Feed the People Plaza, Created to Nurture Community Connections, Could be Torn Down

A beloved Beacon Hill mural and community space is at risk.

by Carolyn Bick

Over the course of the first uncertain year of the pandemic, Seattle’s diverse communities banded together to fill in the gaps where governmental programs fell short. Local chefs fed people. Visual artists gave the city hope. Mutual aid groups handed out masks and water. And all of it happened against the backdrop of monthslong protests and a national spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement, following a police officer’s murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020. It was in this environment that Feed the People Plaza was born, transforming the corner of South Hanford Street and Beacon Avenue South into a community hangout. With an incoming development in the works, however, the plaza’s days might be numbered.

Back in 2020, there were no outlets for the many pent-up emotions swirling throughout the city and the nation, local chef and plaza co-creator Tarik Abdullah recalled, and he himself was “a little burnt out from doing the community kitchen” and needed a break. So he called friend Malcolm Procter, a local multidisciplinary artist and plaza co-founder who goes by the name Wolf Delux, to ask whether Procter wanted to find a building to paint on.

From there, everything happened organically. In the space Abdullah and Procter ended up choosing, a barista at Victrola Coffee Roasters, Nina, had already started curating a memorial for Black people killed at the hands of police. The artists who came together to work on the space incorporated this memorial into the work and the community efforts that sprang up around it. In total, Procter said, there ended up being about 75 artists who came together to contribute work — and that was not including the children “four, five, six, seven years old” who showed up to paint there, too.

“And it just ended up becoming the Feed the People Plaza,” Abdullah said.

Photo courtesy of Tarik Abdullah
Feed the People Plaza, Aug. 23, 2020
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Live music at Feed the People Plaza, a much-needed community hub during the early days of the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Tarik Abdullah.)

” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?fit=225%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?fit=474%2C632&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=474%2C632&ssl=1″ alt=”A colorful mural serves as a backdrop to a casual outdoor music scene during the daytime. A person in a tank top and shorts stands next to a drum set, with a microphone stand and amplifier in the vicinity. The ground is painted with vibrant colors and patterns that extend the mural onto the street. The mural reads ‘Feed the People’ and is adorned with various floral and animal designs.” class=”wp-image-110147″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=768%2C1024&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=225%2C300&ssl=1 225w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=113%2C150&ssl=1 113w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=600%2C800&ssl=1 600w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=450%2C600&ssl=1 450w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=300%2C400&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?resize=150%2C200&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.23_FeedThe-PeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_175846.jpg?w=900&ssl=1 900w” sizes=”(max-width: 474px) 100vw, 474px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>

Live music at Feed the People Plaza, a much-needed community hub during the early days of the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Tarik Abdullah.)

During the first years of the pandemic, the plaza hosted food trucks, mini vendor markets, was the site of the first Sankofa film screenings as well as an unexpected wedding venue. It’s also a main point on the Emerald’s T’Challaween trick-or-treat route. While Feed the People Plaza happenings have died down, the spirit of its use remains.

But soon, it may not.

On Oct. 14, developer Henry Chen submitted plans to the City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to completely revamp the building at 3207 Beacon Ave. S., which involves knocking down the existing building, including the large mural artwork on the South Hanford Street side.

Developer Henry Chen said that there was no way he could save the artwork. When asked why, Chen replied, “You tell me how I can save it.”

When asked whether he had actually ever considered saving the artwork, Chen said, “No.”

“The artwork there is [from] during the pandemic, and [the plaza was to] let the people go there, hang around outside,” Chen said. “That’s it. There’s not anything all that valuable to keep.”

SDCI submitted a reply to Chen’s proposal on Nov. 9. In that reply, SDCI explicitly highlights the plaza and suggests that Chen specifically look to preserve its placemaking aspect.

“Possibilities include providing outdoor gathering space at the street level, such as a plaza, and including an artist-designed mural expressing the historic and cultural significance,” SDCI’s reply reads.

SDCI’s Director of Media Relations & Permit Coordination Bryan Stevens told the Emerald in a Nov. 14 interview that the reason SDCI can’t recommend that the developer keep the plaza is because it is not within SDCI’s legal latitude to do so.

“Our authority doesn’t allow us to require … that facade to remain,” Stevens explained. “That’s something that would have to be considered by the Department of Neighborhoods through their landmark preservation process.”

The Emerald reached out to the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) to ask whether this would be feasible. A DON official told the Emerald that it might be tough for the community to make a case to save the plaza, because a space can only be designated as a historical landmark if it is at least 25 years old. The artwork in question is only a little more than 3 years old. This means that the community would need to frame the application for historical preservation as a move to save the building itself.

