A palpable air of melancholy infused the fifth and final NEPO 5K DON’T RUN on Saturday. Tempests of epic proportion kicked up in the morning, strewing a salad of branches and leaves across streets. Some NEPO art suffered as well: the Epoch Battle! lemonade stand on the edge of the Jose Rizal Bridge was reduced to a mysterious, sparkling pile of debris; another installation to a crumpled tarp. DK Pan’s skywriting did manage to materialize, carving the words “TIME IS MEMORY” into the heavens for a brief moment before melting and scattering to the winds. Despite the shitty weather, hundreds turned out for the final stroll from Hing Hay Park in the International District to NEPO House on Beacon Hill.
At the risk of waxing too nostalgic, I had the honor of showing artwork in the first NEPO 5K in 2011 (video looping on a clunky CRT TV plopped on a sidewalk, drawing power from the garage of willing residents along the route). It was a magical event. That initial not-race was borne out of the homespun little empire of NEPO House, a DIY gallery project conceived by artist Klara Glosova and realized in her humble Beacon Hill home. Frustrated by the lack of places to show art in town, she opened her home to the public as an exhibition space in 2009 (“NEPO” is “OPEN” backwards). With all the furniture removed to the basement, she filled bedrooms, bathrooms, dining room, even stairwells with work by dozens of Seattle artists. No inch of wall space was spared. And she invited in the world.
With that same sense of generosity and adventure, she invited the world into her neighborhood, filling the outdoors with more art than any city-sponsored public art program could logistically muster. In doing so, NEPO 5K offered a transformation of everyday passages, parks, bridges, fences, undergrowth and underpasses into a limitless plein air gallery. It was a true derivé in the spirit of 20th-century avant garde artists who imagined urban landscapes as existential playgrounds filled with surprise and wonder at every turn—if we can only open our eyes to it.
But NEPO 5K had to end. Imagine the red tape involved in securing city and park permits, nailing inspections with the fire marshal, acquiring the correct number of Honey Bucket rentals. A skeleton crew of curators, including Sierra Stinson, Zack Bent and Serrah Russell, organized individual artists five years in a row.
Following are a few highlights from the final DON'T RUN. The city will be poorer without it next year. Here's hoping more iterations led by future generations will arrive in its wake.