THE VACANT LOT at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street transformed into an interactive art installation in just over a week in late June, and remains up through August. The Corner: 23rd and Union, the creation of KUOW producer Jenny Asarnow, mounts large-scale photographic portraits of Central District residents who stand amid spray-painted messages like, “This is a powerful corner,” “What do you remember?” and a phone number: 877-R23UNION. Call the number and hear local hip-hop artist Yirim Seck inviting you to record and/or listen to reflections about the neighborhood. One elderly woman recalls being mugged, then adds, “We’re all in this together.” Another voice chides, “C’mon, let’s face the reality: People exploit black people.” Some of the collected thoughts also air on 23rdandunion.org, on KUOW, and on Hollow Earth Radio (an online-only station).
Asarnow catches her bus to work from that corner. She’d read about shootings in the area and been warned, as a young white woman, not to walk through there at night. But she’d never encountered any trouble and wanted other perspectives to be heard. “I couldn’t get a read on what was going on,” she says. “It’s a way of me giving up the control of what stories are being told.”
Asarnow began her grant-funded project this past spring, when she convinced developer Jim Mueller, who owns the lot, to allow the temporary residency. A call-out for collaborators attracted photojournalist Inye Wokoma, who grew up just a few blocks from the corner, while Asarnow hired the team of graffiti artists—NKO, Joe Martinez, No Touching Ground, and David Rauschenberg—that built up the site using only donated lumber and found materials.
Yet battling popular technology proves to be a challenge. “We have a Facebook page that has more than 1,000 fans,” says Asarnow, “but I don’t know how many people know it’s a media project. People on the page are having all kinds of interesting conversations with each other. I’m trying to figure out how to transfer that energy into the phone line.”