Black Arts Legacies


In the wake of the 2020 protests against racial injustice, the Seattle Arts Commission approached Crosscut seeking a way to pay tribute to the historic and continuing contributions Black artists have made to the Northwest cultural landscape. After talks with SAC representatives, we enlisted our developer team to build a brand-new website that could properly showcase the artists and their work.

Determined that the project be Black-led, we hired a team of Seattle-based freelance storytellers: Project editors/writers Jasmine Mahmoud and Kemi Adeyemi, researcher Meshell Sturgis, video producer Tifa Tomb and portrait photographer Meron Menghistab. We also brought in Brooklyn Jamerson-Flowers, Crosscut’s podcast fellow, to create an accompanying audio series about Black arts venues then and now.

The hardest part? Picking just 26 artists to recognize out of hundreds of possibilities. Starting in November 2021, the team narrowed the list and ensured it reflected the long, often intersecting lines of influence across dance, literature, visual art, music, theater and architecture.

“The goal was not to catalog all of the Black artists who live and work in Seattle,” Adeyemi says. “We wanted to highlight a group of artists of diverse ages and diverse mediums that would tell the complex story of Black life and art in Seattle.”

In a city like Seattle, where the population is more than 60% white, a misconception persists that aside from a few famous examples, “there aren’t many Black artists here.” But the wealth of personal histories featured in Black Arts Legacies enlightens the community about the multitude and diversity of Black artists making work here, as well as the fact that it hasn’t always been easy for these artists to reside in the Pacific Northwest.

Many of the interviews revealed how artists, both deceased and living, faced racist housing policies, gentrification that pushed their families out of the historically Black Central District, and erasure in their chosen art form. “Black artists tell us stories about what it feels like to make life here, sometimes against all odds,” says Adeyemi.

In June 2022, we launched Black Arts Legacies with 16 written profiles and photographic portraits, five videos — each of which showcases two artists in the same genre working across different decades — which were broadcast on our sister-station KCTS-9 (a PBS affiliate), and a five-episode podcast. And we celebrated with a sold-out party for the community.