The conversations are back!

The conversations are back from their smoky summer hiatus!

We’ve put together a great conversation series for the fall. It’s built around the idea of change, and we’re running it in conjunction with 9e2. As most of you know, 9e2 was an art, science, and technology festival that we ran in October 2016. 9e2 is coming back in February 2018 as a smaller festival. This one will explore the idea that our society is going through tremendous and unprecedented change and engage the dynamics of living through that change.

(By the way, if you’re on the 9e2 mailing list, you’ve already received a note about the conversations. Regrets about the duplication. If you want to be on that list for future 9e2 announcements, let me know.)

We’re using the fall conversations as a way to focus the themes for February. 9e2 2018 will go deeply into learning and ideas, weaving art installations and performances together with workshops, conversations, presentations, and maker projects. The fall conversations will help to create an initial framework for that.

Here’s the list. You’ll be getting more detail closer to the actual dates.

Change,” Wednesday September 28, 7 to 9pm


Hisam Goueli, performing artist, gerontologist, and geriatric psychiatrist; recent candidate for Seattle City Council

Edwin Lindo, activist, attorney, instructor at University of Washington School of Law; member of the People’s Party (tentative)

Julie Cruse, designer and technologist; Manager, Instructional Design and Outreach, Learning Technologies, University of Washington

And one more…

Inquiry: Educating for Change,” Tuesday October 24, 7 to 9pm


James Miles, actor; Executive Director, Arts Corps

Donte Felder, Head Teacher, Orca Middle School; screenwriter

Michelle Zimmerman, Director of Innovative Teaching and Learning Sciences, Renton Prep Christian School (tentative)

Lara Davis, Arts Education Manager, City of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture; performer

New Skins: Apparel, Shelter, and Identity,” Tuesday November 28, 7 to 9pm


Anna Rose Telcs, artist and designer

Heidi Parker, media and marketing consultant

Vikram Prakash, Professor of Architecture, University of Washington

Gabriel-Bello Diaz, fashion designer and engineer; Engineering and Design Instructor, Technology Access Foundation Academy

And as always, the conversations will happen at Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle.


The Next Conversation: “Should We Love Our Work?”


Event Date: Tuesday, May 23, 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 asking questions about the nature of work, and especially: “Should we love our work?” Read on below for details.

The Guests

Michael Hardt, professor of literature and Italian at Duke University

Kathi Weeks, professor in the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University

The Story in Detail

This time we’re partnering with Red May, a month-long vacation from capitalism. It’s both a celebration of the color red, and through a series of lectures, discussions, and film showings, an opportunity to “assume for the month that the market is not the solution to the problems that the market creates.”

We’ll be talking with Michael Hardt and Kathi Weeks. Both are professors at Duke University, and incidentally, both received their Master’s and Ph.D degrees from the University of Washington.

Hardt is best known for authoring, with Italian Marxist sociologist and political philosopher Antonio Negri, the landmark book Empire in 2000. In 2011, Weeks published an exploration of the nature of work: The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics and Postwork Imaginaries.

Longtime followers of the conversation series may recall that in 2003 we explored some of the ideas in Empire in a conversation with Charles Mudede, Nicholas Veroli, Mary Ann Peters, and Carol Brown. We’re excited to have Michael Hardt and Kathi Weeks on hand for this one.

For this conversation, we’ll be delving into the question of what is means to love one’s work. In the words of Red May organizer Philip Wohlstetter, “What kind of work do you do? Do you love it? Should you? Should what you love be harnessed to the rhythm of work? Where does the imperative to love work come from? Should we be doing less work? More? Should we even use the word ‘should’ when talking about work?”

Come talk about it.

And for those who want to do some preliminary reading, you can take a look at online copies of The Problem with Work and Empire. Or buy them at your local bookstore.

This conversation is the last before we break for the summer; we’ll be back in the fall.

The Next Conversation: “Ennui and Overload – What Do We Do Now, Part 4


Event Date: Tuesday, April 18, 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

Resistance to 45 and his minions will take time, possibly a long time. We will need to be in this for the long haul. But how do we keep up the energy, the passion? Can we? And should we? Read on below for details.

