. Rest periods you’re legally entitled to become unavailable, just like in Victorian times when a Factory Inspector could write, “I continue however to receive about the usual number of complaints that half, or three quarters of an hour in the day, are snatched from the workers by encroaching upon the times professedly allowed for rest and refreshments…” It wasn’t supposed to play out this way. Automation was supposed to usher in an Age of Leisure.  Three-hour working days. Fifteen-hour workweeks. But where are we after a century of seemingly-victorious labor struggles forced the working week down to 40 hours? According to a Gallup Poll (Sept. 2, 2014, Washington Post), an average workweek in the United States is 46.7 hours with 21 percent of workers clocking in 50-59 per and another 18 percent working 60 plus hours.


Moments are the elements of profit. In every workplace, the struggle over time continues. Or as a forgotten gent named Marx once put it, on one side, we have “Capital’s drive towards a boundless extension of the working day;” on the other, the worker’s efforts to set limits, “to reduce the working day to a particular normal length.” What kinds of events, interventions, exhibitions could be staged that would dramatize and interrogate this struggle? What kind of information and testimony could we collect and record? How and where would we present it? Should the final product be an exhibit? What kind and in what sort of place? Who are the logical partners and co-conspirators in this investigation?  What else could we collage in?

What kinds of projects or works explore this same area?


This is the first of three open houses/play periods at Inca. Invite everybody. Anyone can play. In May, the theme will be “De-Commodifying Eduication or What Should A Red May University Offer?” In June, we’ll riff on “Hot Money vs. The Right of the City.” As soon as we nail down the dates, we’ll get them out.


Nothing is off the table. Any one of these exercises could lead to a Red May event. But our immediate goal is more modest: to get to know each other, to delight our collective imaginations, to liven up the afternoon.

Hope to see you.





John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Taking Stock”

Event Date: Tuesday, January 26, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

To link to this announcement, do so at


The Summary

This time we have no theme, and no guests, except of course, for you. Read on for details.


The Guests (see bios below)

This time, you’re the guests.


The Story

Hi faithful conversation followers,

We’re coming out this month with a late conversation notice, and one of those no-guest, no-theme conversations. Chalk it up to the disruption of the holidays and getting off to a cold start with the new year.

So next week’s conversation will be one of those loose, free-ranging affairs. I can promise you that it will be a smaller group than usual, and there’s a good opportunity to drill into a topic or two.

Here are a few ideas we might cover.

We continue to see a lot of anger around the rapid reconstruction of the city. For people who can’t afford the rising rents or find an affordable house to buy—and that’s a lot of people—the dislocation sucks.

But it shouldn’t be a surprise. Radical dislocation is often the way in which cities change and grow, especially under capitalism. Think of living in Manhattan in the early decades of the 19th century, when the population ballooned from 100,000 to half a million. Or Paris under Napoleon III and Georges-Eugene Haussmann, when whole neighborhoods were torn down in order to create grand boulevards. Or the radical transformations of Shanghai and Beijing since the 1980s.

Or Vancouver in the 1970s, when huge sections of the single-family neighborhoods were bulldozed to create high rises. Or Elliott Bay at the end of the 19th century, when inlets that were rich with clams, eel grass, and salmon became polluted harbors, and fishing villages were swept aside for warehouses and cheap apartments.

But realizing that you’re not alone doesn’t make it easier, especially in a city that claims to know a better way. Beyond the rents and the dislocations of too many people, much of the stuff that is getting built looks like hell, and the question arises: Doesn’t this city have any real design requirements?

In any case, that dislocation, and the need to fight it, work around it, disrupt it, and in some cases embrace it, is what makes life in a city so exciting, and potentially rewarding.

Or much of what we’re looking at these days is the need for racial and economic justice, combined with the deep understanding that the ways of modern life just cannot be sustained. I’ve been worrying an essay for months now about my own racism, sexism, classism, and my own privilege. It’s a tricky thing to write well. And it’s an easy thing to second guess, ad infinitum. How does that self-examination work? How can it work? How should it work? And how can we build something wonderful, a world we can be proud of?

There is so much else to talk about, from space exploration and electoral politics to spiritual awakenings and the ongoing sense of dread. Come join the conversation.


John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Youth Culture, Youth Organizing”

Event Date: Tuesday, November 17, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

To link to this announcement, do so at

The Summary

This time we’re talking about what happening in youth culture and youth organizing. Read on for details.

