Shopping in Seattle has been deeply affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but now, the Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED) is partnering with Seattle Good Business Network and Shunpike to match vacant downtown Seattle storefronts with pop-up shops and art installations. This Seattle Restored initiative is now partnering with the Blossom CID artist collective to create a storefront called flower flower.

According to Ken Takahashi, director of commercial affordability for the City of Seattle, the Seattle Restored project originated through a recommendation from the Downtown Revitalization Working Group, a coalition of community leaders that developed strategies for recovery of the downtown area. “Pop-ups have been recognized as a successful strategy to achieve multiple benefits, activating empty storefronts, increased foot traffic in neighborhoods, and affordable space for small businesses to get re-established and gain access to new markets,” Takahashi said. “OED and the Office of Arts and Culture know through our networks that there is a high demand from small businesses and artists for this type of program.”

Seattle Restored is funded by the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (CLFR) established under the American Rescue Plan, and the program has a budget of $500,000 that can support up to 25 projects. “Over 170 small businesses and artists have applied to participate, which further demonstrate the interest in this type of approach to economic recovery for our city!” Takahashi said. “The primary challenge will be the identification of landlords who will recognize the value of activating empty storefronts at low costs as opposed to prioritizing market rent for their spaces. To date, we have received strong responses from nearly 20 landlords interested in participating at low cost and will continue to do outreach to increase the number of property owner that wish to participate.”

The Blossom CID, in Takahashi’s view, is an ideal fit for this program. “The Seattle Chinatown-ID PDA has been an early supporter of Seattle Restored as an owner and manager of several properties,” he said. “Blossom CID and SCIDpda expressed mutual interest in using one of SCIDpda’s properties as a Seattle Restored activation site. This will be a great way to launch the Seattle Restored program and demonstrate the type of activation we hope to achieve with all our upcoming projects.”

The primary members of the Blossom CID artist collective include Monyee Chau, Lourdez Velasco, Jae Eun Kim, Roldy Aguero Ablao and So’le Celestial. “In our collective, our roles are shared fluidly,” Celestial said. “We are all artists, so I’m very excited to see all we are able to create in and for the space.”

Velasco, who uses they/them pronouns, echoed that sentiment. “Our collective shares collective power and roles as we build flower flower, the name of our project and shop,” they said. “I look forward to filling the physical space with artistic energy like murals, art installations and window art.”

Chau elaborated on the collective’s structure. “Our roles in the collective are fluid, we are a group of incredibly talented creatives who fill a variety of creative needs!” Chau said. “What is valuable to me as being in this collective is that we are nurturing a dream that I think all of us as a group has had, even individually, a creative space in the CID to nurture creativity.”

Each artist will support the flower flower project in a variety of creative and logistical ways. “My role will be to support any needs for the space with administrative and operational needs,” Velasco said.

Meanwhile, Celestial is the music creator in the collective. “My role will be to support any needs for our space, including opening and closing the space during our open to the public hours, any operational needs, and filling the space with music,” Celestial said. “I look forward to creating original soundtracks that will showcase and honor our abundant cultures, our ever-growing identities, and the deep love we all have for our collective, the space and our communities.”

Likewise, Chau’s contributions will also be versatile. “My role becomes whatever the space needs,” Chau said, “whether it be programming, design, relationship building, as is the same with the others in our group.”

In parallel, Takahashi described how Seattle Restored aims to build city-wide skills and capacity in both the artistic and logistical realms. “This program not only connects participants to capital to get up and running, but holistically supports their ability to break into new markets downtown, operate in prime commercial spaces, and build a path toward long term growth to meet their business goals,” advisor Takahashi said. “Another unique element to this program is the technical assistance participating artists and businesses will have access to including commercial space development, marketing strategy development and execution, product inventory management, and customer development strategies in new markets. These are all designed to support their profitability, sustainability, and long-term growth.”

Blossom CID draws these connections directly through their project. “We ultimately want to support our neighborhood that has been important and integral to us all, specifically a neighborhood that has been under threat to gentrification, and now disaster gentrification due to the effects of the ongoing global pandemic,” Chau said. “Knowledge on running your own business can feel very inaccessible and intimidating, so I feel grateful for the support and guidance that Seattle Restored offers through this program so that we can take this knowledge to grow, flourish, and share back with our community.”

Velasco expanded on the impacts that Blossom CID hopes to create. “Seattle Restored has given us as an artist collective of color, an opportunity that many of us have not had access to in our ever-changing city, due to gentrification and displacement, a physical space to create art and build community that we hope to share with other queer and trans, Black, Indigenous artists of color!” Velasco said. “I believe that my contribution to the collective’s project of being a connector to community networks, offering my visual and performance arts skills to create an inviting and imaginative space, as well as nurturing relationships with youth, elders, and queer and trans community in Seattle to access the space with wonder and creativity.”

Similarly, flower flower will be a multi-faceted project. “With the storefront, we want to have multiple art activations, have artists residencies, and create an Art Walk that will celebrate all that we create in the space,” Celestial said. “With the Art Walk, we want to collaborate with other BIPOC artists and businesses in the CID with the goal of bringing more people and business to the area. My personal goal is to create multiple performance activations in the storefront, as well as collaborate and create meaningful connections with other local artists and businesses.”

Celestial also believes that the Seattle Restored storefront partnership has given them a special opportunity to bring awareness and uplift the community in Seattle’s Chinatown International District. “Due to ongoing gentrification, displacement, and the global COVID pandemic, the CID has been experiencing a lot of grief,” Celestial said. “We aim to create an art space that helps our communities move through our grief while also honoring and celebrating the deep life and history that our communities and city holds.”

The Blossom CID collective has worked through the myriad challenges of this project together. “The challenges we have encountered while working on this project have been the impact of Covid on all our communities,” Velasco said. “We envision creating fun interactive window art installations that will engage the public as we build more ways to safely invite the community into the space.”

Chau supports this focus on safety and fun. “Our challenges have been being able to find ways to be together through this pandemic, both internally and in the ways we will invite community into our space,” Chau said. “But as creatives do, we find ways to be creative about it all.”

Blossom CID points to the intentional selection of their group’s name. “Our collective goal is to create a space in the CID for our communities to grow and heal,” Celestial added. “It is very important to me, and my whole collective, that this storefront and creative space is a safe place for people of all cultures and identities to come together and blossom.”

Overall, Blossom CID hopes to foster optimism during the Seattle’s gloomy season. “I am grateful to build with other Pasifika and Asian queer and trans artists in the historic CID to create spaces of healing through art,” Velasco said. “We hope that our presence in the CID will invite community to dream of many worlds that we can create through art, and move towards making these worlds real, as we believe that art is medicine to heal our communities and center our joy!”

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