The Guests

As with the other installments in this series, you’re the guests. Though we may have a few surprise voices. Come.

The Story in Detail

It has been 87 days since the inauguration of Mr. 45. For many of us, these have been difficult days. There has been a dual track: laughing and eye-rolling at the absurdity, incompetence, and stupidity on display, while at the same time, cringing at what appears to be expressions of pure evil.

We know something of what we need to do to counter what we see happening. And many of us are taking action. The various living room conversations and community groups that sprung up in January are, for the most part, continuing, from what I can see. But I also wonder if we’re beginning to lose energy a bit.

It’s hard to maintain the focus, the passion and energy that brought so many people out for the Women’s March, or the spontaneous airport demonstrations when 45’s first executive order on immigration came out.

How do we deal with that? Can we maintain the passion? Or might it be better over the long run not to? Maybe it needs to relax for the long haul, like a marriage that in order to survive evolves from passion and hot sex to fondness and companionship over the years.

Or maybe not.

These remain strange times, wide-open times, both locally and nationally. Come talk about it.

Finally, my apologies for the very short notice on this one. Maybe a little ennui, a little weariness…?

And on May 23, in partnership with the huge Red May project, we’ll be doing the following. Stay tuned for more information.

Tuesday May 23

7:00 – 8:30   Vermillion, 1508 11th Ave

John Boylan’s Conversation: “Should We Love Our Work?”

Guests: Michael Hardt, Kathi Weeks

What kind of work do you do? Do you love it? Should you? Should what you love be harnessed to the rhythm of work? Where does the imperative to love work come from? Should we be doing less work? More? Should we even use the word ‘should’ when talking about work? Join host John Boylan and guests Kathi Weeks (The Problem with Work) and Michael Hardt (Empire trilogy) in another of Boylan’s freewheeling Socratic conversations.

The Next Conversation: “Culture Jamming? – What Do We Do Now, Part 3”

Event Date: Tuesday, February 28, 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 culture jamming, an ongoing critique of mass consumer culture. And we’re asking: How do the ways of culture jamming translate to political protest and political action?  Read on below for details.

The Guests

We’re working on gathering a few. Stay tuned.

The Story in Detail

Before we get down to details, a note: We’ve just published a resource guide to community activism and engagement, with a lot of how-to links. In the Age of 45, Resources for Becoming the Engaged and Powerful Citizens We Need to Be. Check it out. And feel free to share and copy it, as long as you credit it and do not modify it. Even just one of the many links provides a set of techniques, tools, and contacts for acting, building, organizing in the world today.

Now to the subject at hand. This is the third in a series of conversations about culture, art, and activism in a strange, dangerous, and difficult time.

This month we’re talking about culture jamming. Simply put, culture jamming involves taking the language and techniques of mass culture: advertising, television, radio, and big public displays, and plays with them, twisting them to create something that satirizes and subverts that same mass culture. The best examples involve humor and a sense of the absurd to create new insights. It was first identified as such in the 1980s, but examples go back decades.

The common picture of culture jamming is, say, a billboard that has been editorialized toward a satirical message. But that, of course, is illegal. And beyond getting knowing chuckle from passers-by, is it effective at all?

Culture jamming is everywhere, from the art of Banksy to the ubiquitous images of Shepard Fairy. When Reverend Billy and Church of Stop Shopping went into a Gap in Times Square and, among many other stunts and bits of theater, very publicly started to dicker with the hapless sales clerk over the price of a shirt, harkening back to an older Times Square, before it was “cleaned up” (or went into a Disney store and wandered the store, talking loudly on fake cell phones about Disney policies and products), that was culture jamming.

At the outset, flash mobs were culture jamming, at least until they became tools for advertising. But even then, they still hold a huge potential for creating a beautiful and powerful disturbance of the everyday.

Culture jamming arose originally as a response to the commercialization and materialism of everyday life, and the power of business to determine our lives. The question: how useful is it as a set of tools, ideas, and techniques for dealing with the political situations that we face today?

The “Resist” banner that Greenpeace unfurled behind the White House just after the inauguration was culture jamming. Rather than just a protest, the action took advantage of the iconic nature of the White House itself to create an image of being powerful, a sense that “we are everywhere.”

