In 1900, Frederick Weyerhäuser bought 900,000 acres of timberland in the Pacific Northwest. His ability to recognize and exploit the region’s natural resources eventually made him the 8th richest man in American history, with a net worth of $72.2 billion.
Today, our region’s resources are harder to recognize. If some device could reveal our most prominent resource, it would squarely point to our creative capital. The sheer brainpower of artists and thinkers in the Pacific Northwest is staggering—and more valuable than the ocean of oil under Saudi Arabia. Ideas are the most powerful assets of any culture. They shape the future of our politics, our technologies, our morals and ideals. Ideas hold the power to save us.
So why does the Northwest remain in the shadows of New York and other titans of contemporary arts and culture? Why hasn’t our creative class been discovered, harnessed, exploited, exported? Unlike an expansive forest of old growth trees or an ocean of oil, our artists and revolutionary thinkers are not an easy resource to identify. We scorn self-promotion. We lack a hive for creative congregation.
We are too young to capitalize on our cultural heritage. In Seattle, our freedom to explore and experiment is outstanding, and the sense of community and quality of life are second to none. But there is too little competition and too few people are paying attention. Stimulating our creative class will help retain it.
Broadcasting creative ideas will seduce other artists and thinkers to our region. We have the ability to be Florence in the 1500s, Paris in the 1920s, New York in the 1960s. All of the components are here to create a golden era, but it requires a shift in the way we think and present our ideas.
I recently had a conversation with a group of painters who were critical of some artists in this city who they felt were too brash, too self-assured, too opportunistic. I reject the notion that art is for a select few and that promoting your ideas signifies an inflated, unhealthy ego. As an artist, a thinker, a person with an idea, if you are confident that your work will make the world a better place, it’s not grandstanding to propagate that idea—it’s your moral obligation. If you see a shark fin heading toward the beach, you don’t whisper about it to a few friends, you shout at the top of your lungs.
We need to broadcast our art and our ideas—to export our voice and observations to as many people as possible. Our audience is not “the art community” but the world at large. Starting to sound like religion? Yes, of course it does. Because art and culture is what I believe in, it is our salvation, it holds the power to halt war, seed love, pave the way for freedom, fortify education and beauty. Art and culture bring us together.
We need a stadium for the arts. A place where artists and thinkers can train, compete, experiment and perform. A beehive that can electrify our creative class and inspire its audience. An urban station that can constantly produce creative content. And we need to broadcast this activity to the world.
I have a template for such a stadium, hosted in a vacant 25,000 square foot building directly across from the Seattle Art Museum. My stadium is called Walden Three—a $15 million, for-profit, 20-year project that is equal parts art school, exhibition space and documentary film.
Thoreau’s Walden was a personal declaration of independence and an isolated social experiment that unfolded in a cabin in the woods on the outskirts of town. B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two scaled Thoreau’s experiment to a commune of 1,000 people that embraced “a constantly experimental attitude towards everything.” Walden Three employs the same cultural engineering and also examines the world on a global scale. But Walden Three is not a book; it is the day-to-day manifestation of contemporary art recorded and broadcast as a documentary film. Crating an artist’s work and shipping it to another gallery in another city is a crude, ineffective way to activate ideas. (It only works if you consider art a money-making commodity, not as a vehicle for sharing ideas with the masses.) We need film and technology to break through the bubble that surrounds our region—to reach the greatest possible demographic and convey every dimension of our successes, failures and humanity.
Walden Three asks one central question: Can a renaissance be manufactured? I believe it can and I believe Seattle holds all the key ingredients to activate such a golden era. We have the creative capital to fuel it, the proper space to house it, the technology to propagate it and surely someone in our midst with the audacity to finance it.
Do we hold our breath and cross our fingers and hope for this to happen organically? Or do we construct a model that can ignite our creative capital and effectively harness this vast, largely untapped resource?
We will be remembered and defined by our artistic cultural heritage. Who will be the Medicis of the Pacific Northwest? I’m not sure, but I want to get their attention and present to them an opportunity to forever define this region. It’s my job as an artist to propagate what I believe in.
Greg Lundgren is a Seattle artist, curator and entrepreneur whose enterprises include Vital 5 Productions, The Hideout, Vito’s on Madison and Lundgren Monuments. To learn more about his latest big idea, Walden Three, visit vital5productions.com.