Food & Culture

New Georgetown Protest Mural Takes on Climate Change, South Seattle Air Pollution

The collaboration between Seattle artist Craig Cundiff and anti-gasoline organization Coltura debuted last weekend.

By Michael Rietmulder November 17, 2017


Craig Cundiff says he knows the effects of climate change all too well. The New Orleans native relocated to Seattle a few years after Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown. Part of Seattle’s appeal was the ability to live in the city without owning a car. For the visual artist, ditching the automobile was more of a money saver than exhibition of environmental wokeness. Still, there’s a slight hint of pride in his voice when he mentions being car-free for more than a decade.

Cundiff’s work never has never been especially politically, often dealing in abstract portraiture instead. (His “hipsters” series, in particular, is a colorful blast.) But something clicked at the end of this summer.

Hurricane Harvey had just rocked Houston, while Irma and Maria were circling in the Caribbean. The wildfires roiling across the Northwest left Seattle blanketed in a smoke thicker than the soot that accumulates on Cundiff’s windows from Rainier Avenue traffic.

“It’s definitely something we have to live with every day, cleaning this soot and the smog off our windows,” he says.

The 32-year-old was already mulling ideas for a mural contest held by Coltura, a Seattle-based organization aimed at weaning America off gasoline, when his son asked to go to the beach. Because of the wildfires, Seattle was under an air quality watch and Cundiff had the challenge of explaining climate change to a 4-year-old who just wanted to play at the beach.

His son already had his beach goggles in hand and they grabbed an old dust mask lying around for an impromptu photo shoot that became inspiration for Cundiff’s striking new Georgetown mural. The nearly 2,100-square-foot painting, dubbed “My Child, Our Air,” was unveiled on the Vale Street side of the old Poppleton Electric & Machinery Co. building (969 S. Nebraska St.) last weekend.

The sprawling mural depicts his son, face covered by the mask and goggles, in front of a familiar scene of gridlocked Seattle traffic. The hazy orange sun from those wildfire days looms above the snarled highways engulfed in smoke.

“I didn’t want to make it overly dystopian or a bummer or really preachy,” Cundiff says. “I wanted it to be this piece that engaged first and then the ideas start opening up.”

Its placement in industrial Georgetown is no accident. Home to Boeing Field and industry along the Duwamish River Valley, South Seattle in general has been disproportionately affected by air pollution. (“Even right now there’s probably a bunch of semi-trucks parked around the mural,” Cundiff quips.) Asthma rates, which are known to be triggered or worsened by air pollution, are more than 30 percent higher in South Park than the citywide average.

Cundiff’s first activist-driven piece may not be his last. The idea of art-with-a-message working toward “some sort of better place” was rewarding, he says. Especially with an issue near and dear to his heart.

“Climate change is something we think is going to be 20, 30 years down the line, but it’s actually right here, right now,” Cundiff says. “So, right now is the time to act on it.”

Join The Must List

Sign up and get Seattle's best events delivered to your inbox every week.

Follow Us

Book Excerpt: A Fun Ride

Book Excerpt: A Fun Ride

Biking Uphill in the Rain explores Seattle’s robust bicycling culture

Despite Seattle’s infamous hills and seemingly constant drizzle, the city is known across the United States for its strong bicycling culture. Bicycling magazine, in fact, has named Seattle the best bike city in the country. A new book by Tom Fucoloro, the founder of the popular Seattle Bike Blog, takes a deep dive into the…

Arts: Picture Perfect

Arts: Picture Perfect

Robin Layton is nothing short of a Seattle treasure

Much like capturing the perfect moment on film, photographer Robin Layton’s life is a series of moments that are almost hard to believe. Some would call them coincidences, and others, instances of fate. Remember that iconic photo of a grinning Ken Griffey sliding across home plate (“The Smile at the Bottom of the Pile”) to…

Datebook: Fall Arts Finds

Datebook: Fall Arts Finds

A look at some of the upcoming season’s hottest works

As the long, hot days of summer melt away into cooler temps and earlier evenings, Seattleites are about to make the seasonal shift toward indoor activities. While monthly art walks and occasional museum visits are popular year-round, for those in the know, back-to-school sales also signal the start of Fall Arts: the time of year…

A City by Design

A City by Design

Seattle Design Festival seeks to create equitable, thriving communities

THE LARGEST DESIGN FESTIVAL in the Pacific Northwest is right around the corner, and organizers are asking residents to weigh in on Seattle’s future self. The Seattle Design Festival, which began in 2011, runs from Aug. 19-24. It features interactive cultural events across the city with an overarching theme of “Curiosity.” Festival organizers anticipate that…