But beyond making some of us feel good, preaching to Reverend Billy’s choir, how effective is culture jamming as a political act? Can it advance or change policy? Can it change minds, or build movements?

Come and talk about it.

And a bit of reading:

The Next Conversation: “Creating New Narratives – What Do We Do Now, Part 2”

Event Date: Tuesday, January 31, 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 how to create progressive narratives that become everyday common sense. Read on below for details.

The Guests

We’re working on gathering the guests. Stay tuned.

The Story in Detail

We ended last year’s conversation series with “What Do We Do Now?” We packed the house, and it was a great rousing conversation. The only rule was to focus on solutions and the future, not to rehash the past year.

One of my favorite comments came from a woman who asked that people show common respect for people who especially deserve that and are not likely to get it. She referenced young African-American men specifically.

Another comment came from a man from Russia, who recalled that when Putin’s power grabs were becoming apparent, the streets of Russia’s big cities filled with people in protest. But then Putin’s government cracked down and effectively ended those protests. After that, the opposition had no structures and no ideas for moving forward, and the opposition dissipated. The United States is different, he said. We have the ideas, institutions, and tools for mounting an effective opposition. All we need is the will.

For January, we’re going to stick with the “What Do We Do Now?” theme, with this question: “How do we create powerful and effective new narratives?” How do we control the definitions of everyday life? It’s a critically important question, and here’s why:

In the months and years to come, people will need to get engaged and stay that way, at multiple levels: locally and nationally, organizing with friends and strangers, building connections, applying legislative pressure, holding the press accountable, taking to the streets when that makes sense strategically.

But one of the activities that is especially well suited to the artists, writers, and performers on this list is messaging. A whole lot of political power comes with whoever controls the messages. It comes from narratives that are so effective that they come to be taken for common sense. They become the dominant story.

A good example, from the Right, is the idea of political correctness. Political correctness is a cynical, sarcastic notion that cultural sensitivity is by nature excessive and bad. One can’t be just a little politically correct; it’s all or nothing. And determining who is politically correct is never the province of the subject of the epithet; it’s a privilege that is always appropriated by the critic.

And yet, over time, through incessant repetition, it has come to be seen as a given; the very existence of political correctness is not questioned.

At the core of any fight we get the sort of culture we want, where compassion and decency are the norm, with equality of opportunity and systems that are healthy for all living things, is the need to populate the culture with stories, ideas, even just phrases, that are so effective that they become the dominant narrative. Rather than being seen as the position of the Left or the progressives, they come to be taken for granted as the truth.

How do we do that? That’s what we will talk about. Come.

If you want some background on my thinking on this, I posted an essay, “Creating a New Narrative” a few weeks ago. And note that these ideas are very (and I emphasize “very”) loosely connected to notions of cultural hegemony. Here is a good definition.

The Next Conversation: “What Do We Do Now?”

Event Date: Tuesday, November 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

A conversation about where we stand in difficult times, and what we need to do next. Read on below for details.

The Guests

I’m working on it. Stay tuned.

The Story

As I write this, friends are flocking onto Facebook, to commune, to share their grief, to state their fears as to what is to come. A lot of the responses are about loving one another, and that is a beautiful reaction.

Stephen Thrasher, writing last night in the Guardian, suggested, “Hold your loved ones close.” For Thrasher, “loved ones” is a broad category, and must include: “People of color, women, Muslims, queer people, the sick, immigrants.” It’s true. If the responsibility to be an effective, generous, and compassionate ally was ever needed, it’s there now.

As good and valuable as such advice is, it might be interpreted as hunkering down, and that is one thing we cannot do.

Whenever something like this happens (and I stress “like this;” this particular moment is, I think, unprecedented in recent history, at least in the United States), a common response on the left is to see it as an opportunity: “Things will get so bad that there will be a revolution, and we’ll pick up the pieces.” It doesn’t work that way. Real revolutions are rare, and those created from adversity and chaos almost always go wrong. The best chance for a progressive, stable revolution is to build it on a progressive stable base.

Oddly, huge portions of that base already exist. At least some of the fear we are seeing is a fear that whatever gains we have made will be lost. And that so much energy will be spent trying to protect ourselves and our allies that we will have nothing left for moving forward.