The Guests (see bios below)

Lisa Chen, executive director, FEEST

Nora Germani, executive producer at Black Tie Productions, student

Timothy Lennon, executive director, the Vera Project

Christina Nguyen, poet, youth organizer, Youth Speaks

And I’m seeking a fifth from Sawhorse Revolution

The Story

When I was a kid there were not a lot of options for youth programs. There was scouting, sports, church groups, and high school clubs. But most of these were pretty much top down. How good they were often depended on how cool, imaginative, or open the adult leader was.

There were exceptions: when I was in high school, my father, an actor and a steelworker, got together with some college professor friends to stage theater readings for their kids. I can recall sitting around an 18th century brick cellar in the home of a friend, as we all read parts from “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “The Madwoman of Chaillot.” I can still recall thinking that the girl who read the part of the madwoman, a year or two older than me, was superb.

But even this was top down, and only lasted for maybe a year or less.

I started thinking about this conversation with the realization that there are increasing numbers of youth cultural programs that are run—and sometimes instituted—by youth. And even those that are firmly controlled by adults are looking for ways to empower youth, not just give them culture.

Youth Speaks, while operating under the auspices of Arts Corps, is a youth-led poetry project. And one of the coolest things about it is that each year there is new group of youth leaders who go through training in leadership, management, event production, and community organizing.

Black Tie Productions, cofounded by our guest Nora Germani, is a theater company run, and almost completely supported by, high school students. They work independently of the schools they attend, and have produced huge, full-orchestra musical productions about such topics as growing up transgendered and teenage alienation and suicide.

With Sawhorse Revolution’s Impossible City project, students work with architects and residents of a homeless camp to design and build moveable tiny houses. With FEEST, students collectively cook their own meals, all the while learning about nutrition, food justice, food politics, and youth-led food solutions.

And then there’s the venerable Vera Project, where youth engage in—and learn about—music production and performance, as well as community organizing.

There’s amazing energy out there, and so much more is happening. Come and talk about it. (And note that while Vermillion is a bar, those under 21 can still be in the space, as long as they don’t go up to the bar itself.)

News Flash: As some of you know, I’ve been working on a project called 9e2, a huge art, science, and technology event that will happen in October 2016, as well as the months leading up to that date. 9e2 is a celebration of the interplay between art, science, and technology in the 21st century. And it is also a commemoration of the half-century anniversary of a pivotal art and technology event that happened in 1966, “9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering.”

You can read more about 9e2 and the history of 9 Evenings at the 9e2 website.

And you can support 9e2 and help us put together seed money through our Indiegogo crowd funding campaign. Become a 9e2 supporter!

The Guests in Detail

Lisa Chen is the Executive Director of FEEST, a nationally recognized model for youth engagement on issues of food access, food justice, and systems change. By way of California, Lisa has planted roots in the Pacific Northwest as a volunteer youth mentor at the Service Board and a union organizer focused on empowering working class communities of color. Her political identity stems directly from growing up as the only child of an immigrant single mother where she saw first hand how limited English workers were treated unfairly.

In her career, Lisa has led student campaigns against fee increases at the University of California, organized undocumented youth in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and worked alongside radical housekeepers to demand better working conditions. She has a special place in her heart for youth work, and believes deeply that transformative breakthroughs in young people will shift our communities to act from a place of love instead of anger.

Nora Germani is seventeen years old and is a senior at Ingraham High School. She is the Executive Producer and Artistic Director of Black Tie Productions, an entirely student-run theatre company. She also helped to found Black Tie and has worked with the company over the past three years, writing, directing, and designing shows. Nora has written several short plays and co-written three full-length musicals, she is currently working on a fourth to be produced by Black Tie in the spring.

A native of Providence, R.I., Tim Lennon moved to Seattle in September 2001 and has worked in arts and culture here ever since. He currently serves as executive director of the Vera Project, an organization that fuels personal and community transformation through collaborative, youth‐driven engagement in music and art. Prior to joining Vera, Tim worked at Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture to create opportunities for musicians and artists and to connect them and their amazing work to Seattle audiences in a variety of ways. His past work includes program manager for The Next 50, a six‐month series marking the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair, and programming coordinator for One Reel, producer of Bumbershoot, the Family 4th of July and other local festivals. Tim has also coordinated events for the Elliott Bay Book Co., the University of Washington and local non‐profits.  Tim serves on the Seattle Music Commission, is an alumnus and curriculum committee member of Leadership Tomorrow, and a member of the Civic Innovators Club and the Seattle People of Color Salon.

