(Our 10 in 10 series is celebrating a decade of Tacoma arts and culture, in honor of the 10th anniversary of Art at Work Month, this November.)
Scattered Ephemera was a seminal event in the Tacoma art scene organized by Tacoma Contemporary (TaCo) and the City of Tacoma, in 2004. Scattered Ephemera was a sprawling, six-week-long, conceptual artists’ tribute to one city block, on 11th St. from Commerce to Broadway, where the F.W. Woolworth Building stands. The project combined window installations, live performance, radio soundscapes, video, a youth workshop, and painting. A special commemorative edition of the arts newspaper, The Toby Room, heralded the event. TaCo described it as “a three-year, national artistic historic collaboration that culminates in Tacoma on July 22.”
New Orleans-based poet and National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu headlined the national and regional artists who deconstructed Tacoma history for the event. The idea was the brainstorm of artist Kate Sidwell, a one-time Seattleite whose friend, Jan Gilbert, ran the VESTIGES Project investigating the life of cities through the “tangible traces of things past.” Scattered Ephemera was widely covered in the media and proved an important launchpad for the future of public art in Tacoma.
The F.W. Woolworth Building provided a compelling capsule for the memories and essences of Tacoma being dredged for the event, being as it were a branch of the store chain whose lunch counters had been the stage (in the South) for conflict during the civil rights movement. Among the controversial art pieces presented was John Runnels’ installation in the Woolworth windows, Chinese Must Go, featuring racially charged comments in bright neon, and pressed shirts representing the city officials who drove Chinese railroad workers out of town in the 1880s by the so-called “Tacoma Method.” Codrescu did an interactive performance piece in the Farmers’ Market – and wrote an acerbic essay about Tacoma’s blue collar status and alleged inferiority complex to Seattle’s culturati. John Kessler compiled a daily “audio collage” of local sounds and voices for broadcast on KPLU. On the sidewalk running down from Broadway to Commerce, citizens assisted in writing “Side Walk Poetry.”
Today, local citizens continue to be engaged by the history, architecture and retro mystique of Woolworth’s, and bring their own scattered, ephemeral memories to the former five-and-dime. Its windows are occupied by installations in the Spaceworks Tacoma program (activating vacant retail space with art); inside is an AT&T switching station. The building is both a relic of the past and a platform for evanescent contemporary art.
Enjoy past stories in our 10-in-10 Series:
10 in 10: 2006 City Arts Magazine Hits Tacoma
10 in 10: 2001 Free Ya Mind
10 in 10: 2006 the Broadway Center Shines Anew
10 in 10: 2001 The Birth of Tacoma’s Very Own Volcano
10 in 10: 2005 The AMOCAT Awards
10 in 10: The F.W. Woolworth Building
10 in 10: 2001 Tacoma Gets Smart (UW-Tacoma and SOTA)