You, the people on the mailing list for these conversations are for the most part artists, writers, performers, technologists, activists, administrators. We are entering into a time of uncertainty, and a suggestion of deep danger. What will our role be in the coming months and years?

The two biggest struggles that face us today are the perennial fight for social justice around race, class, and gender. And the ongoing struggle to counter the radical changes in the world’s climate and deal with the effects of those changes. The interesting thing is that both struggles interrelate, and that creative work in one often provides solutions in the other.

But now, it seems as though any progress in either struggle will be made much more difficult by the rise of the shiftless right, by the arrival of a vicious opportunistic con artist in the seat of power, by the petty and vindictive people who surround him, by the loathing that seems to have embraced a huge portion of the body politic. But maybe not.

It’s worth recalling Franklin Roosevelt’s famous line from his first inaugural address: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I’m thinking of fear here not as a clear adrenalin reaction to an immediate threat, but as an anxiety about what might come. For many of us, any such anxiety is based on the phantasms that we ourselves are conjuring up, from images of brown shirts in the streets to apprehension as to what may happen to the dreamers and Muslims, and, quite frankly, to us. Such fear can indeed be paralytic.

So, what do we do now? What are our options? Can we summon the honesty, courage, imagination, and discipline to act effectively? Where do we focus our energies? Electoral politics? Community building? Erecting firewalls? Revisualizing reality? And is there some magic that we possess as organizers and culture workers that can allow us to be of special service in the struggles to come?

Come talk about it.

The Next Conversation: “Art and Technology: 9e2 and What’s Coming”


Date: Tuesday, October 18, 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

We will bring together a few 9e2 participants to talk about what we’re up to. Read on below for details.

The Guests

We’ll be pulling together some of the people working on 9e2 projects. Stay tuned.

The Story

This time we’ll be revisiting the topic of art and technology, and bringing in art and science as well. As many of you know, I’ve been working for months with a talented group of people to put on “9e2,” which will happen in less than ten days, from October 21 through 29, upstairs at King Street Station. It is shaping up to be a beautiful event. For this conversation, I want to talk about a few of the 9e2 performances and projects, and more broadly, we will be talking about how art and technology intersect, and what effects art can have on the investigations of science.

This series has encountered art and technology before from a number of angles. This time, we’ll cover that intersection within the frame of specific current and coming technologies and changes in the way we make art and bring it to an audience. I want to look at Seattle’s role in an ongoing technological revolution, and the direct intersections here between art, technological development, and scientific research. I’m especially curious as to how the new intersections can help us move toward a culture of sustainability and social justice.

The basic description of 9e2: in 1966 Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver, a Bell Labs engineer, got together to produce the first major festival of art and technology in New York City. Titled “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineeering,” the event had ten artists teamed up with 30 Bell Labs engineers and technicians to produce nine evenings of performance art driven by some of the newest technologies of the time: infrared cameras, live onstage video projections, Doppler sonar, remote-controlled moving platforms, biofeedback, and more. The artists included Rauschenberg, John Cage, and a group of dancers and choreographers who have since become legendary: Yvonne Rainer, Lucinda Childs, and Deborah Hay.

This month, we are celebrating a half century since the original a new festival of art, science, and technology. With 11 performances and 17 installations, we are commemorating the half-century since 1966, while we explore new directions and intersections.

I’ll be corralling a few of the participants to come and talk about what they are up to, and we will all address a broader view of where we stand and where we are going. I’ll let you know who those are closer to the event.

Do come.

And come to 9e2. Here is website, and the calendar. Opening night will be spectacular.

A Voice Without the Words to Speak

Hello Conversation Friends,

We are back with Vermillion conversations for the fall, this time with a guest conversation. The ever-extraordinary Tessa Hulls is leading a discussion about loss of language, with a group of excellent guests. Details are laid out below. You must come; this will be very good.

Before that, however, two brief announcements related to art, science, and technology:

9e2, the project I’ve been working on, is going at full steam. Take a look at

The deadline for 4Culture’s Tech-Specific grant is coming up: September 29. Check it out.

