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Underneath I-5, art is blossoming

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From Green Lake to Ravenna, people agree the ugliest part of their neighborhoods is the 10-acre corridor under Interstate 5.

The ugly stick didn't strike overnight. These dark acres supporting 270 22-foot-tall concrete pillars have been a "creepy eyesore" since they were created in the mid-1960s, said Barbara Luecke, project coordinator for 4Culture's public art program. "It's a divide and a barrier, and people want a connection," she said.

Enter the Roosevelt-Green Lake Art Corridor Project. Short of tearing down the freeway, neighbors hope that art can turn a grimy, dark no man's land into a destination point, or at least a fluid conjunction between the communities the freeway tore apart.

The $300,000 Corridor Project addresses the block in the center of the underpass on Northeast 65th Street, with funds coming from King County's Metro Transit.

It's a first step, Luecke said. Southeast of it, on Ravenna and Eighth Avenue Northeast, there are preliminary community plans for a skateboard park, and nothing is yet brewing on the north.

"The art's the start," she said. "That area is a park and ride bus stop, but people with baby carriages and runners with dogs often cross it on their way to Green Lake and the library or back over to Whole Foods and restaurants on Roosevelt. We've heard from a lot of people, and they hate the experience."

A panel comprising members of the community councils in the areas and art professionals selected by 4Culture chose three artist or artist-team finalists. Each will hobnob with the communities, walking and talking with corridor users, before developing final plans.

Sheila Klein from Bow is on site through June 4, testing design ideas with large, temporary decals. She's nationally known for her flamboyantly decorative aesthetic. Don't be surprised if she covers those pillars in pillar-size costume jewelry.

Portland's Adam Kuby follows, from June 5 to 18. What he lacks in experience he provides in imagination. He's thinking of attaching wind turbines to the edge of the freeway to capture turbulence generated by traffic. The resulting electricity can power lights to wrap the columns.

Seattle's Buster Simpson and Laura Sindell (husband and wife) joined forces with Bruce Myers of Orcas. Simpson is one of the most important environmental artists in the world. His corridor team is experimenting with seating that matches the columns in scale and material; a "chandelier" made from an upside-down tree; and green, growing roofs for the bus shelters along Northeast 65th. They'll be on site between June 19 and July 4.

The winning artists will be selected midsummer, Luecke said, and start development in the fall. For more information, contact Luecke at 206-296-4137 or barbara.

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