Christina Nguyen works with Arts Corps as an AmeriCorps Artist-in-Service member in the Teen Leadership Program and as Youth Speaks Seattle Coordinator. She is an aspiring poet and artist with passions and dreams to accomplish! Grown up and raised around fierce activists and advocates from the Seattle community since the age of fifteen, Christina is empowered to search and find her own voice with the resilient tools and new ideas she learns every day from her family in Youth Speaks Seattle. She hopes to channel her energy to others to help find and use their own power in the voices they were born with, through the magic of assisting poetry classes, carrying debatable yet enlightening conversation, and truly believing in others. She organizes with programs such as YouthCan through the Wing Luke Museum and as a mentor with Youth Speaks Seattle. On her spare time, you can usually find Christina sipping on peppermint tea whilst simultaneously sketching with a sharpie in hand.

John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Creating Outlaw Space, Part Three”

Event Date: Tuesday, October 20, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

The Summary

This time we’re looking at outlaw space: what it is, how to find it, and most important, how to make it. Read on for details.

The Guests (see bios below)

Janet Galore, designer, artist, creative director

Michelle de la Vega, multidisciplinary artist

Sam Farrazaino, sculptor, space creator

Jessa Carter, designer, artist, creative director

And I’m seeking a fifth…

The Story

There’s been a lot of anger and frustration lately about a rapidly and radically changing Seattle, captured in a common vision of brogrammers invading Capitol Hill. I’m thinking that this anger and frustration doesn’t just have to do with rising rents; it’s also very much about the death of outlaw space.

I’m taking the term from Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1960s (which later begat Wired Magazine, among other things). For Brand, his “outlaw areas” could be hippie communes, space colonies, cyberspace, psychedelic experiences, or even just cheap, ragtag neighborhoods, as places where new ideas emerge. For me it’s any place that fosters escape from the miasma of everyday culture, straight culture, plastic culture; mainstream white culture. Or maybe better, it’s a place that fosters subversion of—or building on—those cultures, rather than just escape. It’s a place for creativity, and some degree of wildness, and maybe even just the ability to stop, to get off the treadmill, to hide out, to stop dealing with stuff. And ideally, it’s a place of support and generosity.

In the movies, outlaw space shows up everywhere, as a pirate’s lair, a remote hole in the wall, a hidden village, or a distant city of Amazons. For some of us, finding real outlaw space means going off to the woods, or hunkering down in a crowded city. It may be as simple as fighting to hang onto a block of small shops with roots going back decades.

There’s something energizing about having a blacksmith shop next to a dance studio next to a print shop next to a library next to a tavern that serves cheap drinks and features crusty old men at the bar, old men with stories, lots of stories. Things happen. Synergies arise.

As neighborhoods are leveled to produce huge soulless apartment buildings, it may seem as though outlaw space can’t exist. Or perhaps outlaw space happens at the level of what goes on in a living room or an empty lot, the little worlds we build for each other.

I go back to Brand’s sense that psychedelic experience could be an outlaw area. Not that we all should be dropping little tabs of Owsley Acid, but it may be that the only outlaw spaces that we can really depend on are in our heads. Or maybe not. Come and talk about it.

The Guests in Detail

Sam Farrazaino is a sculptor with a history of creating artist spaces around Seattle. Since 2006 he has been the founder and proprietor of Equinox Studios. Equinox houses 42 art studios and fabrication shops under the rubric “Fine & Heavy, Arts & Artisans.” The project has recently expanded into adjacent industrial buildings, which are currently under reconstruction as more studios and workspaces.

Michelle de la Vega’s work as a multidisciplinary artist includes installation, sculpture and mixed media. Her visual art practice spans 23 years and an 18-year career as a dance and performance artist.

Michelle’s interest is in creating immersive environments that connect communities, illuminate voices and explore concepts that are personally and collectively relevant to the human experience. Her process draws meaningful connections through community engagement, research, and artistic vision, weaving image, information, and story into holistic, genuine artwork.

Michelle has received international exposure through her design and build of a 250 sq. ft. mini-house and she is a passionate advocate of the small living movement.

She received her education from Otis Parsons in Los Angeles, CA, Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA, and The South Seattle Community College Welding and Metal Fabrication Program.

