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Open Doors to Explore University District Activism

Visit University Tower in April and May, and you’ll encounter a large steel door. And then five more—all before you reach the building. 

An artist's rendering of the exhibit, prepared prior to fabrication and installation of the doors.

An artist's rendering of the exhibit, prepared prior to fabrication and installation of the doors.

The doors, installed in the outdoor plaza on the building’s north side (Brooklyn Avenue NE and NE 45th Street), are part of a temporary exhibit about activism in the neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibit, “Open to Question: Activism in Seattle’s University District,” runs through May 30. 

“The exhibit highlights how the neighborhood’s current reputation for openness and tolerance stems from the period during the 1960s and 1970s when the University District community was quite active in demonstrating for social justice, equality, and peace,” says Layla Taylor, exhibit and programs manager for the University District Museum with Walls (UDMWW), which organized the project.

Julia Swan (MA, ’08), now public relations coordinator at the Burke Museum, developed the exhibit’s content using information gathered for her UW Museology Program thesis. Swan approached Kristine Matthews, assistant professor of visual communication design, about the possibility of involving students in the display design.

Matthews was intrigued and introduced the project in an autumn quarter course. Students developed exhibit proposals, from which four students—two graduate students and two undergraduates—were selected to work on the project, receiving a small stipend for their efforts. Each student has spent up to 60 hours a month on the project since the course ended. 

"Open to Question" exhibit designers (from left) Mia Pizzuto, Erin Williams, Carina Skrobecki, Professor Kristine Matthews, and Leslie MacNeil.

"Open to Question" exhibit designers (from left) Mia Pizzuto, Erin Williams, Carina Skrobecki, Professor Kristine Matthews, and Leslie MacNeil. Media credit: Doug Manelski

“I can’t say enough about how incredible it has been to watch this transform from a classroom project to a professionally fabricated exhibit,” says Taylor. “The students have given above and beyond. It’s been like working with professionals because Kristine has served as art director, setting clear deadlines and guiding the process.”

The exhibit includes six steel doors, eight feet tall, with heavy steel bases to ensure stability. “The idea of open doors was inspired by the exhibit title, ‘Open to Question,’” explains Taylor. Each door displays information related to four major themes in University District activism: tension, equality, voices, and peace. The final door presents a question: What Doors Will You Open? It is made from chalkboard to encourage responses. 

Complementing the exhibit are brown bag lunch discussions and a website with video oral histories of University District residents, business owners, and activists. Visit www.opentoquestion.org for more about these offerings.

“I hope that when people come to this exhibit, they get a glimpse into the history of the U-District and why it is a hub of vibrant counterculture today,” says Taylor. “Most of all, I hope they see that this neighborhood can be a place where positive, vibrant change can take place.”