Greg Lundgren called it a “tough week.”
Longtime artist, arts advocate and current director of Seattle’s Museum of museums was clearly fed up with the backlash he was getting after a failed attempt to launch an exhibition with overtures to the city’s techie crowd.
“Amazon vs. Microsoft” there was just a call for entries last Friday, with plans to showcase artwork created by employees of the region’s two tech giants.
A week later, the “Amazon vs. Microsoft” meeting took place. a scrapped idea and source of bitter commentary on social media and elsewhere about the city’s art scene and the impact of technology on it.
“Basically, it’s been a tough week to see Seattle and social media in general being so quick to condemn, so quick to condemn, without any deeper investigation, without any kindness,” Lundgren told GeekWire. “There is no longer a middle ground, no nuances, no error. It is very unfortunate to witness and a dangerous environment for the life of art and self-expression.”
Photographer Charles Peterson was one of those who made his way back and forth on Instagram.
“I’ve known Greg for a long time and I know he meant well. But it’s just one of those ideas that should have been left on the back of a cocktail napkin,” Peterson said via email. “There’s a lot wrong with this: to me, it’s primarily a tired ‘con’ meme (what’s next, Starbucks vs. Peets? Boeing vs. Blue Origin?), a patronizing open call (the actual artist/employees of these companies may not really want to you were summoned in this way).”
Lundgren opened his first gallery in Seattle in 1997. For 25 years, he said, he has made it his priority to create opportunities for artists and offer solutions for how Seattle can be a better city. He started MoM in 2020during the pandemic, in the renovated medical building on First Hill.
He has witnessed many changes in Seattle, driven in large part by a tech boom that has fueled hostility toward companies and workers that many blame for changing the city’s culture and affordability.
“Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” Lundgren said of the many different art spaces and exhibition ideas over the years. “But I think it’s important to keep trying, even if it doesn’t connect, to find traction or public support. The alternative is to sit and complain about it, stop making art or leave the city I love.’
Read on to learn more about Lundgren’s take on the implications of Amazon vs. Microsoft and his views on Seattle’s art scene and the tech sector’s involvement in it. GeekWire also reached out to other members of the art community to get their thoughts. Their responses are below. All have been edited for brevity and clarity.
GeekWire: Are you more upset that your idea fell through, or just frustrated that any attempt to discuss the tech and art community at the same time elicits such a backlash in Seattle?
Greg Lundgren: “The core idea behind ‘Amazon vs Microsoft’ was to continue the dialogue around artists’ complex relationship with Amazon and Microsoft, with the hope of creating a stronger and more inclusive artistic community.” We managed to start a conversation, and I hope that it will continue in a constructive way. I didn’t foresee the speculation and assumptions behind it, nor the level of hostility surrounding the call for art. Our artistic community has a strong opinion about Big Tech and the people who work in it, which is justified and not easily changed. This is the moment and opportunity for Amazon and Microsoft to correct that narrative, and I hope they do.”
What is your overall impression of art and technology in Seattle in 2022?
“Many artists and organizations in our region have a very complex and unspoken relationship with Big Tech. It has more layers than an onion, making it difficult to tweet or share properly on social media. One layer is that the tech boom in our region is making it much more expensive to live here, which would be easier to digest if that same community—both corporate and private—was more involved, gave more, found ways to protect and grow our artist communities . Another layer is that Amazon and Microsoft do buy artworks, vouch for institutions, artists and non-profits (to date, MoM has never had a corporate sponsor or received money from any company). Are they doing enough? No. Do they get dough from it? A little.
“Many in our tech community love and support the arts and culture. They are our friends and patrons, they buy and create art, and they care about the future of Seattle’s cultural landscape. They are not all the same size, the same color, the same hive mind. And I think their greater involvement in our art community can only create a stronger art community.”
What do you think artists really want from their “tech bros”? For them all to leave?
“Many say big tech ruined Seattle. Some rightly expect more from them, and some have given up on them. Some pay their bills with tech dollars — whether they work for big tech or sell work to people who do. This is a complex, chaotic, passionate, sometimes hypocritical story. Historically, be it the Italian Renaissance or Abstract Expressionism, many important moments in the development of art occurred when artists and rich people were in sync. Divided, it’s hard to see the outcome if Seattle’s arts community steps forward.”
