Seattle Independent Artists Sustainability Effort (SIASE) is a horizontal coalition made by and for artists. Its purpose is to enhance self-determination and secure both the short and long term sustainability of our communities through documentation, coordination, and direct advocacy.

As an inaugural project, SIASE is launching a community-led documentation effort that has captured $1,675,981.52 in losses sustained by Seattle’s creatives- a number that grows by the hour. 

Carolyn Hitt of Blue Cone Studios, a collaborative space dedicated to supporting and promoting independent local BIPOC, queer, and neurodivergent artists, lamented, “If I can’t cover the studio rent, we may not have a studio at the end of this. Now we wait to see if any of the foundation funds will reach us. The uncertainty is debilitating but there really is no other option than to press forward and continue creating.  Maybe someone will see.” 

The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the arts ecosystem in Seattle with devastating force- with little recourse or governmental relief in sight. Artists across all disciplines are losing critical income in droves. As gig work and contracts are postponed or outright canceled and all gathering places close indefinitely, the situation for local artists worsens. They were already enduring economic precarity to exist in one of the most increasingly expensive cities in the world. But it has now reached a new, critical level. 

“Balance of Concepts LLC is approaching 5k in loss. And a projected 5k/month loss ongoing, plus additional fees and costs of regaining momentum. I will have to close if I can’t meet financial obligations,” reported Troy “Intylekt” Sheppard, founder of BOC. One of a handful of Black-owned recording studios persisting in city limits. Which also houses the operation of multiple creative businesses as well as a collective of independent producers. This reality is why SIASE has coalesced. 

Kyle Hartmann, a core organizer of SIASE puts it this way: “At the start of this crisis, it became abundantly clear that the dire need for transparency and solidarity was non-negotiable in ensuring the survival of our arts and culture community. Each independent artist holds a vital role in sustaining the lifeblood of arts in Seattle. This community-led documentation amplifies our collective voices in an effort to finally be heard. We cannot afford to be patient while major foundations decide where and when to direct financial relief.”

This is the first call to action introduced by SIASE as their emergent work unfolds. “Artists and cultural workers exist at potent intersections of humanity. We are galvanizing points. And our presence is vital to the health and wellness of our broader communities and movements,” says Julie-C of the Seattle Artists Coalition for Equitable Development.

“SIASE is activating the power and creative resiliency of the Seattle arts ecosystem towards community-driven solutions, she said.” “For COVID-19 relief now, but also for lasting systemic change far beyond any current catalyst.” 

Interview With Seattle Artist And Activist Julie-C

In what ways has the coronavirus and quarantining affected you?

Julie-C: It’s changed everything. I’ve been struggling to exist in this city for a long time, like most musicians. I spent the last year couch surfing, and it wasn’t until mid-January that I found an amazing place to live with amazing roommates within city limits where I can really root again. Had this all went down one month earlier than it did, I’d have been in a VERY different situation. So I have a lot of gratitude for my circumstance. 

Additionally, I am fortunate now to work for an organization (NW Folklife) whose leadership is truly dedicated enough to its mission of strengthening communities through arts and culture that they are not only retaining as much of their staff as possible, but also are allowing someone like me to redirect my hours towards directly addressing the needs of my communities. Being entrusted to define what that means puts me in a position beyond privilege, at least for now, and that privilege comes with a responsibility to serve and organize- which is what I’ve been doing around the clock. 

There’s also simultaneously this looming reality that both my core sources of income (which combined still put me WELL below “low income” and teetering the poverty line in Seattle) are at risk. NW Folklife is an organization whose annual sustainability relies on a gathering that probably won’t happen this year- and figuring out how to survive and maintain its year-round programming and youth residencies and staff will be imperative.

Such is the case too for the Chinese family-owned enrichment center I’ve taught at since I was 18 (and went to when I was a kid!)- Brain Child Learning Center. It is a legacy business that has NEVER advertised- all word of mouth since 1988- and serves immigrant and first-generation families. In many ways, the low profile of these kinda small, private cultural entities puts us at even more risk! And we have to adapt everything or we will cease to be. I can’t sleep at night over any of it. It’s a harsh reality. 

How have you been coping with isolation and not being able to showcase your artwork in Seattle’s temporarily closed local venues?

Julie-C: I mean, honestly, as a cultural organizer with the imperative to organize, I been just as busy connecting directly (virtually) with just as many people these last two weeks as I was before the phrase self-distancing was even on the radar- maybe even more. I do miss and am worried about my peoples I only see offline though. There’s a LOT of those. These isolation mandates have really put the issue of disparity in internet access and technology resource and education access front and center, and inequity in connectivity is real. I am worried about my folx. But I am also hopeful that this new reality infuses the digital equity movement with fresh energy.  We are living the evidence of why the internet shouldn’t be privatized, why media shouldn’t be consolidated, why access is a human right, etc. 

Creatively though, as an artist, this part is really challenging. I just dropped an album late January with BOC Music (shouts to Intylekt!) which is available online and special release edition at Concuss (Shouts to Castro and Barf Loko!) and I had like 5 shows canceled, and in redirecting so much of my personal energy and capacity towards relief organizing, I have been unable to really even think about sharing my own art, let alone being newly creative myself.

