Seattle Travel Guide


Seattle today is a significant center of the performing arts. The century-old Seattle Symphony Orchestra is among the world's most-recorded orchestras. The Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet are comparably distinguished; the PNB School (founded in 1974) ranks as one of the top three ballet training institutions in the United States.

In addition, Seattle has about twenty live theater venues, a slim majority of them being associated with fringe theater. It has a strong local scene for poetry slams and other performance poetry, and several venues that routinely present public lectures or readings. The largest of these is Seattle's 900-seat, Roman Revival Town Hall on First Hill.

In popular music, Seattle is often thought of mainly as the home of grunge rock, but it is also home to such varied musicians as avant-garde jazz musicians Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz, rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot, and such poppier rock bands as Goodness, the Presidents of the Uited States of America, and Smoosh.

Seattle is home to five art museums (and several other museums with notable art collections), well over 100 commercial art galleries, at least a dozen non-profit art galleries, and perhaps a hundred artists' studios that are open to the public at least once a month. About half of these galleries and studios are concentrated in one neighborhood, Pioneer Square. See Museums and galleries of Seattle.

In recent decades, Washington State, King County, and Seattle have all allocated a certain percentage of all capital budgets to the arts. Several neighborhoods have also raised funds for art installations, usually sculptures. Among the results are massive murals by Fay Jones, Gene Gentry McMahon and Roger Shimomura in the Westlake Station of the Metro bus tunnel; pieces by Ross Palmer Beecher in such unlikely locations as the Safeco Field hallways or a men's room at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A magnificent glass tile mosaic mural by Paul Horiuchi forms a backdrop to the stage of the Mural Amphiteater at Seattle Center.

Seattle was home of Jacob Lawrence from 1970 until his death in 2000. He is well represented in local corporate collections; several of his pieces are prominently displayed at the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, as is a piece by one of his colleagues from the U.W. art faculty, Alden Mason, and works by other artists associated with the Pacific Northwest.

Probably the most visible public sculpture in Seattle is Jonathan Borofsky's 48-foot kinetic sculpture "Hammering Man", outside the Seattle Art Museum; probably the most unusual and popular are several pieces in the Fremont neighborhood, including a massive sculpture of a troll, a bronze statue of Lenin (formerly in Slovakia), and Richard Beyer's "Waiting for the Interurban".

Spoken word and poetry are staples of the Seattle arts scene, paralleling the explostion of the indy scene during the late 1980's and early 1990's. Seattle's performance poetry scene blossomed with the importation of the poetry slam from Chicago (its origin) by transplant Paul Granert. This and the proliferation of weekly readings/open mics and poetry-friendly club venues like The Weathered Wall, the OK Hotel (now defunct), and the Ditto Tavern (now defunct), allowed spoken word/performance poetry to take off in a big way.

The mid 1990's saw a major trend in collaborative performance as musicians/bands starting teaming up with poets and spoken word artists. 1995 saw an "explosion" of poets and musicians producing spoken word CDs. Performers such as Christian Storm, Harry Pierce, Todd Davis, Christina Black, Michael Ricciardi, and others began performing with ensembles of musicians and creating a diverse fusion of words and sounds.

The Seattle Poetry Festival (launched first as the "Poetry Circus" in 1997) has featured local, regional, national, and international names in poetry such as Michael McClure, Anne Waldeman, Ted Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ismael Reed, Seku Sundiata, and many others. Regionally famed poets like Bart Baxter, Tess Gallagher, and Rebecca Brown have also been featured at the Poetry Festival, as well as numerous other events such as the world famous "Bumbershoot" Arts Festival.

Currently, slam poetry takes most of the headlines, with its current stars, such as Buddy Wakefield (two-time national individual slam champ), Laura "Piece" Kelly, Christa Bell, and Jeremy Richards, achieving some national recognition.

When Seattle decided to try to put itself on the map with the futuristic Century 21 Exposition — the 1962 World's Fair — high culture was on the agenda, as well as popular entertainment along the lines of "Gracie Hansen's Paradise International" and "Les Poupees de Paris," an adult-themed puppet show, both of which aspired more to a Gay Nineties naughtiness than to anything artistic. The Opera House on the grounds of the center was rebuilt for the occasion (and would be rebuilt again 2001–2003 as McCaw Hall); performers at the fair included Igor Stravinsky, Benny Goodman, and Victor Borge; the Seattle Symphony brought in opera singers and staged Aida. The Fine Arts Pavilion (later the Exhibition Hall) managed to bring in works by Titian, Van Dyck, and Monet, as well as more contemporary pieces by Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keefe, and Alexander Calder and by Pacific Northwest artists Tobey, Callahan, and Graves. There was also a significant exhibition of Asian art and Northwest Coast Indian art. The exposition also commissioned a massive abstract mural by Horiuchi, which still forms the backdrop to the stage at Seattle Center's Mural Amphitheater.

Outside of the fair itself, Seattle's bars were filled with the live music that would result just a few years later in the region's first great period as a rock'n'roll mecca.

Grunge music (sometimes also referred to as the Seattle Sound) is an independent-rooted music genre that was inspired by hardcore punk, thrash metal, and alternative rock. The genre became commercially successful in the late 1980s and early 1990s, peaking in mainstream popularity between 1991 and 1994. Bands from cities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest such as Seattle, Washington, Olympia, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, were responsible for creating grunge music and later made it popular with mainstream audiences. The genre is closely associated with Generation X, due to its popularization being in tandem with the popularizing of the generation's name. The popularity of grunge was one of the first phenomena that distinguished the popular music of the 1990s from that of the 1980s.

Prominent bands: Alice in Chains, Green River, Hole, L7, Mad Season, Malfunkshun, Melvins, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Tad, Temple Of The Dog, Willard.

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