Fall Campaign Spotlight: Brent Watanabe

Published: December 22, 2022

Categories: Artist Stories | Artists | Fall Campaign | Featured | Spotlight

As part of our end of year fundraising campaign we are sharing interviews with artists from across Washington State. We ask about what changes they are seeing in their work and community since the pandemic, and how we can best support artists now and in the future. Read more and make a gift today!


This week we spoke with Brent Watanabe, 2022 Arts Innovator Award and 2011 Fellowship Award recipient. Brent is an artist combining a background in traditional materials and practices (drawing, sculpture) with emerging technologies (computer programming, electronics), exploring an artistic field still being defined and discovered.

For over a decade, Brent has been creating computer-controlled gallery installations populated by kinetic sculpture, drawing, projection, and sound. One of his recent projects, San Andreas Deer Cam (2016), was presented live on the Internet, had over 800,000 visitors in the first three months, and was written about in dozens of publications, including New York Magazine, the BBC, and WIRED. He has participated in numerous group shows and screenings nationally and internationally, most recently at Bureau Europa (Maastricht, Netherlands, 2022) and Centro Cultural Banco de Brasil (Rio de Janiero, Brazil, 2022). He has had recent solo exhibitions at SOIL Art Gallery (Seattle, WA, 2006), McLeod Residency (Seattle, WA, 2008), Jack Straw New Media Gallery (Seattle, WA, 2009), Gallery 4Culture (Seattle, WA, 2011), Anchor Art Space (Anacortes, WA, 2013), and Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival (Seattle, WA, 2016). 

How has moving through the pandemic impacted your work? 

The months of lockdown forced me to adapt to the limited space available (at that time, a small apartment bedroom). I experimented and focused on the mediums that worked in that environment, primarily sculpting and world building in VR, creating audio on the iPad and computer, and drawing. It also pushed me to explore other avenues for connecting and sharing art with others. Early in the pandemic I was lucky enough to be included in a film commission curated by artist and filmmaker Britta Johnson, which resulted in an online film screening of works via Northwest Film Forum. I also worked on a multi-episode VR project in Meta’s Horizon Worlds, where I built interactive experiences that anyone with a VR headset could visit, anywhere in the world. I’m continuing to work using these mediums and strategies for reaching a diverse audience.


Brent Watanabe, Animal Crossing: All Mine, 2020

What did the support from Artist Trust’s Arts Innovator Award mean to you?

This award is an incredible gift of recognition, support, and resources. The Arts Innovator Award will afford me the freedom to explore, experiment, and expand my art practice. The funding will enable me to attempt projects previously out of reach and give me the opportunity to hire and collaborate with local artists, programmers, and artisans to realize these larger projects. I am honored to be included among the amazing and diverse finalists for the award this year, and just so thrilled and thankful for this support.    

What support do you think artists and artist communities need right now, and in the future?

First and foremost, I think that artist communities (and the rest of the population!) need access to affordable housing and medical insurance. Without these basic needs met, it’s very difficult for anyone to focus on anything beyond day-to-day survival. For artists specifically, I think organizations like Artist Trust and 4 Culture serve a huge need: they inform, demystify, and inspire surviving as a working artist through workshops, grants, and resources. They are a lifeline for the local arts community.


Brent Watanabe, Solar Utopias, 2020

Why is it important to support individual artists right now?

Artistic excellence does not happen in a vacuum. Artists need the time, space, and energy to experiment, hone their craft, and find their voice. Support for working artists nurtures this growth.  

The local arts community is full of unique voices sharing their individual points-of-view, and experiencing these works can broaden perspectives and increase an appreciation of this diversity. Without support, these voices may disappear. 


Brent Watanabe, MINE VR, 2022

We hope you will join us in supporting Washington State artists! To make your tax-deductible donation today, visit artisttrust.org/donate. 

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