Photo courtesy of Tarik Abdullah
Feed the People Plaza, Aug. 22, 2020
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Part of the community mural honors the legacy of Kusina Filipina, a family legacy restaurant that was once housed in the building. (Photo courtesy of Tarik Abdullah.)

” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?fit=225%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?fit=474%2C632&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=474%2C632&ssl=1″ alt=”A detailed section of a mural showcasing a variety of vibrant images including a large yellow flower, a black bird, and a blue sunflower. Painted on the side of a building, this mural includes a door incorporated into the artwork, with depictions of cultural dishes, a portrait of a woman, and a ladder suggesting ongoing work. Text on the mural includes ‘Sunday morning where you eating at?’ and a menu of Filipino dishes.” class=”wp-image-110148″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=768%2C1024&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=225%2C300&ssl=1 225w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=113%2C150&ssl=1 113w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=600%2C800&ssl=1 600w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=450%2C600&ssl=1 450w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=300%2C400&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?resize=150%2C200&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/southseattleemerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2020_08.22_FeedThePeoplePlaza_courtTarikAbdullah_161142.jpg?w=900&ssl=1 900w” sizes=”(max-width: 474px) 100vw, 474px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>

Part of the community mural honors the legacy of Kusina Filipina, a family legacy restaurant that was once housed in the building. (Photo courtesy of Tarik Abdullah.)

While the community members who have commented about the plaza largely feel that the developer needs to save the artwork, the artists themselves have mixed feelings.

Painter and muralist A.O. Hamer told the Emerald that while she was honored to be part of the artistic effort at the plaza, there is “something about being an artist — specifically, a public artist, and a muralist — whenever you are creating something for the world, what’s helped my sanity is releasing it.”

“Once I’ve completed a piece, it’s outside of my control,” Hamer explained. She likened it to the work she and other artists did to brighten up the boards many restaurants and other venues used to protect windows and doors during the protests in 2020. Those, too, were temporary works, but that didn’t mean that artists did not give their all.

“I have a really complicated relationship with a lot of the work that was created around that time, and the … post-treatment of the work,” Hamer continued. “But yeah, what keeps me sane is knowing that I’m an artist. My side of the bargain is to create the art and the community and the world to decide once it’s out of my hands.”

Multidisciplinary artist Vulgar Dreamer, who recently created a sculptural walking meditation whose route begins and ends at the plaza, has feelings a bit different from Hamer’s. Her primary concern, she told the Emerald, is that the current proposal lacks placemaking for the community and that the artwork and history of that corner is integral to that. She told the Emerald that she feels the plaza is not just about filling bellies, it’s about putting forward “art as a way to feed the best in you, even during the worst of times, transforming pain into something beautiful.”

“The story of how it came together during the height of the pandemic, how it allows children to see how adults can manage something that’s very scary, and transform it into something that benefits the community — I mean, … the story is right there,” Vulgar Dreamer said. “Do we have the people in leadership to be creative in how they move forward with what that place means to people. It’s just like the perfect case study, you know, it’s like, ‘Don’t screw this up.’”

As for Abdullah and Procter, they fall somewhere in the middle.

“I would like for it to be around … because it’s such a community build,” Procter said. “But at the same time, I guess, with the way things are rapidly changing — each extension [to the building’s lifespan] was like a blessing, you know?”

“I think we understand that … cities, neighborhoods, they have to change, they have to evolve without any form of response from the community. A city is … going to change. And so I’m sad that … the building will go down just because of the fact that I just don’t have the memories of just what that first month [of the plaza] was like.”

Abdullah and Procter told the Emerald that they hope to be able to have a conversation with the developer. While the original artwork may be demolished, this does not rule out the possibility of creating new artwork that could live in and around the development.

“How about on each floor, we incorporate some of the artists that were part of the plaza to be able to incorporate their artwork in the building?” Abdullah said. “So, this way … the building has its newness, but it still has history of what it was on that corner.

“I think there’s a way that we can make that happen,” Abdullah continued. “It’s just a matter of the developer and I having that conversation saying, ‘Hey, this is what we did. This is what we would like to see. We’d like to hear your thoughts.’”

The Emerald reached out to Chen again on Nov. 16 to ask whether he had read SDCI’s response. Chen said he had not and was not planning on looking at the material until he got back to Seattle in early December.

Abdullah and Procter told the Emerald they specifically wanted to give shout-outs to the different visual artists who came out to contribute. The artists they mentioned by name include Abdullah’s sister, Jalila Abdullah, Ari Glass, Leann Alguire, Kimisha Turner, Perri Rhoden, Stephany Hazelrigg, and A.O. Hamer.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them on Twitter @CarolynBick and can check out their work on muckrack.com/carolyn-bick/portfolio as well as cebickphotography.com.
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Carolyn Bick

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Carolyn Bick is a local journalist and photographer. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.

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