And now, without further ado, the main attraction:

A Voice Without the Words to Speak: A Roundtable Discussion on Loss of Language

Co-produced by Tessa Hulls and John Boylan’s Conversation Series

Tuesday, September 27, 7 to 9pm

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

The Story

Our identities our defined by language: even within the intimacy of our own minds, we need words to shape the timbre of what we think and what we feel. Externally, the languages that we speak place us within larger contexts—of culture, of identity, of belonging. So what happens when we lose access to language? What does it mean when we lack the words to fully frame who we are?

In this participatory roundtable discussion, attendees are invited to share their own perspectives as four invited panelists discuss their personal and professional experiences working with a broad spectrum of language loss.

This event is supported through a City Artist grant through the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, and is a part of the larger project Feeding Ghosts: The Life of Sun Yi (more information about this project and its connection to this event is included at the end of this announcement).

The Guests and some questions: 

Gregory Sutterlict, whose name is Tuwalitin, is a linguist who serves as the Director of the Heritage University Language Center in Toppenish, Washington. Founded to revitalize, preserve, and promote endangered languages, the center focuses on Ichishkin (Sahaptin), the language of the Yakama people. How does the personal loss of the ability to speak a language differ from the larger loss of a language system as a whole? How does a culture’s sense of identity shift when its members lose the names and words with which they have defined themselves?

Sharon H. Chang is a scholar, activist, and author whose inaugural book, Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children In a Post-Racial World, was released last year to wide acclaim. Both Sharon and her husband were born to Asian immigrants who did not pass their heritage languages on to their children; now, as parents themselves, Sharon and her husband are striving to raise their son with proficiency in one of his heritage languages. When it comes to the loss of native tongue, why do we so often find ourselves in a Joni Mitchell place of, “Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” We are seeing a push within our educational system for more bilingual education, and for children to be introduced to language instruction and immersion at an earlier age: can we take this as a sign of progress, an acknowledgment that we do not need to fully lose something before fighting to regain it?

Rose Hulls is a special education teacher—and the mother of the organizer of this event—who spent her career focusing on language development in young children with language disorders; at the same time, her first-generation American children do not speak her native tongue of Cantonese. What does this say about generational shifts in the value of heritage language, and how does the immigrant experience—both implicitly and explicitly—affect our relationships to cultural belonging and to the languages we geographically leave behind?

Litsa Dremousis is the author of the book “Altitude Sickness,” and has had Myalgic Encephalomyelitis for twenty-five years. The way in which we move through the world is a physical language: if our bodies become impaired—particularly in ways that might not be immediately apparent or easily defined—how does that impact the way in which we physically communicate? If the body has a voice, what happens when this voice is damaged? In the case of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, this compromised vocabulary is twofold; the disorder used to be called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” and this is “now regarded by the Institutes of Medicine as one of the most wildly inaccurate and pejorative misnomers in medical history.” Even now, an agreed-upon vocabulary has yet to fully emerge; we are still shaping and learning the words that we need in order to talk about this illness.

The Guests in Detail

Rose Hulls was born in Shanghai, China, in 1950, right after the Communist takeover. She was smuggled out of China to Hong Kong with her mother in 1958 when the Chinese government issued exit visas for a large number of people to leave the country on account of famine within China. At the age of eight, her mother enrolled her in a British boarding school in Hong Kong. She had not been exposed to the English language prior to that time, but within a year, she was speaking English fluently, along with the Shanghainese dialect that she had grown up with, and the Cantonese dialect (predominant in Hong Kong) that she learned after arriving in Hong Kong. She came to the US for college when she was 19, and after completing a BA in History and French, went on to earn a master’s degree in the Education of Exceptional Children. She worked as a special educator in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1980-2012, specializing in language development for young children with language disorders. In the final decade of her work life, she additionally completed a doctorate in psychology. She has two adult children, and has lived in the SF Bay Area since 1975, and is now retired

Gregory Sutterlict, whose name is Tuwalatin, is Yakama and Chehalis and a father of 3. He is the Director of Heritage University Language Center (HULC), which was created to help revitalize, preserve, and promote endangered languages, focusing on Ichishkin (Sahaptin), the language of the Yakama people. He received his BA at Heritage University, then did his Masters work at University of Washington, and completed all the coursework for a PhD in linguistics at the University of Oregon. He is currently working on his Dissertation. When he wanted to learn his native language it was difficult to get started; then he heard about Ichishkin classes at HU and met Tuxamshish Virginia Beavert, his teacher and elder, and became hooked in language. Tuwalatin made his University language classes available to the community to learn their language for free, and he started the Zillah After-School Language and Culture Club and the Ichishkin-focused toddler class at the Heritage University Early Learning Center, where he helps with teaching material and teaching strategies.

