Pass over the bridge and take a walk by the grand canal to the center of the universe...

This article originally appeared in the June 1995 issue of Art Access and is reproduced here with permission from the publisher.
All rights reserved.

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Fremont is a prime example of how art can determine the shape and direction of a community. It began as a milltown in the 1880's and became part of Seattle in 1901. Lumber for the housing and boat industries kept Fremont's economy thriving well into the mid-1950's. The area then declined when demand for housing fell off, and Fremont became just a roadway instead of a destination. However, the empty storefronts, mills and warehouses became very attractive to the creative community, and by the 1960's, students, artists and fledgling entrepreneurs with shoe-string budgets had moved into Fremont, many from nearby universities, to take advantage of the abundant affordable spaces. They proceeded to enhance the shabby architecture, fashioning the beginnings of a unique community.

As a community, Fremont was eager to re-establish its identity and vitality. The first step in this process was the Fremont Fair, started in 1972, to benefit the Fremont Public Association (FPA), the local service center.

Fremont became more of a focal point for arts activities, leading to the creation of the Fremont Arts Council (FAC), which had been a committee of the FPA. When Forward Thrust money was allocated in 1977 to upgrade street facilities, a space right next to the Fremont Bridge became available which was ideal for sculpture. Rich Beyer designed a life-size sculpture depicting six people and a dog, a piece entitled Waiting for the Interurban. (A trolley line in past years had connected Fremont to downtown Seattle.) The project generated support from both public and private sectors, and by the time it was installed in 1977, people were looking at Fremont with a fresh attitude, beyond its image as a home for the counter-culture.

Projects initiated by the FAC up into the 1980's included murals on local buildings and in the library. Artist-in-residence programs produced theater events, six bronze sculptures, and canal and stairway projects. The Art-Connection sponsored by the FAC was a workshop designed to assist artists in marketing their work. The CETA program and the city and state arts commissions were important players in these projects; as government funds became less available, a grassroots approach to community arts became necessary.

One such approach was the Fremont Solstice Parade, an FAC sponsored activity and the first event of the Fremont Fair. The goal was not to enhance professional arts careers but to encourage residents to bring out their creative side. Toward this end, the parade offers courses in craft skills such as mask making and the construction of giant puppets. For newcomers, a free class introducing the parade is available. Three rules govern the parade: no animals, no words (advertising), and no motors.

Another celebratory arts event occurs every Halloween at the Fremont Troll, under the Aurora Bridge. The Troll resulted from a neighborhood matching grant program and a sculpture competition arranged by an FAC committee. Out of 40 entries, the committee selected four finalists to be voted on by Fremont Fair-goers in 1990. The Troll won by an overwhelming majority. Every Halloween since, crowds have gathered at the Troll to celebrate with drumming, dancing, troll poems, a parade through Fremont, events on the parade route and, last year, a fire sculpture for a finale.

The Fremont Rocket is the result of what can happen when all the resources of a community, namely the business, arts, and industrial, combine their efforts. The Fremont Business Association originally purchased the Rocket from A&J's Surplus on First Avenue. Paid technicians and volunteers from the Arts Community teamed to produce this striking monument, a monument not to war but to cooperation.

The hub of creativity in Fremont is the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry, conceived and built by Peter Bevis. In 1979, Bevis arrived in Seattle from Pennsylvania with his mind set on creating an environment for artists, including a foundry to cast his own sculpture. In October, 1986, the foundry was complete, featuring workspace and living quarters for 12 artists, the stone-carving yard, darkroom, and a gallery for exhibits, concerts and performance art. It is truly unique.

The nineties brought more arts opportunities in the form of the Fremont Sunday Market, a venue for Arts and Crafts people. Its founder, Jon Hageman, is also responsible for the Fremont Almost Free Outdoor Cinema. Bring 5 bucks and a chair and you can enjoy the best in B-films and old classics. It is also slated to be the venue for the Fremont Film Festival, a possibility for next year.

The addition of Empty Space Theater to the neighborhood is a welcome one. Artistic Director Eddie Levi Lee has brought first-rate drama to Fremont, with hopefully many more productions in the future.

The Miracle on 34th Street is philanthropy in action, as organized by Charlotte Buchanan. Planned as an annual August event, 18 sculptors create a miniature golf course on N. 34th Street between Fremont Avenue and Evanston Avenue. People are invited to play, and the proceeds go to the Northwest AIDS Foundation. In 1994, the event raised $42,000.

On June 3, the Fremont Art About will take place for the first time. This classic "Art Walk" will feature 42 galleries, businesses, and art studios, all open to the public from 4 - 7 P.M. on the first Saturday of every month. All Art About participants will display the Fremont Flag, whose blue and orange colors symbolize cooperation between the business and arts communities. The Fremont Chamber of Commerce initiated planning for this event, and in so doing became a new partner in the quest for the survival of the Arts in Fremont.

The future of Fremont Arts naturally depends on the presence of artists. The gentrification of the area poses a challenge. If Fremont is to keep its artistic integrity, a balance must be achieved between commerce and creativity. Given all that has been achieved, there is much hope.

 
-- Roger Wheeler