Janet Galore was born and raised in Seattle. She is a veteran designer, artist, and creative director working in emerging technologies and applications. She enjoys pushing creative and technical boundaries, and supporting others in their creative endeavors. She’s known for her work in video games and VR, as animator and director of the surreal cult-classic series FishBar, as a curator, and as author and contributor to several books on animation and streaming media. She received a BS degree in pure mathematics from the University of Washington, and continued there with three years of graduate studies in pure and applied mathematics.

Jessa Carter’s educational and practical background is in graphics and design. She has consistently applied her skills and experience to the fashion world; working in trend forecasting for Nordstrom and as a creative director, brand strategist, photographer, and more with independent clients on the West Coast. She’s also applied her knowledge to the Seattle art and culture scene as a key member of the LoveCityLove Collective, a collaborative arts platform that focuses on public works, rebuilding community, and reviving spaces slated for development. She is currently exploring short video as a medium and a method.

John Boylan’s Next Conversation: ” Art and Design, Fabrication and Technology”

Event Date: Tuesday, September 22, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

The Summary

This time we’ll look at the interplay between art and design, technologies and fabrication. In short, how we make things, and especially, how we make art. Read on for details.

The Guests (see bios below)

Aduén Darriba Frederiks, artist, researcher

Helene Steiner, designer, researcher

Dhairya Dand, researcher, engineer, and designer

The Story

We’re back. We hope you’ve had an excellent summer. Now, with coming of the dark and the beginnings of the rain, it’s time to get back into some conversation.

In this discussion we’ll be exploring the edges and the dynamics between design and art, and looking at the ways in which the processes of fabrication—and the technologies on which they depend—play with each other.

As the art we make and the culture we create become more complex and collaborative, these interfaces become more important. And it seems critical to better understand how they work. Of course, we may be going to some fairly basic questions: What is art, what is design? Where does the creativity live in a collaborative effort? And how does the act of making affect what we make?

For this conversation, we’ve assembled an international crew, people who live at the edges of art, design, and engineering. I can’t help but think that as we approach the craziness that is life in the 21st century, it’s these edges where new understandings and new innovations will appear and grow.

Come and have a conversation.

Next Up

In October (October 20) we’ll be revisiting a favorite topic of mine, with “Creating Outlaw Space, Part 3.” How do we find outlaw space, space for creativity and transformation outside the everyday, outside the mainstream culture? Whether it’s a home, a hideout, a whole neighborhood, or a state of mind, in this city on the make, how do we get there? More details to follow.


This seems to be a week for talking about design in a broader context. On Thursday, September 24, the Seattle Pecha Kucha tackles Design for Equity in its own unique way.

The Guests in Detail

Aduén Darriba Frederiks makes art that lies on the borders of machine and creature, and this translates itself into sculptures and body-worn devices. These live, behave, and act on their surroundings, in symbioses with their wearer. His research focuses on body-worn haptic interfaces, using touch-sensitive garments for social communication.

He has a background in Information Technology and holds a Master of Art degree in European Media. The combination of technology and art has been a driving force in his work since 2008, when he started to collaborate with fashion designers. At that moment he was highly influenced by robotics from his work on animations for the NAO H25. Today he is a recognized creative technologist in the field of fashion and technology.

He is currently an artist in residence at Microsoft Research in Redmond.

Helene Steiner is a London-based designer and researcher with a focus on new interactions in and with our (natural) environment. Her research follows a biological approach and looks at opportunities to not only bridge the physical and digital world but also the natural and artificial.

Her background is in Product Design with an MDes from the Bauhaus University in Weimar, where she started researching human behavior and the interventions of objects in different everyday life situations. During her time in Vienna she studied under FROG founder Prof. Hartmut Esslinger to explore the opportunities of extending our bodies with technology and prosthetics. That lead to her MA and MSc in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College in London, to focus on how technologies can be better embedded in our environment to create interactions with our environment. The goal is delivery of contextualized information and a better understanding of our surroundings. She is collaborating with the Tangible Media Group at the MIT Media Lab on new dynamic biological interfaces on a cellular level.

Currently she is an artist in residence at Microsoft Research in Redmond and works on plant/computer interfaces and natural communication systems.

Dhairya Dand is an award winning researcher, engineer and designer based in Seattle. He currently runs oDD – a futurist factory X lab.

His work investigates the human body as a medium for computation, new materials as a tool to embody interactions, and design as a vehicle for mindfulness.

