The Sound of Presence

Path with Art banners in Occidental Square

Path with Art provides access to the arts for no- to low-income adults recovering from homelessness, addiction and trauma. Through various partnerships with social service agencies and arts organizations, they offer free art classes, lead group outings to arts and cultural events, and present public exhibitions and showcases. The nonprofit recently moved its headquarters into a Pioneer Square storefront, which doubles as an art gallery. Currently hanging is an exhibit of student work created in a recent collage class taught by Deborah Faye Lawrence.

One of Path with Art’s most ambitious efforts to date is We Are All Here, a year-long multidisciplinary project in which art is a vehicle to discuss Seattle’s changing social and economic landscape. The project began with poems and painted canvases last spring and culminates this month at Benaroya Hall when a Seattle Symphony chamber ensemble performs an original score created by Path with Art students. Program director Jennifer Lobsenz sat down to talk with us about the project. 

How was this collaboration born?
We Are All Here emerged from conversations taking place in our classrooms. Seattle is a rapidly evolving city, and real consequences accompany the pace and direction of change. We wanted to explore channeling those conversations into art—so we started writing poems. Then we translated those poems into visual art in the form of gorgeous banners, which were installed in Occidental Square last summer. [Read two of these poems below the Q&A.]

We also installed poetry drop boxes throughout Pioneer Square and encouraged public submissions. We received hundreds and chose four—local poets Jane Wong, Nikkita Oliver and Pam Winter were our jurors—to serve as inspiration for additional banners. We hosted public banner-painting parties and installed those banners alongside the originals. It was awesome: Imagine a collective poem accumulating in the park over the course of the summer.

How do the banners connect to the music?
This winter Path with Art students spent 16 weeks working with Seattle Symphony musicians to compose a score inspired by the banners. The score draws inspiration from some of the deepest themes of this project and expresses them in a new medium.

What does it sound like?
The score speaks directly to the reality of experiencing homelessness. Musical influences include stormy weather (literal and metaphoric), varied conversations in tent cities, feelings of loss and mourning, as well as enduring hope in a world filled with beauty, kindness and love for people from all backgrounds. The score features frantic string lines and improvised percussion, and draws inspiration from blues, pentatonic folk and conversational motifs.

How many students were involved?
A little over 100 Path with Art students have participated. Some folks submitted poems, others painted banners and others created the score. Many of the people we serve are currently experiencing or have previously experienced homelessness, so the issues We Are All Here explores are far from abstract.

Do any of them have background in art or music?
Some have a deep background in the arts; some don’t have any. Last year we served nearly 500 students, so there’s certainly a range of life stories. Some folks have a master’s degree in music theory; some are picking up a paintbrush for the first time.

How is this project different from your other programs?
I’m always motivated by the fierce strength and warm spirit that drives the Path with Art community. Through We Are All Here specifically, I was really inspired to see how dedicated folks were to this important conversation [about the evolution of Seattle]. We work with some wildly talented artists and it was amazing to see how deeply they drove themselves into their practice through this project.

Is We Are All Here open to the public?
Yes, it’s free and all are welcome. The performance will be kind of a microcosm of the project at large, so the audience will really experience the arc of the project. If you’re into things like being punched in the stomach by the grace of human beings and the power of art, definitely come out!

We Are All Here takes place at Benaroya Hall on March 8. Spring Voices, Path with Art’s annual showcase of poetry, prose, performance, song takes place at Seattle Art Museum on March 28.

* * * * *

We Are All Here

By Pamela Winter

Guess what? We are all here and we’re not going anywhere.
We live in tent cities behind nylon walls, huddled in wool blankets in doorways of neglect.
We live in secured high-rises casting shadows below, houses flooded with desire, gated in fear.
We live with slumlords and in public housing too.
We live alone in our minds wandering down pathways edged by open chains.

We work for corporate greed,
We dumpster dive for food,
We work for non-profits to build a better world,
We ask for spare change and sometimes shoot-up to heal a gaping wound.
We are honest laborers, the shrunken middle class,
We do not ask for a hand out but will reach for a helping hand.

We race up stairs chasing freedom and we lounge on city streets,
We stand in long lines at food banks, waiting for leftovers we can’t afford,
We walk in parks and shop behind gilded walls.
Sometimes we steal in the night while white collars take in the light to line their coffers gold.

Sometimes life feels darker than the backside of the moon,
Sometimes we watch her catch her breath
as she rushes to soften the edges of what we call urban blight.
Sometimes we feel the ecstasy of unity, especially on nights like tonight.

We are a city on shifting tectonic plates, frayed at the edges
clothed in attitudes of love and dismay.
We are a city of others, separate and near.
We are teachers and students alike, but webs twist around our minds, our lives
Isolating us from those who look and think more different than we’d like.

We are all here, sometimes polarized by red and blue fear,
We must break down the wall,
Step out of the shadow of Them, Other, They.
We must hold our sister’s gaze, grasp our brother’s hand.
Link our minds to overcome judgments about what we think is right.

We are all here; the me in the them.
The drum beat of our city, the heart beat of Seattle, the energy that makes our diversity vibrate with rhythm that unites.

* * * * *

A Chance to Feel Alive

By Angel

The world seems broken
And we mourn the loss
Pain is in the air

We are all here

The movement is roaring loud and clear
We share this world and human race matters

We are all here…

We are all here…

See you don’t know me
And I don’t know about you
But all I want is someone to hear me
I know what its like to feel broken, so broken
And feeling like, does anyone care?
I remember feeling like there was no way out
And every which way I turned, I kept falling
I needed someone, anyone to tell me they
Love me, that they care
I wanted my family to come together…
But….that’s in a perfect world
And well these eyes clung to hope
For a better place, a better world
Another chance, a chance to feel alive

We are all are

We are all here … well… because we are allowed to be

We are all like rivers, a constant movement, a ripple effect
We all want the same things
To live safe

We are the change
We all seek the power of love
And We all want a chance to feel alive.

We are all here.