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Q&A with Nancy Guppy as she celebrates a decade of covering Seattle’s art & music scene

“You can’t celebrate 10 years of ‘Art Zone with Nancy Guppy’ without celebrating its host.” Some true words courtesy of The Seattle Times.

Time flies when you’re having fun. “Art Zone with Nancy Guppy” is kicking off a decade of covering Seattle’s lively arts scene. From silly segments to poignant portraits to in-depth interviews, the show has showcased more than 500 bands, featured more than a thousand artists, and visited dozens of arts and cultural organizations.

To mark the milestone, we turned the tables and asked Nancy about “Art Zone’s” humble beginnings, standout moments and the city’s evolving arts landscapes.

Tell us about Art Zone’s early days.

A look back at the artists and musicians Nancy Guppy has featured over the past decade.

In the early 2000s I borrowed $3,000 from my dad to create “City a Go Go,” a five-minute interstitial show that was basically a mini-version of Art Zone—two tiny artist profiles and a tiny calendar of events—that aired on Seattle Channel 21 and KCTS 9. In 2007, the Seattle Channel decided to budget for more extensive arts programming which led to a handful of art-related shows like “Verve,” “Big Night Out,” and “The Local Music Show,” and these programs aired in a three-hour block called “Art Zone” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In 2008, the channel decided to put its resources into fewer programs, and “Art Zone in Studio” was born, which eventually became “Art Zone with Nancy Guppy.”

Your background is in sketch comedy. What led you to focus on the arts?

Sketch comedy involves writing and performing which is of course artistic, so looking at my background through that lens, I’ve been involved in the arts for most of my working life. What led me to focus on art outside of myself was a growing interest in collecting art and seeing and experiencing art— attending dance performances, plays, films, etc.  The deeper I got into the art scene, the more I got to know artists, and that made me want to create a show that would shine a light on the artistic voices in my local community. (Prior to hosting “Art Zone,” Nancy was a regular on KING 5’s sketch comedy show “Almost Live.” One of her signature characters was Capable Woman.)

Share a few standout stories, interviews or moments.

Nancy Guppy with Dame Edna in 2015. PHOTO: SHEILA MULLEN

My favorite moments aren’t necessarily big moments and usually have to do with forging an authentic connection with a guest. That said, arriving at the opening night of the Seattle International Film Festival in a dog crate strapped to the top of a car was memorable. That video went viral, made the Huffington Post and provoked a ton of reaction. My most fun interview ever was with Dame Edna. She had me on the floor the entire time. And we devoted a full show to the filmmakers behind “Big Sonia,” a documentary about Sonia Warshawski, a 96-year-old survivor of the Holocaust. That conversation was deeply moving. 

How do you decide what stories to tell and which artists and organizations to feature?

Nancy Guppy with Seattle singer
Whitney Mongé

There is the obvious balance of genre, gender, age, and cultural background, but other than that, it comes down to who and/or what is compelling and can we tell that story in a visually dynamic way. There’s also timeliness of a story and sometimes deservedness, meaning artists who’ve been around a long time but haven’t received the recognition that we think they deserve. In addition, the creative people who produce stories for “Art Zone” pitch ideas, and their enthusiasm for a subject is an important component of what makes it into the show. Finally, my own personal taste is somewhere in the mix, but what I like is rarely a deciding factor.

How has the Seattle art scene changed in the last decade?

Art-making itself has not changed. Artists paint, sculpt, dance, act, sing, etc., in the same way they’ve done since the beginning of time. A positive change is the World Wide Web, which has allowed artists to post their work, promote their work, and be seen without having access to a gallery or stage. A negative change is that (many) artists have been priced out of being able to live in core Seattle neighborhoods which affects easy, day-to-day, in-person interactions with other artists. The era of walking two blocks from your $225/month studio apartment on Broadway (Yes, I paid $225/month for a studio apartment on Broadway.) to your friend’s $300/month one-bedroom apartment at Pike & 10th to collaborate, talk ideas, hang out, is no more. And then, of course, the closing of venues — galleries, studio space, rehearsal space, clubs — removes what artists often need most of all, which is the opportunity to work out their ideas in front of a live audience. 

There’s been a steep decline in arts writers and critics. What are the implications of this shift?

Nancy with Seattle Channel videographer and editor Vincent Pierce and “Art Zone” producer Kate Huisentruit celebrating their Regional Emmy Awards. “Art Zone” has won nine Northwest Emmy Awards over the years.

The implications are that writing about art, thinking and talking about art, isn’t important or beneficial to the general public. Art has always suffered from the (false) notion that it’s a luxury, something that we might want and like, but don’t “need.” I vehemently disagree with that perspective. Art is ideas. Art is a way of seeing the world, of trying to understand the world and the people who live in it. A play, a dance, a film, a song, can inspire us, challenge us, shake up our individual and often narrow-minded view of “the way it is.” Unfortunately, these very real values aren’t measurable in a traditional manner. Nowadays, magazines, newspapers and TV shows make content decisions based on how many clicks a story gets, and let’s face it, a pot-smoking cat is going to get more clicks than a new novel by an award-winning writer.

Do you have any secret talents?

I can sing and hum the theme songs from these 1960s and 70s TV shows: “I Dream of Jeannie,” “The Flintstones,” “That Girl,” “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Jetsons,” and “Bewitched.”

Name four artists, dead or alive, you would like to invite to dinner?

Thinking globally gives me a headache, so I’m going local: dancer/choreographer Wade Madsen, musician Rachel Flotard, writer and actor Lauren Weedman, and the late great visual artist Merrily Tompkins.

Ever been star struck?

Yes. A few years ago, Art Garfunkel came through town on a book tour, and I was asked to host a Q&A with him in front of a live audience at the Neptune Theatre. I was a Simon & Garfunkel fan growing up — I especially liked Art Garfunkel’s voice — and was super excited to meet him…until I did. He turned out to be a total jerk! I’m sure his behavior came out of some deep insecurity, but regardless of the reason, he was highly unpleasant. My husband, Joe, was at the event and afterwards he came bounding up to me with a huge smile on his face and said, “Wow, that was great!”  I remember saying, “I hated every minute of it! Let’s get out of here.” And we did.   

You’re stuck on a desert island and can have one book, one record, one movie and, of course, one TV show.

“On the Banks of Plum Creek” by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Pretenders “Learning to Crawl;” “Boyhood” by Richard Linklater; “Sewing with Nancy,” a weird PBS TV show hosted by Nancy Zieman. 

How do you see Art Zone evolving over the next 10 years?

Nancy has met countless local and international celebrities over the years, including Owuor Arunga, Ryan Lewis, Macklemore and Andrew Joslyn. She featured Macklemore back in 2011, just before he became an international sensation. PHOTO: SHEILA MULLEN

The most major change will be the numerous plastic surgery procedures that will evolve my face, so I will look 10 years younger than I do now.

Where’s the one place Nancy Guppy fans might bump into you on a Saturday?

Power walking on Queen Anne Hill or eating lunch at Cafe Campagne in Pike Place Market. Never camping.

Finish this sentence: Art Zone is …. 

a love letter.  

Read more about Art Zone with Nancy Guppy in these headlines:

• The Seattle Times: ‘Art Zone,’ with host Nancy Guppy, celebrates 10 years boosting the Northwest’s creative community

• New Day Northwest: Celebrating 10 years of Art Zone with Nancy Guppy

• KUOW: TV show Art Zone celebrates 10th anniversary this season