Had recent exhibitions at the V&A, Tokyo Design Week, and the MIT Museum; was part of the Forbes 30 under 30 list, has been a WIRED Innovation Fellow and an INK Fellow. Previously a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, amateur geologist in Saudi Arabia, toy designer in Singapore, sensory researcher in Tokyo, artist in residence at EYEBEAM in New York and political activist in Bombay.

Likes to travel, likes to meet new animals.

Some of his useless/useful inventions live here –

John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Circus! Part Four”

Event Date: Tuesday, May 5, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave

To link to this announcement, do so at

The scheduling for this conversation is a little unusual. We’re not having a conversation in April. There will be one in May, however, earlier in the month than usual (Tuesday May 5), and it’s at 12th Avenue Arts, not Vermillion. Read on for details.

The Guests

Terry Crane, co-founding director, The Acrobatic Conundrum

Elizabeth Klob, UMO Ensemble

Ty Vennewitz, clown with the Acrobatic Conundrum

Leah Jones, straps aerialist and hip hop dancer

David Crellin, circus emcee and cabaret singer, co-founder of the legendary Circus Contraption, and recently, director of IMPulse Circus Collective.

The Story

Longtime watchers of this series know that I have a passion for circus and vaudeville. We did our first of three conversations about circus ten years ago, and the latest was in 2011. I’ve done a wee bit of circus (as a complete amateur), watched a lot of both circus and vaudeville, and talked to enough artists in both areas to have a fascination with how it works, where it has been, and where it is going.

So I was pleased to find out that Terry Crane was interested in doing another circus conversation. He and his troupe, the Acrobatic Conundrum, are putting on THREE HIGH, a circus festival at 12 Avenue Arts and co-sponsored by the Seattle branch of Circus Now. Running from April 28-May 10, the festival features three shows, including the Cirque en Déroute’s “The Really Weird Cabaret!” and Acrobatic Conundrum’s “The Language of Chance.”

To me, circus has long been about bringing wonder and magic into the everyday. For centuries, circus troupes and later, variety shows, were often the one of few sources of source of everyday magic. Nowadays, in a time when wonder might seem so common as to be cheap, magic is everywhere, from the tiny supercomputer you’re holding in your hand to the huge and spectacular fantasies of the silver screen.

So circus and its companion, variety, have found a new niche, of bringing us an immediate and human-scale delight, with talented people doing strange and amazing things to their bodies very much in front of us, delighting us, surprising us, and sometimes fooling us in ways that that the glowing screens can never imagine. But as contemporary circus explodes, is that niche big enough to welcome what’s coming?

In recent years, some circus performers have worked to stretch the model of what circus is. They’ve worked on bringing the power of theater and contemporary dance into what they do. A performance becomes a work, something more than a routine. Performers who’ve spent years perfecting the skills of aerial flight, say, now are working to master the discipline of the actor or the physical comedian. The superhuman becomes human, or even something less.

As with most things, sometimes the attempt at transformation and expansion works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But no matter what, the passion and the discipline remain and so does the wonder.

Come and talk about circus. And expect a few demonstrations of what we’ll be talking about.


Here are a few things happening you may find interesting:

  • Cafe Nordo, after long anticipation, has opened its new Culinarium in Pioneer Square with the show, Don Nordo del Midwest. Do check it out. Here’s some good press.
  • Third Place Technologies is organizing Electric Sky Art Camp, sort of a maker fair/summer camp for adults (children are welcome as well) on the Skykomish River in Skykomish. The goals are to camp, make stuff, and build community.

John Boylan’s Conversation: “Taking Stock, Part III…”

Event Date: Tuesday, March 17, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

To link to this announcement, do so at

The Summary

Here’s an opportunity to take stock of our lives, our city, our culture, our world.

Read on for the details.

The Guests

You’re the guests on this one.

The Story

Every so often this series likes to slow down and take stock of where we stand, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. There are no guests, except of course for you. These are often smaller, more intimate conversations.

We are living in fascinating, difficult, yet rewarding times. A deep sense of possibility is everywhere, so thick and heavy that we can almost feel it, yet so elusive as to suggest that maybe that sense of possibility is a mirage, a mischievous illusion.

We live in a contradiction: we’re a city of immense talent and energy that at the same time is surrounded by cultural forces that at best may be moribund, at worst in a death spiral.

Seattle is at the beginning of a potential revolution in the way we do politics, with the move to district elections. A number of fascinating people are running, many of whom might have hesitated to get into a city-wide election. And whoever is elected, the city’s power dynamics are bound to change. What will that bring us? Will it allow us to grow in that role that we’ve long envisioned for ourselves but never quite attained, as a center for experiment with solutions that can be reproduced elsewhere?