Is there anywhere that you think artists have figured out that relationship, and in Seattle it’s still just a growing issue?
“I think New York and Los Angeles and Houston and Miami have the best relationship between the artist community and the affluent. Peggy Guggenheim and David Rockefeller were the grandchildren of industrialists. Maybe we are too young, maybe the grandchildren of our tech billionaires will contribute. I’m afraid it will be too late by then.’
Feedback from the performer
Sharon Arnold is a Seattle-based art critic and curator.
- “Our region has suffered the most extreme expansion of high-end development and housing, as well as continuous rent increases and property tax increases due to the lack of a state income tax; much of this leads to rampant gentrification of our affordable neighborhoods and displacement. There’s a lot of tension because tech is our dominant industry, with the most highly paid people who are the very people who are displacing the displaced. This is not a new problem, although the last 12 years have been particularly difficult … and while the technology sector is not the only cause, it is an important factor.”
- “Ultimately, I’m sad that the show’s cancellation further vilified people in the arts community who spoke up and asked if there was a better way to approach this idea that built on everything that came before and enriched our public conversation. I think it could have been really reparative and generative in the end.”
Charles Peterson this longtime Seattle photographer known for documenting the grunge music scene of the 1980s and 1990s and the heyday of bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and more.
- “I think the reaction from the PC ‘tech bros’ is about as original and well thought out as the right-wing ‘What about Hillary?’ answer There must be a balance. It’s too bad, because I think where the tech and art worlds intersect, there could be something that could make a great show. Just get the freak out of it and cure it.’
- “Affordable space to create art has been and always will be the biggest challenge facing artists and the galleries that exhibit them. How much this has been influenced by technology in relation to the real estate market, I don’t know. It seems to be more of a city-wide failure than a single industry. People need scapegoats and technology is easy, but Seattle has never been the art city it is. Which often meant that the exceptional did exceptional things, whether they were noticed or not. They just did it. It’s still pretty much the same thing, just a lot more expensive to live in, which can put a big damper on inspiration, to say the least.”
Vivian Hua, co-chairman of St Seattle Arts Commissionis a writer, director, organizer, and former executive director of the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle.
- “Speaking as an independent artist, not from an Arts Commission perspective, the city is getting more expensive, in part because of technology, and artists and cultural workers are getting priced out every day. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Microsoft can have any fine art curator and Amazon can do as many murals in its buildings as it wants (the latter doesn’t always mean anything given that Seattle buildings have to spend some of their art money in the physical building) but do these companies support local art ecosystem? Maybe an artist here and there benefits from their programs, which to me isn’t particularly impressive given the huge amount of capital they have. In all the fundraising, advocacy, and community-building efforts I’m involved in across disciplines, nonprofits, and artistic communities, do I see their presence in any meaningful way? Not really. Despite the fact that these companies are absolutely everywhere, the mass artists have a feeling that they are nowhere.”
Vanessa Villalobos, co-chair of the Seattle Arts Commission, independent artist, choreographer and dancer.
- “This point of view is my own, not the Commission’s: individual artists and cultural organizations are at the heart of creating this attraction for tourism and the quality of local life! I believe the Seattle Arts Commission can be an effective partner for organizations like Corporate to rethink how to develop employee engagement/retention programs that not only benefit internal employees, but also contribute to the local arts scene. This means intentional outreach and sincere partnerships with community artists. WE (artists) are here – we just don’t know, for a long time.”
Robert Hardgrave longtime Seattle painter, illustrator, and sculptor.
- “I support Greg Lundgren in what he’s trying and doing because he’s been trying and doing to make the art community work for over 20 years. Maybe the corporate expo idea was a bad idea, but who am I to say. I have been an artist in Seattle for 30 years. The technological boom has made this city almost unrecognizable. And those people who move here don’t care about this city. I don’t think Seattle is the only one feeling oppressed by capitalist corporate greed. Most artists I know can’t make a living out of art alone here. Extra income is always necessary. There are grants and award opportunities, but there are so many artists that it would be easier to get struck by lightning.”