2021-09-05 Hardly Raining
When Burning Man was cancelled due to COVID in 2020, partners Leeds and Julie brought the event’s tradition of gifting to the Seattle community instead. They built a 12-foot metal chute with a mouth-shaped opening, sought donations of fruit from neighbors’ trees, gathered like-minded volunteers, and baked hundreds of hand pies to distribute to fellow “Burners” and local neighbors.
Here’s how the Pie Chute works: Pie recipients stand in line along the sidewalk, call out a pie flavor, sanitize their hands, and then catch the pie from the “pie hole” at the bottom of the chute. All pies are freely gifted, so payment and donations are not accepted. Cookies, vegan and gluten-free pies, and other treats are available, too. The Pie Chute is located at the NW corner of S Genesee St & 38th Ave. S, on the border between the Mt. Baker and Columbia City neighborhoods.
Leeds explained the inspiration for the Pie Chute: “Julie and I usually go to Burning Man [in Black Rock Desert, NV]. Instead, we got our friends together to put art in their yards [in Seattle]. We settled on the Pie Chute because Julie is very good at baking pies…and gleaning. We thought we’d have some Burners come by, maybe give away 20 pies a day.” Due to a high density of Burners in the neighborhood and some unexpected publicity on Reddit, the Pie Chute was overrun. “We planned for 300 pies for the week last year, and ended up giving away 885!” Julie said. The Pie Chute also made appearances on Halloween and Pi Day.
It was featured again this Burn Week when Burning Man was held only virtually. This year, Julie and Leeds baked an impressive 1592 pies. Julie shared that almost all of the fruit was grown in Seattle-area backyards. Neighbors also donated 36 pounds of butter, 50 pounds of flour, and a gallon of cream. Leeds said the installation was expanded this year to include the theme of “a tiny town on a lost highway.” It now includes several fictitious road signs for actual (free) goods and services.
COVID safety was built into the entire design, Leeds said. That includes masking, social distancing between groups in line, food-worker cards for volunteers, and a café area for vaccinated pie eaters. “The idea was to take no chance [on COVID]. The pies are even double-wrapped in foil and paper.”
Leeds explained the importance of gifting in the Burning Man community, and said that those outside it are sometimes confused. “There are some people struggling with the idea that it’s free. Some say, ‘I already had one yesterday,’ and others say, ‘I’d like to order 20,’ which is not how it works.” He thinks their neighbors have been excited about the Pie Chute, and said it has led to planning more events together.
The Pie Chute is one of dozens of participatory community art installations affiliated with Art Compass NW. Burn Week events are occurring across greater Seattle from August 29 to September 6. Today was the last day for pies, but the Pie Chute will return for Halloween, serving both pies and candy.
[Editor’s note: The ginger–pear pie was delicious.]