We have a huge number of people doing really cool things in this town. On any given night, I am amazed at the amount and quality of the performances happening, from big, high-energy extravaganzas to some of the best musicians I’ve ever heard performing at cafes and hotel lobbies. It’s way more than one’s calendar or wallet can permit. Is this the pinnacle for a regional capital, or just a beginning?

But I think there’s a sense that culturally we’re stuck in old models, with institutions, old festivals, parades, and public events that long since began to show their age, and maybe their irrelevance to Seattle now. How do they change and grow, and what can be made new that is exciting, that is alive?

There’s a growing realization that for the world’s biosphere to survive in any way that makes sense for a huge number of species, including humans, we will need to change the way we structure and build our lived experiences. Not to mention what we do about structural inequality and the heavy concentrations of political and economic power that we’re facing now. What is Seattle’s—and specifically our—role in all of that?

A lot of questions. Where do we stand? And where are we going? Come and have a conversation.

Boylan Update Many of you know that I’ve been doing contract work since I left Microsoft last year. Currently, I’m about to embark on some work around art and technology for Microsoft Research. I’m available for other work, involving writing, project management, organizational planning, meeting facilitation, and content management. Contact me at this email address, or 206-601-9848.

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John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Art and Technology”

Event Date: Tuesday, February 17, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

To link to this announcement, do so at

The Summary

This time we’re revisiting the worlds of art and technology. Read on for details.

The Guests (see bios below)

Jason Salavon, artist and educator

Genevieve Tremblay, artist, designer, educator, scholar, and cultural entrepreneur

Michael Cohen, researcher, Microsoft Corporation

Robin Oppenheimer, media arts historian, curator, and scholar

Thomas Deuel, neuroscientist, sound artist, and neurologist

The Story

I’ve been thinking about technology a lot lately, especially the creative use of new technologies. We’ve been going through huge shifts in how new computer technologies drive our lives. From the diagnostic tools that a doctor—or a mechanic—uses to the super brains that we carry around in our pockets, our everyday lives are filled with what would have seemed to be magic just a few decades ago. And the “we” in these sentences is no longer quite the elite that it once was. Cheap smart phones are at the least making inroads into the digital divide across the world.

For years, in the world of art high tech has been something of a poor sister. With major exceptions, of course, too much tech-based art has been overwhelmed by how cool a specific technology is, or underwhelmed by how inadequate a specific technology is for, say, presenting a subtle, complex, and powerful image.

That’s changing, I think, especially as we are seeing huge advances in what new technologies can do, and seeing artists who can get beyond a specific technology’s “wow” factor. And given the extent to which technology is integrating into our lives, we need to see more and better examinations of those integrations.

That’s happening. The ongoing marriage of art and technology is in the air. As I write this, the Seattle branch of Pecha Kucha just staged a set of presentations entitled Technology + Art: Bridges and Throughways. I was one of the guests; it was a rousing set of presentations by an assortment of artists, teachers, and thinkers. Meanwhile, in December the Stranger ran a piece by Jen Graves, What Only Artists Can Teach Us About Technology, Data, and Surveillance. It’s a long, detailed look at the work happening at the University of Washington’s emerging-technology department, DXArts, and the visiting artist program at Microsoft Research.

Ultimately, art is technology. Attempting to master art is attempting to master a technology, whether it’s painting with oils, bronze casting, or photography. But it’s also stretching that technology, learning to make it do strange and unimaginable things. Where do the new technologies, driven by the semiconductor and the integrated circuit, fit into that continuum? Do they represent a break from cutting stone or casting bronze, or are they just a new stage in a continuum? And are there differences between “art and technology” and “art and science?”

Looking back, technology is often a topic in this series, but we have not specifically addressed the pairing of art and tech since 2006. It’s about time for a revisit. The guests then were Kate Seekings, Trimpin, and Jack Dollhausen. Seekings was at Microsoft at the time; Trimpin and Dollhausen are both well-respected figures in the world of art and technology in the Pacific Northwest; both have traditionally worked primarily with electronics and older analog technologies. In their work, any digital elements happen at the fundamental levels of machine code.

This time, our guests work more at the intersections of art and the newest technologies. Several trained as both artists and scientists/technologists and combine traditional technologies with the leading edges of new technologies. This is a brilliant group of people.

Come and talk with them.

