Indigenous art popping up in Pioneer Square

SEATTLE — Some colorful art is popping up in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood.

It's all part of a project to cover signal boxes with art from this region's indigenous community.  It's giving a new look to the neighborhood where monthly art walks were born.

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With surgical precision and a bit of smoothing to get it just right, a signal box at the corner of 1st Avenue and Yesler Way is being transformed.

"I'm a visual artist,” said Suzanne Morlock, a Pioneer Square resident. “I do public art."

Turning these boxes into canvases was Morlock's brainchild, but the entire neighborhood weighed in on the theme.

"And the one that we settled on, because, you know, Pioneer Square is the oldest neighborhood in Seattle, that the first inhabitants of this land would be the best place to start," Morlock said.  "So all of these boxes are designed by artists who are enrolled tribal members of tribes of the Coast Salish region which is where Pioneer Square sits."

It also happens to sit in a place more often associated with what ails Seattle: homelessness and crime.

Tija Petrovich cried when she saw the signal box.

"I did," she said. "Pioneer Square can be a very tough neighborhood. And this is a celebration."

Petrovich, a longtime Pioneer Square business owner, is president of the neighborhood's Residents Council.

"I mean I feel a big turn happening," she said. "Between part of that big turn is to recognize the first community and to - I'm emotional person - so to come up and see the art actually after a year talking about it, getting it applied, seeing public art instead of one of those boxes ... This is something beautiful and permanent and happening. To know I had a small part in it, yeah, I cried. I'll probably still cry when I see more."

She will likely shed a few more tears then. For now, five signal boxes are being covered in the work of five different indigenous artists.

"These are going to be up for five to 10 years," said Morlock. "And we're excited about it."

They plan to invite everyone else to join in the excitement during the First Thursday Art Walk set for Aug. 1 at the Chief Seattle Club.

Funding for the project came from  Business Improvement Area of the Alliance for Pioneer Square and the Pioneer Square Residents' Council.