by Corinne Whiting
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Despite the chill in the air this past soggy weekend, things were toasty and abuzz inside Capitol Hill’s multipurpose arts space, Cairo. The reason for the gathering? EXPO 90, a weekend-long underground pop festival featuring music, photography and even wrestling.
In the front room, amid walls of funky artwork and shelves of vintage backpacks, boots, belts, jewelry and clothing, young arts enthusiasts mingled, filling the compact shop with a symphony of chatter. In the back, music fans—clad in flannel, knit caps, ponchos, offbeat tees and the odd bow tie—bobbed their heads along to loud, jamming beats. The vibe felt energized as some event goers bumped into old friends; others chatted up brand-new acquaintances at this convivial reunion.
Cairo co-owner Joel Leshefka explained why this venue serves as an ideal spot for events like EXPO 90: “Cairo is a space for creative minds, run by creative business people, all with the same goal: Provide a platform for young artists to grow and expand beyond what they might normally be able to achieve on their own.”
This Capitol Hill establishment, a “constantly evolving retail and art space with an emphasis on the fringes of Seattle’s contemporary art scene,” opened in 2007 as a gallery and boutique. “We have continued to expand as we see fit, fleshing out the boutique, adding a silk screening studio and workshops, music events and a record label,” Leshefka said.
The first such arts event, EXPO 86, took place in 2008 at Cairo and The Anne Bonny (now Indian Summer, around the corner). An annual EXPO has happened every year since. Leshefka started the festival along with others who, according to EXPO organizer Olivia McCausland, “strive to provide accessibility to alternative practices of art and music.” Organizers emphasize the importance of keeping all participating artists local in this exposition of Pacific Northwest talent.
When asked how she and her team selected this year’s line-up, McCausland replied, “Ian Judd curated the music talent; I curated the art and performance talent of the festival. Joel Leshefka and I discussed a theme for the art show, and I asked various photographers in town that best represented the diversity of the medium in our arts community. Max and Graham were asked to perform because they are awesome geniuses and know how to put on one hell of a show.”
This year, Thursday evening highlights included a photography show featuring six artists (Serrah Russell, Megumi Arai, Andrew Nedimyer, Lauren Max, Brian O’Keeffe, Krysta Jabczenski) and an all-night performance called “Wrastle” by Max and Graham, during which audience members “re-created their high school sporting experiences” by wrestling one of the two artists.
“Friday night was packed with attendees, probably the most well attended night of any expo festival that we have had so far. While all the bands were fantastic, the crowd seemed especially excited about La Luz and Dreamsalon…Great time, great vibes,” EXPO co-organizer Ian Judd said. Other Friday artists included FF, CMRTYZ and Reed College band Hausu. (Shana Cleveland of La Luz will be featured in an art show this December.)
Saturday night proved considerably less rowdy with fewer attendees than the night before. Saturday artists included Baby Guns, Brain Fruit, The Numbs, Stephanie (music curator Ian Judd plays bass), Hair and Space Museum (Cairo team member Emily Pothast comprises half of this psychedelic duo) and USF.
“Brain Fruit, Hair and Space Museum and USF all gave extra special performances for the night. This night was a bit heavier on the visuals, with the latter two artists bringing their own projections, lights, and, yes, lasers,” Judd recapped.
“Cairo has become a space where artists know they can come and share their ideas and vision. It’s a platform where the emphasis is on the artist, no matter how abstract, obscure or non-commercial. Cairo aims to highlight what we believe in and respect as a community here in Seattle… We pair interesting artists with an interested audience,” Leshefka said.
Find out about upcoming Cairo events at www.cairocollective.blogspot.com or by following along on Facebook (listed under “Cairo Seattle”).