The following is a guest post by Leonard Garfield, Executive Director of the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI).
Starting this Saturday, November 18, a special exhibit called Seattle On the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith will take MOHAI visitors on a journey through the Central District in the mid-20th century, as seen through the distinctive documentary lens of a local photographer named Al Smith. Chronicling Seattle’s African American community, the local jazz scene and the life and the work of this unique artist, Smith’s pictures give a peek into a vibrant part of Seattle’s history and culture.
But there’s something more. Al Smith wasn’t just a photographer. He was a young innovator who received his first camera at the age of 12, worked his way around the world as a steamship steward as a young man, and spent his life following the ideas of his own curiosity. Fittingly, Seattle On the Spot’s last room will feature current images taken by young photographers from Creative Justice, NAAM Youth Curators from the National African American Museum and Photographic Center Northwest, examining the changing communities of Seattle through their own individual paradigms and originality.
What does this trip through Seattle’s past have to do with the future? Our history and culture have always been shaped by the young people of our region. And putting the spotlight on young people as we talk about the ideas, institutions and individuals that will define the Pacific Northwest over the next 50 years helps us understand what we can look forward to.
I think the future of the Pacific Northwest will be shaped by the young people of today. We might not know their names, but they’re here, and we know they’re already at work creating amazing ideas. That’s the history of Seattle. We’re a city that’s shaped and reshaped by young people.
Seattle has always put stock in smart ideas, and some of the best and most transformative have come from young people. The Pacific Northwest wouldn’t be what it is today without Boeing and Microsoft, both of which were shaped early by young men in their 20s, Bill Boeing and Bill Gates, respectively. And, what they invented became reimagined many times over, reshaping both their companies and the character of the region they call home.
There are lessons for the future in our past if we look closely. We need to see not just the events that happened, but how they happened. The spirit of inspiration, innovation, collaboration and community is deeply embedded in our region. Al Smith captured this in his photographs, and it’s what we seek to demonstrate every day and for every person who walks through MOHAI’s doors.
Seattle loves smart ideas, and the young people here keep coming up with them. As a community, we need to nurture the spirit of our youth, encourage them to continue taking risks, and even take risks ourselves – as Laird Norton Wealth Management is doing with #Future50NW simply by opening this discussion about the future.
Because much like the ideas of our young people themselves, our future is already hard at work. We might not know exactly what it will look like, or who will be behind it, but we do know that the ideas of inspiration, innovation and collaboration that have defined our past will carry us into the future. And the young people in our region – even if we don’t know their names yet – will be the ones to make that future very bright indeed. — Leonard Garfield, Executive Director of the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI).
Watch the Video
Take part in #Future50NW and tell us what ideas, institutions and individuals you think will shape the next 50 years of the Pacific Northwest. Enter a comment below, email us or join us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Make sure to tag your social media posts with #Future50NW so we can collect all your stories in one place.