Soufend Art Show and Block Party a statement on gentrification

Bunthay Cheam September 23, 2017 0

Artist Royce The Choice performs at the Soufend Art Show and Block Party on August 20, 2017. • Photo by Eric Hermosada

On August 20, local art collective Paradice Avenue Souf held it’s second annual Soufend Art Show and Block Party, a family friendly event on the intersection of Rainier Ave. S and S. Holly St. in Seattle. The event was open to the public free of charge.

Equal parts performance and visual arts, the audience was treated to shows by local greats such as legendary beat maker Derek Brown aka Vitamin D, who is credited with composing the title track to the hit show Power, songstress Moni Tep aka JusMoni (IG: @saffroniaa), and a dance by the Washington Diamonds Drill Team.

Visual artists and vendors also lined South Holly Street including artist and designer Reynalin Ignacio’s Made by Reynalin line (IG: @madebyreynalin) of customized women’s accessories and home goods and urban clothing designer Water.Official (IG: @water.official) who curated a pop-up shop from within the trailer of a UHaul.

Facade Facepainting, Seward Park Clay, Princess Fernando, and “Paint and Smoothies” by Tomi Teav were also on deck to give kids an interactive art experience.

Highlighting the culinary diversity of the neighborhood, an array of food was also available with vendors such as Seattle’s Best BBQ Skewers serving Khmer-style beef sticks, Filipino inspired pastries by Hood Famous Bakeshop (IG: @hoodfamousbakeshop), and Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Event patrons at the Soufend Art Show and Block Party on August 20, 2017. • Photo by Bunthay Cheam

The event was the brainchild of multidisciplinary artist Harry Clean, aka Harry Baluran (IG: @harry_clean), who is also the co-founder of Paradice Avenue Souf, a multimedia artist studio.

“The Soufend Art Show started from an idea my friend Jordan Nicholson and I had about having a little art show at King Donuts (R.I.P.) about three years ago. This art show would feature artists from the Soufend (we like replacing the ‘th’ with an ‘f’).”

Baluran and Nicholson initially had plans to hold the inaugural event at the iconic King’s Donut in the Rainier Beach neighborhood, “A year later I decided to proceed with this idea but unfortunately King’s Donut got sold to new owner so I felt that it just wouldn’t be right doing it there anymore.”

That led Baluran to reach out to the friend and owner of Cafe Avole, Solomon Dubie, about holding the event in the vicinity of his shop on Rainier Avenue South and South Holly Street. “The concept of the Soufend Art Show and block party is that three South Seattle visual artists get featured in an art exhibition inside Cafe Avole while a small scale festival is held outside with vendors, live performances, and art workshops,” he said.

This year’s event featured multimedia artists Zue Lian Cooper (IG: @zookoopa), Anand Alder (IG: @nandaethekid), and Yassa (IG: @yasmincreative).

Baluran’s purpose for this annual event is tied to a more grand vision he has for the community he grew up in where he stresses those in privileged positions to help others succeed.

“I grew up in low income immigrant household so these values and morals have been embedded in me since a kid. Stick together, survive, and help your people succeed. I made sure that this value system was part of the event by featuring well-known artists and also up-and-coming artists.”

Big Ben the Barber. • Photo by Bunthay Cheam

An even bigger issue on Baluran’s mind is the change he’s experienced in his neighborhood and what’s he sees as an assault on the culture that has made Rainier Valley one of most culturally diverse in the United States.

“My neighborhood is not what is used to be. Culture is dying. People of color (POC) are being forced to move south to cities like Kent and Tukwila. We created this beautiful diverse neighborhood and now it is being taken away from us.”

In a May 2017 article, The Stranger, citing a July 2016 estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, stated that over 1,000 people move into Seattle each week, making it the ninth-fastest growing metro area.

Enticed by a booming local economy spurred by growth in some of the biggest companies on the Fortune 500 list including Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Boeing; Seattle has become a beacon for transplants and this has had a collateral effect on the city, especially in neighborhoods historically populated by communities of color. Cranes have become a common fixture in Downtown Seattle, and to a degree in neighborhoods where new zoning changes made by city officials look to supplement the high housing demand brought on by the rapid pace of people moving to the city. This housing shortage has also caused people to look southward into traditional POC communities where Seattle’s housing discrimination history has red-lined and confined the city’s people of color.

As gentrification changes these neighborhoods, rising property values have driven many families, especially those with fixed income, further out into South King County in places such Renton, Kent, and Auburn where housing is more affordable.

Perry Paints doing live painting. • Photo by Nam Nice

“We created this beautiful diverse neighborhood and now it is being taken away from us. It’s like if you cooked a bomb ass breakfast then someone breaks into your house and eats it. Yeah you can make another meal but you have to start all over and what if you used the last of your money to buy the ingredients plus your kids are hungry.” Balarun said.

Despite what seems to be an inevitable change along the Rainier Avenue corridor, Baluran remains optimistic he has the resources and leadership to blunt the adverse effects of gentrification by unifying those that have lived there for generations and teaching newcomers about the area’s history so as to keep its culture thriving. The art show and block party is part and parcel to that strategy. “The Soufend Art Show and Block Party is us saying, ‘Yeah we’re still here. And we’re not going anywhere. This is our land, this is our raggedy #7 bus. This is our food, you can have a taste but don’t forget who it belongs to,” he said.

Show headliner Moni Tep, stressing the benefits of these types of community gatherings, added: “I think the Soufend Art Show and Block Party was unique in the way that it brought our communities together, like how it would’ve looked, even 10–15 years prior. Gentrification has taken its course through parts of the city that us people of color, call home—but when we party, it’s like a testament that we’re always going to be here. You can move bodies, but it’s harder to move spirit.”

Baluran has his sights set on a bigger event for 2018, “next year will have the same vibes but will bigger. More vendors and more activities. And also a car show,” he said.

Musician Davey Tsunami (IG: @daveyvision24k), who was a performer on the lineup, agreed, stating that the event was “unification at its highest form, we all sang, danced, laughed and enjoyed the food especially being Khmer to represent our culture in our own community was amazing. I enjoyed every second of it and I can’t wait til next year.”

True to his multidisciplinary nature, Baluran also plans to not only host the event but to participate in a different way.

“Currently, I’m working on music so I can bless the stage next year,” he said.

Editor’s note (9/27/2017 at 11:05 a.m.): This story has been edited for clarity.

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