Editorials — August 4, 2012 13:18 — 1 Comment

Manufacturing Renaissance: An Interview with Greg Lundgren

Seattle artist Greg Lundgren—impresario of Vital 5 Productions, The Hideout and Vito’s—believes he can manufacture a cultural renaissance. This rebirth in the arts would take the form of a documentary film called Walden Three. The film would track the renovation and opening of a multi-use, commercial arts space in the Seven Seas Building on 1st Avenue—formerly the home of the famous Lusty Lady. He calls the project “a stadium for the arts,” a moniker that only begins to cover the scope of his vision. The Monarch Review had a chance to catch up with Lundgren late in 2011 and inquire about this vision.

MR: If there is one reason Walden Three is essential, what is that reason?

GL: Spider-Man’s uncle Ben once said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I think that Seattle has all of the essential ingredients to innovate, inspire, and transform our relationship with art and expression. We cannot rely on another city with lesser talent, lesser resource and less innovation to change the way we value and consume art.

MR: Where do you see the role of politics in Walden Three?

GL: As unpopular as it sounds, I have little faith in contemporary politics. I remain in awe of our Constitution and the tolerance our society has for self-expression and freedom of speech, but I do not believe mayors or presidents are going to solve our greatest problems.

MR: Where does the “art utopia” possibility of Walden Three stand in regard to the poverty building all around us?

GL: We allow poverty. It is not some other president’s fault, it isn’t some corporation’s fault, it is our very own fault. And the remedy for poverty and war and crime is a society that is courageous, active and ready to stand up against injustice. Walden Three aims to strengthen and empower people to use their voice, to express themselves, and to stand up for what they believe in. It isn’t just about painting and writing and installation art – it is about realizing that we have the power to change anything – that ‘we the people’ are in charge. Walden Three is an exercise program, a candy flavored medicine, designed to foster a participating, communicating, fearless audience. And I don’t believe in utopias, I believe in the pursuit of a utopia.

MR: When I talk about the idea for Walden Three, I am either met with enthusiasm or something like: “Why does Seattle need another venue, we have plenty already?” To this you say what?

GL: Walden Three isn’t a venue – it is a film. And it is privately owned – not asking for a dollar from the city or the people of Seattle. Something is going to go into the Seven Seas Building. Maybe it will be a new Barney’s department store, or an office for Google, or a new Cheesecake Factory. I want to see it become the cultural engine of our downtown core.

MR: Do you anticipate receiving funding for Walden Three? Will investors become partners? What do you think when I say the name ‘Paul Allen’?

GL: I do anticipate receiving funding. It’s a smart idea, it holds a great return for the investor and there are a wide variety of places the capital could come from. But it requires patience and perseverance. Investors in Walden Three would play the same roles as they would in any traditional film sense. The film has structure and a code of conduct.  And the investor isn’t involved in daily operation or programming. Paul Allen holds the capacity to change the world in profound ways. All billionaires do, and I think most billionaires want to. I think he wants to, and I hope that someone from the Allen Foundation reads the business plan for Walden Three.

MR: How do you plan to pay your employees and the artists who participate?

GL: Walden Three would have 12 full-time employees and 3 part-time, all earning a livable salary with health care. There would be an equal number of interns working for college credit or the colorful work experience W3 would provide. Artists exhibiting work for sale in the gallery would receive 50% of sales, and artists showing non-commercial work would receive stipends and budgets for materials.

MR: You’ve said Seattle’s creative ability is our main export and that you want Walden Three to be a for-profit entity. What exactly do you hope to export and to whom?

GL: Walden Three is a feature length documentary film founded upon the conviction that Seattle has a wealth of creative capital, that art and expression hold the power to change the world and that it is our responsibility to pursue a better world. That idea is the primary export. But during the production of the film, there are a number of secondary exports that come in the shape of shorter films, educational programming, art sales and the regional artists we support. Who is our audience? Everyone. If the building is on fire, you scream at everyone to get out.

MR: Will there be something like a board of directors?

GL: Yes, definitely. W3 is all about constant conversations and looking at art from a variety of perspectives. It requires the dialog of curators and artists and dealers as well as dialog from engineers, architects, chefs, teachers, entrepreneurs and musicians. Our success hinges on this diversity of talents and perspectives, primarily from outside the arts complex. It is important to state that I am fully aware of my limitations, and that I require experts in other fields, and different perspectives to give W3 the traction to reach popular culture and compete against prime-time television and sporting events and video games and the uninspired.

MR: What style do you envision for the place, aesthetically? What mood?

