The tenuous relationship between art and technology in Seattle
I was reminded of this once again last week when speaking with local curator and writer Sharon Arnold. As a longtime gallerist in Seattle, Arnold for years hosted discussions and wrote about how to bridge the gap between the art world and… well, everyone, but especially those with money. liquid (including tech workers).
Our conversation took place during an interview for a story I wrote this week about a controversy that had torn the local art world apart like wildfire. The Spark: A Call for Art (featuring a cartoon of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates wearing boxing gloves) for an exhibit called “Amazon vs Microsoft.” The fuel: struggling artists, as one commentator put it, “actively valued by these companies.” And the oxygen? Social media.
During our phone call, Arnold explained that this discussion isn’t new – it’s been around since at least the 1990s. Seattle.
And while it wasn’t a new discussion, the “art vs. tech” debate exploded this week – and made headlines at the Seattle Art Fair (and its sexier sibling, Forest For the Trees). ).
I thought the time was right. The Seattle Art Fair was founded in 2015 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (1953-2018). Billionaire, philanthropist and one of the most important art collectors in the region and the world, Allen wanted the art fair to do for his city what the glitzy Art Basel did for Basel (and Miami).
When we talk about art, technology and philanthropy in Seattle, the discussion inevitably turns to Allen. Although he was not universally loved – and many have questioned the quirks of his artistic philanthropy – many consider him to be more generous to the arts than the city’s other tech billionaires, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. “He gave so much more to liberal arts organizations,” a local artist told me this week. Others point out that with the elimination of the artistic branches of his company Vulcan (which is no longer involved with the fair), much of his external artistic funding has dried up, just four years after his death. Why, then, some ask, pin your hopes on tech philanthropy?
With an art sector in shambles as we enter the third year of a devastating pandemic, it’s a discussion that has become all the more pertinent. Will another local arts philanthropist emerge? Can arts organizations and struggling artists count on financial support from government organizations?
I remember something many others alluded to in about a dozen interviews I conducted for this week’s story: There is not a band-aid (or a philanthropist). The arts are an ecosystem – and fragile at that. The art sector is made up of a complex and interconnected network that needs a variety of supports, as Arnold told me, not just to survive, but blossom. Arts reporting is an essential part of the ecosystem, and I don’t take that role lightly. I can’t wait to continue the conversation, even if it’s still deja vu.