The Seattle Symphony* was rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 when Washington’s stay-at-home order came down, but for the next four months, all the group could do was release archived performances. It was devastating for musicians and fans alike.
“Our musicians are meant to make music. That is their calling in life,” Symphony President Krishna Thiagarajan says. “The only reason we exist as an orchestra is to serve that calling and to create a connection between our musicians and the audience.”
But how to rebuild that connection in a remote world?
The Symphony consulted with Overlake Hospital on how to keep musicians safe. Brass and woodwinds, which resonate using breath, need special instrument covers and some extra distance. Benaroya Hall’s already-robust air-filtration system received an upgrade. And with no audience in-house, the entire hall was fair game for experimental physical arrangements.
With these unusual workarounds, Seattle Symphony became one of the first major American symphonies to resume live performances—all streaming online for a monthly fee so you can still immerse yourself in music while you await the chance to return to Benaroya Hall.
Through this process, the symphony is finding new strengths, like working with more Seattle artists. For one livestream, the group performed with Seattle singer-songwriter Whitney Mongé. “We decided, ‘You know what? We will build her a stage in the middle of the auditorium,’” says Thiagarajan. “It’s a 2,500-foot hall, and there’s nobody there.” Grammy-winning audio and recording director Dmitriy Lipay makes sure the sound quality is stunning in any configuration.
And because they’re liaising directly with manufacturers on safety measures like trumpet covers, these performers are leading the way for other symphonies to return. “It’s been a lot of learning, it’s been a lot of patience, and it’s been a little bit of courage,” says Thiagarajan. “And we’ve found a way.”
“We never really said that our space was a restaurant,” says chef Melissa Miranda, owner of Musang in South Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. “We’ve always thought of it as a community gathering space.”
However you’d categorize Musang, which opened in January 2020 and was instantly critically acclaimed for its Filipino food, the pandemic roiled it the same as any other restaurant, forcing adaptation of its model but not its big-hearted ethos. For the first two months of the pandemic, with support from the community, Musang operated solely as a community kitchen, providing no-questions-asked meals to families in need. The neighbors who showed up to support the restaurant in its early days pitched in, too.
“We [said], ‘This is what we’re doing. We want to feed the people,’” says Miranda. “We just did an ask [for] donated food, you know, nonperishable goods, monetary donations for staff relief and for providing meals. And within the first three days, I think we raised almost $40,000.” That money allowed her team to serve 200 fresh, balanced meals a day.
“We really want people to feel like they’re eating healthy food, but also comforting food,” says Miranda.
The community kitchen has become part of Musang’s DNA, so Miranda banded together with like-minded South Seattle chefs and restaurants to create the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective. Together with conscientious neighboring chefs from That Brown Girl Cooks, Feed the People, and Guerrilla Pizza Kitchen, Musang ensures everyone has a place to get a freshly cooked meal every day of the week, regardless of their ability to pay.
“Food insecurity has always existed, but it’s not going away,” says Miranda. “If anything, people are feeling it a lot, a lot more.” To fight that insecurity, Musang offers cooking classes for kids, and continues to accept donations of nonperishable food, pantry staples, and funds to feed the community. The restaurant has also reopened for takeout plus limited indoor and outdoor dining several days a week, so visitors can support one of the city’s most vibrant and community-oriented eateries with dinner or a cocktail on the patio or with a to-go meal back at the hotel.
In one day in March 2020, all of author and speaker Ijeoma Oluo’s upcoming appearances were abruptly canceled. For someone who made most of her income from events, it was catastrophic.
Oluo, known for her bestselling book So You Want to Talk About Race, and her business manager, Ebony Arunga, knew that if their events were getting canceled, then everyone else’s were, too. So that same day, along with Oluo’s partner, musician and DJ Gabriel Teodros, they created the Seattle Artists Relief Fund (SARF). Its mission was to provide aid directly to Seattle artists—with no strings or judgment attached. “I wrote the survey based on my ideology around how artists should be applying for money,” says Arunga, “which is less, ‘Are you good enough?’ and more, ‘Are you an artist?’”
Within a few hours of when they posted the fundraiser on Oluo’s Facebook page, it had raised around $10,000. “I was just blown away, because I set the original goal at $20,000, thinking that would be something if we can raise that,” Arunga says.
Ultimately, SARF raised more than $1 million, which allowed the trio to make grants to more than 2,000 artists in need. But as the pandemic has dragged on for half a year and counting, SARF realized its initial purpose—to provide emergency relief while other supportive systems that should be in place mustered their resources—wasn’t going to be enough. So the fund is beginning its next chapter: Black-led arts organization LANGSTON is taking over to support artists long-term.
“LANGSTON’s mission is to cultivate Black brilliance, and so as it shifts, they’re looking at focusing specifically on the Black artists’ community,” says Arunga. “We definitely gave our blessing.” You can learn more and donate at LANGSTON’s website—also a perfect place to find out about specific must-see artists to seek out digitally or during your next visit.
Without live audiences to perform for, Pacific Northwest Ballet* has focused all of its efforts toward preserving opportunities for the company’s dancers—which also means creating ways for fans to enjoy productions from home. Wearing masks made by PNB’s own costume shop, dancers work in pods of four or five people, carefully screened before each rehearsal. The finished pieces will be part of an all-digital 2020–21 season, including several instances of world-premiere choreography.
On a typical Memorial Day weekend, Northwest Folklife* brings more than 250,000 people to the Seattle Center campus to share in music, art, and culture from a wide range of heritages and identities. As the pandemic spread in spring 2020, managing director Reese Tanimura had to make some big decisions, and fast. In just a couple of short months, Tanimura and team pulled together a virtual festival with six channels and an online marketplace. Nearly 40,000 people from 86 countries tuned in live, and the digital archive still attracts regular visitors.
2021 marks the festival’s 50th anniversary, and it will likely be another virtual event. The organization will still be celebrating throughout the year with archival material and interviews with cultural leaders, and Tanimura invites everyone to share their cultural traditions through the website. “Even with the unprecedented situation, we want to be sure to honor the legacy and vibrancy of our communities,” she says.
When proper cleaning supplies were hard to find and hospitals struggled to protect patients, Westland Distillery* pivoted from making award-winning whiskey to producing hand sanitizer, providing early batches free to hospitals, clinics, community centers, and government services. As Seattle has adjusted to pandemic life, the SoDo distillery has resumed selling flights, cocktails, bottles, and swag, albeit distanced inside its tasting room or for virtual enjoyment. In the time of greatest uncertainty, though, Westland’s quick turn helped keep workers employed and the community safe.
Angela Shen, founder and CEO of Savor Seattle Food Tours,* saw the writing on the wall. It wasn’t just her in-person tourism business in danger of collapsing; it was all of the restaurants and food vendors in her community, too. Now, Shen has shifted to highlight her many retail partners in a different way, letting a far-flung audience and locals alike enjoy Seattle’s greatest culinary offerings from a distance with gift boxes and subscriptions available for nationwide shipping. Past boxes have promoted underrepresented businesses: The Solidarity, Rise for Equality, and Hispanic Heritage boxes shared goods from Black-owned, women-owned, and Latinx-owned businesses, respectively. The Market Favorites box, featuring salmon from SeaBear Smokehouse, an exclusive coffee blend from Middle Fork Roasters, strawberry jam from Sidhu Farms, and more tasty treats, is available year-round. “When we figured out we wouldn’t be able to bring people to Pike Place Market anymore,” Shen says, “we thought we’d try bringing Pike Place Market to them instead.”
Canlis* is Seattle’s most iconic fine-dining restaurant, but as COVID-19 brought stay-at-home orders and economic insecurity, co-owners Mark and Brian Canlis knew they’d have to adjust to better serve the community. Early on, that meant a slew of new concepts, from drive-through burgers and bagels to virtual bingo nights and piano livestreams to cocktail kits and CSA boxes. In October, the brothers made an even more radical transformation: They partnered with other Seattle institutions to create Canlis Community College, an online learning experience that cost just $25 for the semester, with proceeds going to culinary job-training nonprofit Farestart.
While the core curriculum is in Canlis’s food-and-wine wheelhouse, the restaurant has tapped outside experts to highlight history, culture, art—including virtual visits to Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo for kids—and even phys ed. Materials live on for students to view at any time, and the program also features “office hours,” a.k.a. the opportunity to ask the ingenious Canlis team for personalized advice about your visit—including whatever wild endeavor might come next. Expect more big things from this self-proclaimed “restaurant turned pandemic startup incubator” whenever you arrive.
Independent bookstores are essential for readers to find not just their next title but also thoughtful recommendations and a community of like-minded book lovers. Beloved Capitol Hill institution Elliott Bay Book Company is keeping that spirit alive with several ways for folks all over the country to discover new treasures, from “Blind Date with a Book,” which delivers a hand-picked title in your favorite genre to your doorstep, to subscription boxes filled with tales of true crime or first editions. In-person visitors can snag their vacation reads safely with curbside pickup.
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