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The Guests in Detail

Michael F. Cohen is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. He joined Microsoft in 1994 from Princeton University, where he served on the faculty of Computer Science. Michael received The 1998 SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award for his contributions to the Radiosity method for image synthesis. Dr. Cohen also served as paper’s chair for SIGGRAPH ’98.

Michael received his Ph.D. in 1992 from the University of Utah. He also holds undergraduate degrees in Art and Civil Engineering from Beloit College and Rutgers University respectively, and an M.S. in Computer Graphics from Cornell. Dr. Cohen also served on the Architecture faculty at Cornell University, and is currently an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington.

His early work at Cornell and Princeton on the radiosity method for realistic image synthesis is discussed in his book “Radiosity and Image Synthesis” (co-authored by John R. Wallace). His work at the University of Utah focused on spacetime control for linked figure animation.

At Microsoft, Dr. Cohen has worked on a number of projects ranging from image based rendering, to animation, to camera control, to more artistic non-photorealistic rendering. One project focuses capturing the complete flow of light from an object for later rendering from arbitrary vantage points. This work, dubbed The Lumigraph, is analogous to creating a digital hologram. Michael also has continued his work on linked figure animation, focusing on means to allow simulated creatures to portray their emotional state. Recent work has focused on computational photography applications. These have ranged from creating new methods for low bandwidth teleconferencing, segmentation and matting of images and video, technologies for combining a set of “image stacks” as a Photomontage , to the creation of very high resolution panoramas, such as the GigapixelArtZoom.

Robin Oppenheimer is an internationally recognized media arts historian, curator and scholar who has worked in the field since 1980. She was Executive Director of two media arts centers in Atlanta and Seattle and is currently a Lecturer at the University of Washington Bothell and adjunct faculty at Cornish College, with a PhD in Interactive Arts and Technology. Her areas of research include media arts histories, participatory media, and media activism.

Jason Salavon ( is currently a visiting artist at Microsoft Research.

Using software processes of his own design, he generates and reconfigures masses of communal material to present new perspectives on the familiar. Though formally varied, his projects frequently manipulate the roles of individual elements arranged in diverse visual populations. This often unearths unexpected patterns as the relationship between the part and the whole, the individual and the group, is explored. Reflecting a natural attraction to popular culture and the day-to-day, his work regularly incorporates the use of common references and source material. The final compositions are exhibited as art objects, such as photographic prints and video installations, while others exist in a real-time software context.

Born in Indiana (1970), raised in Texas, and based in Chicago, Salavon earned his MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his BA from The University of Texas at Austin. His work has been shown in museums and galleries around the world. Reviews of his exhibitions have been included in such publications as Artforum, Art in America, The New York Times, and WIRED. Examples of his artwork are included in prominent public and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago among many others.

Previously, he taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was employed for numerous years as an artist and programmer in the video game industry. He is currently associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts and the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago.

Genevieve Tremblay is an artist, designer, educator, public scholar, and cultural entrepreneur. She conceptualizes and facilitates pioneering initiatives at the convergence of arts & culture, science, education and technology. Since 2000, she has created collaborations with innovators across disciplines that ignite new thinking and apply emerging technologies to civic and community challenges. Building bridges between interdisciplinary realms is her specialty.

Her professional work includes award-winning design and art direction, as well as her generative work as artist and independent curator. She teaches in the Art, Design, Film and Media Department at Cornish College of the Arts. Genevieve has received more than thirty local and national grants for school-based programs integrating art and technology in the Seattle and Bellevue School Districts. Her research, curatorial and public scholarship initiatives have been funded by 4Culture, Bellevue Schools Foundation, SAPPI Ideas that Matter: Design for the Public Good, AIGA, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller, Benton and Ford Foundations. Genevieve received her MFA from Massachusetts College of Art and her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University.

Thomas Deuel is a neuroscientist, sound artist, and neurologist. He is currently a neurologist at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute and an Affiliate Professor at Digital and Experimental Arts (DXArts), University of Washington.

His Deueling Thumbs StudioLab is a hybrid between scientific laboratory and art studio dedicated to audio and music-based art and neuroscience research. It is a workspace for combining Neuroscience, Sound Art, Neurophysiology, and Music Composition to create original works of audio installation art and interactive new media music and sound.

John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Pop Surrealism and Lowbrow Art”

Event Date: Tuesday, January 20, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

To link to this announcement, do so at

The Summary

This time we’re tackling two highly energetic and powerful worlds of art: pop surrealism and lowbrow art. And as guests we have two legendary players on the Seattle scene. Read on for details.