Litsa Dremousis is the author of “Altitude Sickness” (Future Tense Books), which Seattle Metropolitan Magazine named one of the all-time “20 Books Every Seattleite Must Read.” Her essay “After the Fire” was selected as one of the “Most Notable Essays 2011” by Best American Essays, she’s a Contributing Editor at The Weeklings, and The Seattle Weekly named her one of “50 Women Who Rock Seattle.” She is a Washington Post contributor and her work has appeared in myriad publications, including Esquire and New York Magazine. @LitsaDremousis,

She has had Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a degenerative neuro-immuno illness, for 25 years. The World Health Organization estimates 17 million people worldwide have ME, and the Centers for Disease Control estimates one million Americans have ME. It used to be called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” now regarded by the Institutes of Medicine as one of the most wildly inaccurate and pejorative misnomers in medical history. What was once dismissed as “yuppie flu” is now known to be degenerative, incurable, and potentially fatal. She walks with crutches and has written each word of her career while lying down.

Sharon H. Chang has worked with young children and families for over a decade as a teacher, administrator, advocate and parent educator. She is currently an award-winning author, scholar and activist who focuses on racism, social justice and the Asian American diaspora with a feminist lens. Her inaugural book Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children In a Post-Racial World was released in 2015 to rave reviews. Her pieces have additionally appeared in BuzzFeed, ThinkProgress, Hyphen Magazine, ParentMap Magazine, The Seattle Globalist, AAPI Voices and International Examiner. She also serves as a consultant for Families of Color Seattle and is social media coordinator for the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference.

Sharon and her husband are both children of Asian immigrants who grew up in America at a time when assimilation was heavily pushed. Consequently neither of them are even conversational in their father and mother tongues, respectively. This language loss has always felt acutely painful to them especially in the ways it’s tied to institutional, xenophobic US racism. Today they are trying to raise their young son with proficiency in one of his heritage languages but the challenge continues to be long, hard and arduous.

About this event and its connection to Feeding Ghosts: The Life of Sun Yi: 

This event is part of the larger project Feeding Ghosts: The Life of Sun Yi, an in-progress graphic novel by Tessa Hulls. Feeding Ghosts explores loss of language, generational inheritance of trauma, mental illness, mother/daughter relationships, mixed-race American identity, and loss of culture, through the life story of the author’s maternal grandmother, Sun Yi.

Sun Yi was a reporter in Shanghai in the 1940’s, where she had an affair with a Swiss diplomat during the year of the communist takeover, and became pregnant with a mixed-race bastard child. She fled the country for Hong Kong with her young daughter, Rose, in 1958 and subsequently wrote a bestselling autobiography entitled “Eight Years in Communist China: Love, Starvation, Persecution.” Sun Yi used the money from her book to enroll her daughter in an elite British boarding school in Hong Kong, and then suffered a nervous breakdown—initially diagnosed as schizophrenia and later revised to bipolar disorder—and was institutionalized. When Rose Hulls immigrated to the United States on a college scholarship, she eventually brought her mother over with her, and Tessa Hulls grew up with Sun Yi living within her nuclear family. In spite of the fact that Sun Yi and Rose conversed solely in Cantonese, Tessa did not learn the language, and was never able to truly communicate with her grandmother, or read her autobiography.

Now, as an adult and professional artist, Tessa is seeking to remedy the fact that she never truly knew her grandmother or her culture, and is working on a graphic novel about Sun Yi’s life and the generational impact of its reverberations. With the generous support of a City Artist grant from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, Tessa commissioned a translation of her grandmother’s autobiography, and is presenting this roundtable discussion as a component of this grant. Tessa has also received a research grant from 4Culture and will be traveling to Hong Kong this fall to see where her mother and grandmother lived.

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.