10 Years of Glam at SAM Remix

How a small side-program turned into one of the city’s most cosmopolitan events.

On a drizzly November night, I entered the Seattle Art Museum in my standard-issue winter outfit: leather jacket, hoodie, jeans, waterproof trail runners. But as women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos waltzed by, I had a rare thought: I’m underdressed.

Who had managed to bring out the inner fashionistas in our famously dressed-down town in weather that called for Gore-Tex? The curatorial team behind SAM Remix, the three-times-a-year, 21-and-up soirée that flings open the doors of the museum (and in summer, the Olympic Sculpture Park) for an evening of gallery browsing, art making, impromptu live performances and boogieing down.

March’s haute couture crowd came in homage to Yves Saint Laurent, the French fashion designer, but this was more than just a chance to visit the special exhibit after hours. With a free ticket to the first 50 guests wearing some interpretation of YSL’s classic tux, the crowd came in fine style—then strutted down a runway hosted by The Purple Lemonade Collective, a local creative crew with a mission to make art more accessible to the masses. Elsewhere, a party-friendly mix by DJs Supreme La Rock and WD4D broke into ’90s house as rival dancers vogued and waacked their way through SAM’s lobby, demonstrating two of the dance styles popular in the LGBT subculture known as ballroom, inspired by high fashion. Upstairs, local artists gave tours of their favorites pieces from the collection.

“We’re handing over the museum spaces to artists,” explains Philip Nadasdy, the museum’s manager of public programs, when asked about Remix’s ability to turn the traditional museum experience on its head.

Remix brings in artists and cultural figures as “co-hosts” who are part of the programming and always paid for their labor—like teaching an art making workshop—or, on the promotional side, getting the word out and providing critical feedback to the curators. As a result, “artists are going to bring their friends,” Nadasdy points out.

The museum’s flagship appeal coupled with intentional outreach to the diverse corners of Seattle’s cultural ecosystem conspire to make Remix the most cosmopolitan crowd in Seattle, where techies sporting their Amazon badges rub shoulders with South End hip-hop heads out to support a local MC.

David Rue, the museum’s public programs coordinator, describes his ambition with Remix as “creating a program that’s a demographic reflection of a world I want to live in.”

The most buzzworthy cultural event in the city didn’t come about overnight. Remix is celebrating its 10th year as one of the first interactive art experiences of its kind, something that’s now a staple at museums nationwide.

The project “took off like wildfire,” says Regan Pro, deputy director of education and public programs, and every one of the 35 editions thus far has sold out.

Remix has remained relevant for a decade by drawing on current luminaries in the cultural scene and playfully interacting with the museum’s world-class art installations. For example, last year’s Olympic Sculpture Park edition featured Seattle producer and multi-instrumentalist Erik Blood in the park’s amphitheater, accompanied by dancers. In 2011, Spanish artist Carolina Silva’s transparent cube installation, Air Below Ground, came bedecked with 300 balloons that attendees could take with them upon arrival. By the end of the night, hundreds of what appeared to be floating moons bobbed among the crowd mingling in the park.

To that end, the upcoming edition at Olympic Sculpture Park will sport a live performance by electronic neo-soul outfit Northern Natives, an art making workshop with Tariqa Waters and a multimedia dance performance inspired by Yayoi Kusama’s hit show, Infinity Mirrors. (The first 50 dressed head-to-toe in Kusama’s signature polka dots get in free.)

Choreographer Dani Tirrell will present excerpts from a new show, Black Bois, headed for On The Boards next year. “My experience with SAM has been one that they are always pushing conversations forward,” he told Seattle Weekly. “They bring in art and artists that are relevant to the times we live in. SAM does not shy away from things that may make people uncomfortable, and I think that is how they are able to engage with what is taking place in Seattle.”

Those words of praise suggest that SAM continues to have its finger on the pulse, which will hopefully keep Remix afloat for another decade. “At its best and its core, Remix reflects the wider ecosystem of Seattle,” Pro says. “What we really want to do is reflect and amplify what else is happening. Our hope is that you leave Remix, you’ve learned a new [name] and you start understanding how these artists and communities fit together.”

SAM Remix. Olympic Sculpture Park, seattleartmuseum.org/remix. $30, 21 and up, 8:00 pm. Fri., Aug. 11.