The sadness our neighborhood feels today over the recent destruction of the iconic Guild sign conjures in me (by contrast), the celebration I felt when the abandoned theater was so cheerfully and cleverly painted last spring.
Several months ago, I had the chance to talk with Paul Nunn, Project Lead at Urban ArtWorks and CreaturePanic, the artist who transformed the rundown site of the former Guild Theater into a PNW fantasy, using bright colors, provoking imagery and cheerful, squiggly Beso Bears.
The empty space had been growing increasingly rundown as the months without occupancy flipped by. Knowing that graffiti and destruction is less likely to pop up over ART than a blank wall, the Guild location property manager reached out to local nonprofit, Urban ArtWorks to commission public art in the space.
“Why be grey when it can be artwork?” Paul posited.
Urban ArtWorks, who coordinated the painting of the Guild space, is a local nonprofit that started in the mid 1990’s hiring young people to clean up the trainway. They now offer quarterly youth programs, after school programs and part-time summer jobs. The artists enrolled learn art education, soft skills, and can gain job references and receive a stipend for attendance.
When Urban ArtWorks received the request to paint the Guild, Paul got to work looking for just the right artist. He wanted someone who would be deeply respectful of the existing graffiti on the building – someone who understood public art and was respected by that community. CreaturePanic is a local artist/”writer” and I can tell you with confidence, after only a single Zoom conversation, a truly delightful human. CreaturePanic is established in the art/writer community and brought a cohesive design, that incorporates the work of other artists and the nuances of the space, including the presence of our unhoused neighbors and quirky small businesses all around. Paul had been aware of CreaturePanic sine 2014 when he noticed the welcoming and engaging “Beso bears” or “scribble bears” (a signature character of CreaturePanic’s) popping up all over Seattle.
Since learning of CreaturePanic, I have taken myself on a few urban bear hunts!
In 2019, Paul and UrbanArtworks finally had a chance to reach out to CreaturePanic. The Nordstrom Building invited them to do a pet shop door on which they created a full scene of a Beso Bear climbing a tree. In February of 2021, when the property manager of the Guild became tired of constantly painting over unsanctioned artwork and contacted Urban ArtWorks requesting something wholesome and inclusive that would fit the community, Paul had a chance again to work with CreaturePanic.
CreaturePanic is the primary writer responsible for the Guild art, but a secondary artist holds a guest spot, creating the Bullwinkle and Owl wall.
A Sketch of Seattle
The artists were given a lot of creative freedom, with some loose guardrails. Residing on 45th street, the work features 45 sunny and at times mischievous Beso Bears. Sprinkled throughout, they serve as our hosts, guiding us through the interactive journey. The work is a sketch of Seattle. The wall near the Octopus Bar is pure fantasy, depicting a natural PNW environment. It inspires awe and reverence for the natural world. As you move across the space, the old established Seattle vibe flows into something less solid and more tokenized. By Changes Bar, we find a big copper coin – a nod to Bitcoin and how Seattle’s tech influence is changing the city. The yellow brick road goes back to the Emerald City, referencing the spooky fever dream from the Wizard of Oz and asking us all “Is any of this real?”. Bitcoin? The screens that stifle imagination?
I have had that surreal feeling of floating through life a lot this past year – thoughtfully selecting a mask before I leave the house, reading articles and hearing conversations advising people to buy gold bars or non-fungible tokens…wanting a matrix to tell me when/if it’s ok to hug a friend when I see them on the street. Realizing that my toddler, raised in pandemic captivity has never been to a grocery store or a birthday party.
What do you think, Wallyhood? Is it real? What is the fate of our slice of this Emerald City? The iconic Guild sign is gone, but still, so much remains here in Wallingford.