Some of the best views in Seattle are caught from the vantage of public transportation. Increasingly, an open-air gallery along the SoDo busway offers views of public art on an unprecedented scale.
The SoDo Track Project began in 2016 and now, in its third yearly wave of additions, completes the two-mile stretch of murals this month with help from 23 artists. The finalization of the project ushers in a new Seattle landmark to a city whose architectural face is in continual flux.
This year’s muralists started painting July 15, and work will continue through July 25. As the pieces near completion, a reception will be held on Saturday the 21st, along with a free guided tour on Tuesday the 24th. Passengers can see the pieces, painted by 62 artists (including many locals) across 32 surfaces, by bus or Light Rail. You can catch a glimpse without a lift from public transportation, although the gallery as a whole functions best in motion.
Tamar Benzikry-Stern is a senior project manager for the public art program at 4Culture, which teamed up with curator Gage Hamilton to create the SoDo Track Project. She also consults for King County Metro and has a special interest in commuters. As she puts it, “I’m interested in public space writ-large.”
She thinks fondly about the director of public art at 4Culture, Cath Brunner, referring to buses as rolling plazas. “I just loved that—and just thinking about the gathering place that is the bus or is the train,” she says. “Expanding out from the seats on the bus to the view outside the window is really an expansion of what public space and public art can be.”
The artists and their murals have contributed work that falls under the umbrella theme of motion, movement, and progression. Many also grasp at notions of Seattleness. Some have chosen to dig deeper into the city’s roots. Indigenous inspiration appears in design, as well as the mural of Addison Karl, who offers a tribute to the grandchildren of Chief Seattle.
Others take a more contemporary approach. Benzikry-Stern calls attention to two murals in particular: one depicts a dynamic portrayal of a wolf seemingly fleeing in front of a wall of flames, another close by shows an artist within a tech-ish environment, searching for room to morph within the changing city. “They were both really exploring this question," says Benzikry-Stern. "Seattle is growing and changing and certain people are being pushed out, including the creative class. What’s an artist to do?”
For artists chasing big questions, SoDo offered a canvas in a way other limbs of the city didn’t. The SoDo Track Project estimates some 50,000 people pass through the neighborhood’s principal transit corridor on a daily basis. But sheer volume isn’t necessarily the main target. “What they were seeing was derelict building backs, industrial building backs, with various states of disrepair,” says Benzikry-Stern. “For the people commuting from south county that’s a daily experience, and for the people traveling into the city this was the gateway, the entry, the welcome to Seattle.”