The Guests (see bios below.)

Kirsten Anderson, owner and founder, Roq la Rue Gallery

Larry Reid, curator and events coordinator, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery

The Story

We’re looking at two art movements that have long been intertwined: pop surrealism and lowbrow art. Both share a deep humor and irreverence, along with a passion for stretching the limits of illustration—and representation in general—to places where the conventions of such drawing and painting don’t generally go. But if both share a sensibility, they also diverge deeply.

I won’t recount the history of lowbrow, as in the early days of Robert Williams, the horizon-bending work of underground comix, and the hot rod art of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. Wikipedia provides a basic intro. Suffice it to say that lowbrow begins as an amalgam of comics, album covers, tattoos, California car and surf cultures, and film noir. But it has always stretched these modes, reinventing them, taking them new places. One good way to get a sense of vividness of lowbrow is to look at the work of Robert Williams.

One of the fascinating things about lowbrow is its deep relationship with many other trends in the past fifty years, including punk rock, Chicano art, street art, graffiti. And the attendant cultures are cultures of immersion, for both artists and the audiences: tattooing, cars, comics.

Pop surrealism shares a lot with lowbrow, but has its own vocabulary, its own style. As the name suggests, it builds on the mystery and strange juxtapositions of surrealism, filtered through modes of pop culture, especially commercial illustration. Pop surrealism is about fantasy, but not the fantasy of sword and sorcery and dragons. Rather, here is the fantasy of the irrational, of dreams, of playful weirdness, carefully and often darkly rendered.

Maybe the best way to get a sense of pop surrealism is to take a look at, say, the work Femke Hiemstra or Peter Ferguson or Mark Ryden. The differences from Robert Williams are evident, but there are odd commonalities as well.

We have only two guests this time, and that’s intentional. Between them, Larry Reid and Kirsten Anderson have both played impressive roles in the culture of Seattle. Reid has long been a curator, writer, advocate, and instigator in Seattle, goes back to co-founding the famous Rosco Louis Gallery in the 1970s and the wild days of CoCA in the 1980s. Anderson founded Roq la Rue 16 years ago, focusing on pop surrealism and later broadening to cover a range of contemporary art. In those years, she has been a prominent writer, publisher, and curator in the field.

Come and join the conversation. This should be most excellent.

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The Guests in Detail

Kirsten Anderson opened Roq la Rue Gallery in 1998 after curating several highly successful group art shows in various locations in Seattle. In addition to curating and running the gallery, she edited and co-published the landmark book Pop Surrealism: The Rise of Underground Art, which was the first survey of the art movement, in 2004.

She served as the “Editor At Large” at Hi Fructose Art magazine for seven years (until stepping down to focus on other projects in 2014), where she wrote about art and artists integral to the Pop Surrealism/New Contemporary scene as well as major players in the international contemporary art world. She occasionally writes for other publications about art and lectures about the history and current state of Pop Surrealism/New Contemporary and the artists affiliated with the genre. She is regarded as an authority on the main tenets and history of the genre, as well as having a discerning eye for discovering new talent.

Larry Reid has been an advocate for challenging visual and performing arts in the Pacific Northwest and beyond since co-founding Rosco Louie gallery in Seattle’s Pioneer Square in 1978. He has since served as director of Graven Image gallery and the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), and as curator for Experience Music Project (EMP) and Fantagraphics Books.

Over the course of his career he has presented the work of countless regional, national and international artists including Lynda Barry, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Nirvana, William S. Burroughs, Robert Crumb, Lydia Lunch, Ann Magnuson, Chuck Close, Keith Haring, Sonic Youth, Mike Kelley, Karen Finley, Eric Bogosian, Charles Peterson, Einsturzende Neubauten, Von Dutch, Henry Rollins, Daniel Clowes, Gary Panter, Mudhoney, and many more. He has served as a peer panelist for various private foundations and public agencies including the National Endowment for the Arts (1990). He has contributed to several books including Pop Surrealism: The Rise of Underground Art, Edward Colver: Blight at the End of the Funnel, Tiki Art Now!, Jini Dellaccio: Rock & Roll, and Sub Pop USA: 1980 – 1987.

Reid currently works as curator and events coordinator at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle’s historic Georgetown arts community, where he also serves as president of the Georgetown Merchants Association (GMA) and co-chairs the Greater Duwamish District Council (GDDC).


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