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Seattle’s Jen Graves Resigns as Art Critic of The Stranger

Graves with Maria Lassnig's You and Me, 2008.

Graves with Maria Lassnig’s You and Me, 2008, in Venice.

DAVID QUIGG

Jen Graves, who has been the art critic for the Seattle alternative paper The Stranger since 2006, has resigned. “I spent months resisting the reality that The Stranger is not currently a viable place for me to do the work I’ve always cared about,” she said, announcing her departure on Twitter this morning.

Graves, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for criticism and a nominee for the best art reporting award from the U.S. section of the International Association of Art Critics, was an increasing rare entity: an art critic working full time at a major city newspaper. The number of people in that role has dwindled in recent years as the media business has struggled and publications have cut staff.

In an interview by phone today, Graves told me, “The Stranger supported my work for a long time in an environment where nobody else was supporting this kind of work, really. Critics have peeled off in Seattle.” When she moved to town 11 years ago, she said, every other major publication had a staff art critic. Following her resignation, none will. “Whatever kind of strategy infected those other places may have reached The Stranger,” she said.

Explaining her decision, Graves said she had been asked to do more general art and pop culture stories and to take on management duties that would have limited her time to write. She said she was not yet sure what she would do next. “It’s important to note that there should be other options for those of us who do critical work, and instead there seems to be a real, somewhat unfounded misunderstanding and disregard for what we bring to a city,” she said.

Asked for comment, The Stranger’s editor-in-chief, Tricia Romano, shared a post on the newspaper’s website by Christopher Frizzelle, who stepped down as EIC last year, that pays tribute to Graves and highlights some of her work for the paper. He describes her as “an extraordinary critic, a fierce reporter, and a brilliant essayist,” adding, “Her work is unforgettable.”

Graves’s career has included teaching at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and publishing “This Land Is False Land,” an extensive article that looked at the tremendous amount of work that went into shaping the topography of Seattle, and that described the city as “one of the most outrageous land sculptures in American history.” It was funded by a Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. (An archive of her bylines for the paper, which included stories on a wide variety of topics, is available here.)

“I want to thank so many artists, readers, writers, activists, just people who trusted me with your stories and your time and your honesty,” she said on Twitter. “We’ll be talking, I’m sure. For now, take care. Let’s fight together. I’ll see you out there.”

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