I gotta work on that balance to create more space to create! Maybe I’ll do one of these live stream things soon, but honestly, the importance of the organizing is too severe to prioritize my artistry in my world right now. Maybe that’s a false dichotomy, but that’s how it feels. You’ve been the first person to really make me sit and think about this, Lovely, and I appreciate the space it’s giving me to examine. 

What are some ways that you’ve witnessed your community being effected by this unexpected Outbreak?

Julie-C: EVERYONE I LOVE AND EVERYTHING I RELY ON TO EXIST IS HURTING AND UNDER THREAT. EVERYONE. AND EVERYTHING. The urgency of that is what I’ve been living and breathing since really internalizing this whole thing. And the range of that impact in my world is staggering. From people who rely on busking, to people who rely on vending, to people who rely on studio bookings, to people who rely on shows, to people who work in media and service industries, to people who work production, to people who are on frontlines of healthcare and other essential sectors, to people who own venues- it is tremendous. And terrifying. 

I am scared. Not even gonna lie. And my time been entirely committed to helping support an outcome where we will all come out stronger from the other end of this. And despite this bleak present, I believe in the potency of the future because- 

From another angle, this crisis has re-connected me with pockets of my organizing community that I haven’t seen and spoken to since Occupy. It’s like every autonomous organizer with a clear and humble sense of their role in broader service and movement facilitation has sprung into action and is moving into place. It’s inspiring; affirming. And that silent, wordless solidarity is giving me all I need to get up and continue with sincere hope. It’s like we trained for this.

We know what we’re doing (or rather we know how to act in that unknowing) without it being directed, coordinated, and expressed. There’s this intense unspoken awareness amongst us that the world will never be the same, and that all previous political contentions and philosophical differences and personal beefs don’t matter in this moment. What matters is unity and fluidity to meet the needs of the people around us and demand something better. And I’m proud and energized watching autonomous folx and accomplices from all sectors mobilize in this way. It is everything. It is keeping me going. 

How did you get involved with Seattle Independent Artist Sustainability Effort?

Julie-C: I see the work of SIASE as the work of Seattle ACED, as the work of No Juvi Jail, as the work of Hip Hop Occupies to Decolonize, as the work of Project Mayhem, B-Girl Media, Hip-Hop Congress, etc. That being said, my personal associations with this trajectory are just that- personal. But they DO inform my outlook and dedication to holding space for emergence and trusting the moments. I’m sure my fellow organizers have their own personal associations and understandings too. 

Because the truth is, the current core of SIASE pretty much met not even two weeks ago and combined in response to kindred ethos demonstrated through kindred mobilization around equity in COVID-19 relief. We fucks with each other because we are all dedicated to the horizontal, responsive, and transparent movement that meets each other and our communities where they are at- and helps get each other and our people what we need!

What’s been really fascinating and inspiring is that all of us come from VERY different sectors of the Seattle arts community to have arrived at this point. We ALL have our own stories we are only now learning. But the openness and benefit of doubt we’ve been giving each other has been really refreshing to be a part of. Art is magical like that. Artists and cultural workers are EVERYTHING. Not the commodities and little embellishments for flare and entertainment and PR like the current systems treat us as. 

What is your role within the Coalition?

Julie-C: We all do everything! We have teams we are trying to figure out to streamline efficiency. But it’s a shared effort, truly, until then. I thrive at writing and connecting people. So I do a lot of that. 

How can others get involved with and or donate to SIASE? How to artists apply? Who is eligible? How long does it take to get a response about rather or not an applicant has been accepted?

Julie-C: We are not a fund seeking nor fund dispersing entity. We are a horizontal coalition of autonomous organizers, so our initial effort is community-led documentation for direct navigation support and broader systemic advocacy. We have gotten emergency organizing support from the Social Justice Fund. Which we are planning on investing in existing, underrepresented community leaders to empower their own networks in crisis response/resource navigation.

Drag queens, emcees, burlesque performers, etc. The folx that fall between the cracks. But anyone can get involved by documenting their income loss and/or emailing. We are still figuring out a LOT as far as streamlining communication. So anyone who wants to connect directly can text me personally at (425) 223-7787. My number has been public for over a decade. So don’t say anything too wild or subversive to me without Signal. 

But as far as where to donate—we are making it a point to amplify the community-led funds that exist out of traditional philanthropic systemics- Gabe, Ijeoma, and Ebony’s fund if you want to donate to Seattle artist relief. We are also in solidarity with COVID-19 Mutual Aid Seattle’s Survival for the People Fund for a broader relief effort.

We are strategizing ways to distinguish and amplify these kinds of efforts from the rest because we recognize the current state of urgency and impact of COVID-19 as the culmination of widespread and long-standing systemic failure. We’re committed to helping one another navigate systemic resources while also emphasizing this fact: that it was NEVER enough. 

What does SIASE need from the community to continue aiding the Independent Artist Community in Seattle?

Julie-C: We need you to hit us up if you need support finding resources that work for you, and we also need you to understand that shit has been fucked up for a long time, and for us to collectively survive and thrive, some really deep change is necessary in the world overall and this city especially- as a city that has been a prototype of “creative economies.”

We want to help stop the bleeding too though,  and we are all in for directly supporting our own in meeting basic needs to regain stability and security under these present circumstances. But we also aren’t about, and need you to not be about, just settling with the band-aid solutions and status quos. 

SIASE is taking charge of this crisis to try and help the community and the world. If ever there was an opportunity in our lifetimes to create a new world, it is now. Let’s do this shit.