Wa Na Wari is an active center for Black art and culture sited in a 5th-generation Black-owned home in Seattle’s Central District. The home, originally built in 1909, was purchased by Frank and Goldyne Green in 1951 and members of the extended Green family continued to reside there through 2013.
In 2016, Inye Wokoma became the estate guardian and put a plan in place to preserve and maintain the home in perpetuity. Establishing Wa Na Wari is the first step towards securing that long-term vision.
The Central District, a historically redlined neighborhood, was 80% Black in the 1970s. Today, gentrification has taken hold, with a population that is now less than 14% Black and dropping. Seattle’s affordability crisis has impacted residential, commercial, and cultural opportunities for Black residents and has all but eliminated spaces where Black artists can live, work, and create. Aging Black homeowners struggle to afford skyrocketing property taxes and remaining Black residents experience isolation and economic hardship.
By providing space and resources for Black artists to collaborate, exhibit their work, and network with other artists, collectors, and patrons, Wa Na Wari is advancing the community in the face of such challenges.
Wa Na Wari was nominated for this award by Cynthia Brothers of Vanishing Seattle. “As a Black-led organization, Wa Na Wari is not only physically preserving a historic home – it is preserving Black culture, ownership, and the social connection which is integral to the neighborhood and to the city as a whole,” Cynthia said.
Wa Na Wari’s visionary usage of art and community stories both defends and creates space to sustain and reignite local Black cultural life. Furthermore, Wa Na Wari is actively demonstrating how Black art and culture can be effective tools for combating gentrification and displacement by securing Black-owned property for community use.
In the spring of 2020, Wa Na Wari launched a new program to help anchor the Black community in the Central District: The Central Area Cultural Ecosystem 21st Century (CACE 21). CACE 21 is a community organizing initiative that seeks to build grassroots power, expertise, and capacity among Black Central District homeowners and artists to envision and advocate for community-driven land use policies that fight displacement and lower the barriers to creating more cultural spaces, such as those based on the Wa Na Wari model.
At a time when the Black heritage of the Central District is at risk of being erased, Wa Na Wari has taken the lead in protecting and enhancing its cultural legacy. For that, it is our privilege to present them with Historic Seattle’s 2020 Community Advocacy Award. This award includes a $3,000 prize which Wa Na Wari plans to use to support their homeowner advocacy work.
Featured image by Mujale Chisebuka; 3rd embedded image by Jill Freidberg