GL: The main galleries are big raw boxes. Wood floors, white walls, exposed beams. Simple. Capable of transforming to the needs of installations or falling into the background for a performance. The beauty of the Seven Seas Building is in its big, wide-open spaces, and for the exhibition spaces, they should be left as such. Nothing should be decorative or too precious. Everything should be adaptable, transformable. It is a living, breathing space and each artist is going to make it their own. The only space that has any defined aesthetic is the ground floor entrance, which is the portal to W3 and serves a multiplicity of roles – classroom, coffee shop, workspace, lounge, lecture hall, social space. The mood would be part hotel lobby (Ace Hotel), part classroom (Bauhaus), part social space (Oddfellows), part laboratory (City of Lost Children). I am a minimalist in the realm of aesthetics and a maximalist in the realm of ideas.

MR: What sort of galleries, venues and practice spaces do you hope for W3? How will they be organized? Any unique security?

GL: Walden Three, as specific to the Seven Seas Building, occupies six floors, with different activities happening on each floor. The top floor is designated as a non-commercial exhibition/performance space. The only caveat is that the work does not have a price tag on it, and admission is always free. The second floor is a commercial gallery/performance space designed to make money and sell as much work as possible. The main entry floor is designed for arts education (both studio and lectures), social meeting space, coffee shop and a variety of interactive activities and peep shows. The floor below that is an artist’s bazaar, and below that is a private floor for arts and film production, offices, kitchen and a one bedroom apartment for visiting artists. The bottom floor is a nightclub, accessible from Post Alley. W3 is not designed to host practice spaces or studio space – it is primarily geared for exhibition, education and social interaction.

MR: What type of restaurant/bar/café infrastructure do you envision? How might Vito’s and the Hideout play into the plan? Will you seek out independent chefs?

GL: The Hideout and Vito’s were both very important lessons for me and proof positive that social space is critical to the creative process. In W3, there is a nightclub on the ground floor, and a coffee shop on the first avenue entrance, and both would be sublet to competent, dynamic parties. I do not think that W3 as a film should be operating the bar and café on top of everything else, and these types of creative partnerships actually become income-generating aspects of the project.

MR: What is the role of politeness in art? Is there space for negativity in critique?

GL: If your friend has a stupid shirt on, you are doing him no favors by telling him it’s nice. There is a polite way to tell him it sucks, and that is the attitude I take towards art. People who are making art are at least trying, and that is more than most people – so there is credit due. Our job as humans, as friends, is to first recognize that our opinion is subjective and not the law, and secondly to present our opinions in a way that can help correct the errors that we see. Telling someone their shirt sucks can be helpful, but you have to go into their closet or help them fix that problem. Saying something sucks is not enough, it’s too easy and it’s counterproductive. We should want people to make the best art possible, and sometimes that is an awkward, clumsy affair. And sometimes, we are the one wearing the stupid shirt, and the stupid shirt guy is just so above our level of cool that we don’t even get it (until later).

MR: How can classes and teaching be integrated into W3?

GL: The budget allocates two full-time art instructors at W3. It is critical to provide an education to the community – to both understand the history and theories behind art practices, and to teach people how to express themselves through various mediums. But teaching is a fundamental aspect of W3. All classes are $1.00 each, and all classes are streamed on the internet so people around the world can learn and participate in our project.

MR: When do you want this project to begin?

GL: Everyone wants to know when it will start, if I have the keys and when the first show will be. I have no idea. And I won’t until a serious investor raises their hand. But I don’t think it is impossible and I do think that there are plenty of people who, if exposed to it, would sign on (the trouble is getting their attention). It is like trying to break out of Alcatraz with a soup spoon. You can either sit on your hands or you can chip away at that concrete wall and try to escape. It might take longer than I would like, but the alternative is to accept things as they are, and I just can’t do that.

MR: What one thing worries you most of all about the project?

GL: In the past, all of my art projects have been self-financed, so I’ve never had to bend to appease another party. The only fear I have is that the investor isn’t patient enough or confident enough in our direction to let W3 mature on a natural course. I want to make certain that the investor has the vision and confidence to understand that this is an experiment and that in order for it to succeed, for it to reshape popular culture, it needs to buck convention, present unpopular ideas, rebel against our own beliefs and be a wild, reckless teenager. W3 is designed to explore some uncharted places and that requires an investor with some balls (male or female – I just can’t think of another word!) Maybe my proposal should be titled: W3 SEEKS AN INVESTOR WITH BIG BALLS.


Interview conducted by Jake Uitti

One Comment

  1. licky says:

    Budget allocates two art instructors for cheap dollar classes but you take 50% from the artist your all about. Keep reading the comic books, I don’t think your changing the world anytime soon. Btw, your approach shows limited skills in business.

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