Early into the COVID-19 lock down of 2020, ARTS wanted to get money directly into the hands of artists. Our public art team decided to hire photographers that summer to go out and document the work of essential workers, which hadn’t stopped at all—quite the opposite, in fact. This project was called Essentially Seattle.
Thirteen local photographers went out all over Seattle to capture glimpses of the people whose labor allowed Seattle residents to shelter in place. 105 photos from Essentially Seattle are now part of the City of Seattle Civic Collection.
But what else could we do? Our public art team continued working on new and different ways of thinking about public art and 1% for Art funding. With this in mind, our Communications team took it to the next level and partnered with Amplifier, which boosts social movements and shifts consciousness while being grounded in local community. They were the perfect partner to get these images everywhere, in unique places, spaces relevant to the messaging, and directly into the hands of people.
At the time, the vaccine had been available for a few months, and many of us were feeling a sense of relief. You remember: things were opening up again! The Delta variant of COVID-19 wasn’t quite here yet, but we were beginning to hear more and more about it. How do you develop messaging in this kind of uncertainty? We kept returning to the concept of REIMAGINATION, which departments all over the City of Seattle engaged with as part of our collective recovery efforts.
Amplifier grounded us with the intention to respect the dignity of laborers and honor those who keep society running smoothly. We wanted this campaign to encourage:
- Everybody to continue supporting, uplifting and cherishing essential workers
- Everybody to embrace how much we all need each other to navigate the ongoing pandemic and our collective future in its wake
- Asking ourselves as a city: how do we want to see each other and the city in a different ways? How have we changed and how do we want to grow?
This formed the basis of the Still Essential campaign.
As part of a Language Lab, Amplifier worked with us and poet, Jazmine Williams, to define key terms:
Essential – Extremely important and necessary. Synonyms: crucial, fundamental, imperative, indispensable
Appreciation – Recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something. Synonyms: acknowledgment, recognition, thanks, gratitude
Together, Amplifier and Jazmine suggested we shift away from language that highlights appreciation for the action, towards appreciation for the person.
Four members of our staff, two from Public Art and two from Communications selected a pool of their favorite photographs from the 105 Essentially Seattle images. I then chose 15 to pass along to Amplifier, and they chose the final four that would be featured in the campaign. They referred to these workers as icons.
Still Essential Artists
In presenting a menu of local artists who would use these photographs as inspiration, Amplifier made sure that we weren’t just taking these artists’ style into account, but who they were, and what it would mean to them to get a commission of this size at this stage in their career.
We selected Paige Pettibon (Salish, Black, White), an emerging artist based in Tacoma. Amplifier created language choices for Paige to work with while leaving enough room for her to add to the language design if she was so inspired. Paige created four portrait-based artworks and two-text-based artworks for Still Essential. One of the latter two is a poem written by Jazmine Williams inspired by the workers who keep our invisible infrastructure operating.
Still Essential Campaign
From December 7 – 11, 2021, Amplifier flooded Seattle with an eye-catching public art campaign celebrating its local heroes:
- “Wild postings”
- Building projections
- Free art giveaways in Arts & Cultural Districts Columbia City, Capitol Hill, and Uptown.
- Facebook ads
- A story on essential workers in Real Change.
As we all deal with the Omicron variant, and pass the grim milestone of 800,000 COVID deaths in the nation, thank the essential workers who are still out there, keeping things running for all of us, and the artists who help us make meaning from the ongoing pandemic.
By Otts Bolisay, Digital Media Specialist
Both Essentially Seattle and Still Essential were paid for by 1% for Arts funding from Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities.