Photo by Robert Wade

From opera to chocolate, dance to mushrooms, Forterra’s Ampersand Live packs Town Hall

Wild encounters in the woods; surprising urban undertakings (human composting, anyone?); unique dance; unexpected song.

Forterra’s second Ampersand Live showcased a diverse group of individuals who joyfully celebrated what we love about the Pacific Northwest.

Ampersand Live contributors (minus a few)
Photo by Robert Wade

Host Luke Burbank guided the evening with sixteen contributors—artists, writers, entrepreneurs, scientists and a dog—who took to the stage, each offering a story of how their work sustains this region—whether by mixing up new chocolate creations in the city, sniffing out ecological clues East of the Cascades or chasing a story deep in “mushroom country” on the Olympic Peninsula. The result?

“An incredibly diverse collage of place-based experiences,” said one audience member.

I loved the emphasis on urban landscapes being just as important as the wilderness.
Contributor and Seattle’s civic poet, Claudia Castro Luna

Glenn Nelson’s Let it Ride time lapse video kicked off the evening followed by an ode to Seattle’s Green Lake by KEXP‘s John Richards.  “As long as we have these gathering places, it gives us reason to pause, reason to reflect and the ability to withstand the development going on,” Richards said.

Reading a new poem, Castro Luna challenged us to warm up Seattle’s chilly reputation. “I invite you to buck the trend. Melt the freeze. Bridge the gap,” Castro Luna said.

Nikki McClure, a paper-cut artist from Olympia, brought warmth to a universal Northwest experience—the arrival of the damp and dark of winter. “Darkness and wetness pull us together into coffee shops and into our homes,” McClure said. “Winter is here. Make it warm with your work.”

Contributor Glenn Nelson founded the organization Trail Posse to better connect people of color to the outdoors. By 2050, Census figures project a non-white majority in the U.S. Yet people of color vastly underutilize our nation’s public lands. If that new majority has little or no relationship with the outdoors, Nelson said, our ability to preserve these places for future generations is under threat.

Diversity in the outdoors is a self-preservation issue for all of us.
Glenn Nelson

Two contributors introduced the Confluence Art Project, encompassing six large-scale artworks sited along the Columbia River basin, five designed by Maya Lin and one by Seattle-based native architect Johnpaul Jones. Each piece references a passage in the Lewis and Clark journals, while telling a deeper story of the natural and cultural history of the area.

Confluence aims to “reconnect people with the stories of those who were here before Lewis and Clark arrived,” said Executive Director Colin Fogarty. “This is the story of the Northwest.”

Jones sees the project as an opportunity “to tell people a little bit more about the indigenous people in this area, and to reconnect the land with native culture.”

Sampson the dog, described by his handler Julianne Ubigau as a former street dog deemed “obnoxious and untrainable,” has found a home chasing down scat samples for the UW-affiliated non-profit Conservation Canines.

Sampson the Dog with trainer Julianne Ubigau of Conservation Canines
Photo by Robert Wade

By identifying data-rich samples over large areas, Sampson and his fellow scat detection dogs allow researchers to non-invasively track species and ecosystem health. Lured by the reward of a ball, Sampson swiftly pinpointed a sample onstage, which, Ubigau assured us, was barely visible to the naked eye.

Gino Lucchetti, a longtime fisheries biologist who also dabbles as an opera singer, connected the homing instinct of salmon—guided to their birthplace by their sense of smell—with how the sensory experience of music can evoke a feeling of home.

And suddenly, we were at an Italian opera, transported by Lucchetti’s full tenor and Bonnie Birch on accordion.

Bonnie Birch and Gino Lucchetti
Photo by Robert Wade

While most contributors are changing the way we live, local designer Katrina Spade wants to change the way we die. Her organization, the Urban Death Project, is testing methods for meaningful, ecologically sound disposal of our dead in urban environments.

“We aim to disrupt the entire deathcare industry and make death beautiful,” Spade said. The project is currently raising funds to build a prototype decomposition facility.

Besides, “if there’s anywhere that human composting can flourish, it’s Seattle!” said Spade.

Writer and forager Langdon Cook seeks out those truly wild foods that still live among us, and the wild people who collect and sell them. Cook went on the ‘Mushroom Trail’ in search of the “hidden economy going on in the woods of the Pacific Northwest,” traveling with an off-the-grid picker who follows the mushroom flushes around the region. His book “The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America” tells the full story.

Nature photographer and wildlife author David Moskowitz related his close encounter with a bear in the Pacific Northwest woods. Crouching behind a log, he poked his head up just in time to lock eyes with the animal. Each beat a hasty retreat, leaving him with a question.

“When you look at a wild animal and it’s staring back at you, what is it thinking about?”

“They want to know what we’re going to do next,” Moskowitz said. “This is a burning question for animals across the globe.”

Cornish College of the Arts faculty member, Alia Swersky, performs Begin Again, choreographed by Swerksy and Wade Madsen.

One audience member said he came expecting to see “different perspectives on our community and the place that we live. The program absolutely delivered.” He enjoyed seeing “different ways people are interacting with the city and the landscape,” providing a vehicle to “remember our history and work towards a positive future.”

In the face of powerful forces of change in the region and around the world, poet and contributor Janie Miller reflected, “when I get to experience nights like tonight, exploring ideas of place, regionalism and people in those places, I feel a healing.” Miller read her poem, Carrot.

The fourth issue of Forterra’s Ampersand magazine will be published in spring. Ampersand Live will return to the stage in Fall 2016.

At the $45 level, Forterra members receive copies of Ampersand, a biannual magazine, and tickets to Ampersand Live. Become a member by donating today.

Check out photos from the evening on Facebook >

Pat Wright and The Total Experience Gospel Choir closed out the night

  • Alexa Jay

    Alexa has worked for climate research organizations and non-profits for six years. She holds degrees in anthropology and climate science and policy.