Starting on May 17 and over two weekends, there will be six dance performances by Spectrum Dance Theatre of Bela Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin” in the first floor windows of the Bush Hotel Building that overlook Hing Hay Park. Chinatown International District is about to become host to a public performance of what is self-described by Bartok as a “grotesque pantomime.” Spectrum’s website writes about the dance performance: “The line between eroticism and savagery is blurred in this twisted fable of an outsider’s tragic fate at the hands of a band of drug addicted thugs and their seductive moll.” Sounds like something that men of certain age, like me, mock at a weekly poker game. But before you or I jump to any big conclusions about the Miraculous Mandarin, I should tell you how we got to this point.

In 2010, both the Chinatown International District and Pioneer Square were looking for creative ways to increase neighborhood exposure and fill vacant retail storefronts. SCIDpda, City of Seattle, Shunpike and other organizations partnered with artists and property owners to create an innovative program, Storefronts Seattle. Designed to breathe new life into the retail core while supporting the need for viable space within the art community, Storefronts Seattle rents vacant storefronts from property owners for $1 and places selected artist, arts organizations and arts businesses temporarily, at no cost, for up to six months.

Patti West from Theatre Off Jackson and I sat on the first selection panel of Storefronts Seattle projects in 2010. I recall that Pioneer Square representatives were disinterested in hosting the Seattle Pinball Museum. Patti and I looked at each other in amazement that somehow they had missed seeing a “diamond in the rough.” Seattle Pinball Museum found their temporary home in a vacant space in the Eastern Hotel Building owned by Gin Holdings, LLC. At that time, leasing decisions for Gin Holdings were primarily made by Ray Chinn. As I have written before, Ray is an amazing man that has played a starring role in the revitalization efforts of our neighborhood.

The Seattle Pinball Museum is a diamond now because Cindy and Charles Martin are passionate owners and neighbors. They have created a following that brings people into the ID who may have not generally come before. The ID also instantly gained two neighbors in Cindy and Charles who genuinely care about what goes on outside their doorway. After their time was completed with Storefronts Seattle, they were invested enough in the ID to start their own lease on the space. Seattle Pinball Museum was one of the first projects to do so, and one of the few that ever have converted to a standard rental agreement with their landlord.

Since the original Storefronts Seattle art project, the ID has seen over twenty six projects activate street level retail spaces. As property owners, Gin Holdings, SCIDpda and Howard Dong have hosted the projects in their buildings. A more recent Storefronts Seattle project, Tuesday Scarves found a permanent home in SCIDpda’s New Central Building. Artist and owner Rian Robison is the creative force behind the design and manufacturing of unique scarves. She has turned one-of-kind designs into wearable art.

If you noticed, the “art” that I have written about has consisted of pinball machines and scarves. Items most people would not consider art. There certainly have been many visual artists that have been a part of Storefronts Seattle projects in the ID. But my Storefronts Seattle experience over the last 2 years has led me to broaden the definition of “art.”

So come May 17, I encourage you to come out and see the Miraculous Mandarin. (Note, the performance is more appropriate for a PG-13 audience.) I will address issues over gentrification in another column, but keep an open mind to the art that will be put forth. The IE and I would like to hear your opinions about it.

To reserve a seat for the Miraculous Mandarin, visit: www.spectrumdance.org/company/miraculous-mandarin. For more information on Storefronts Seattle, visit: www.storefrontsseattle.wordpress.com

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