In an Instagram post on July 26 that garnered nearly 2,400 “likes” and dozens of comments, Shout Your Abortion Executive Director Amelia Bonow accused former XO Seattle curator Austin Bellamy Hicks of a pattern of harming women in the Seattle arts community. She said she fielded accounts from "a rapidly growing number of women" that included “rape, assault, stalking, and intimidation.” Two of those women told The Stranger that Hicks sexually assaulted them in the early 2010s.
One woman, who we will call Madison, claimed that Hicks had sex with her after she said “no” one night in 2012. Another woman named Sarah—who agreed to go by her real first name in this story—said in 2014 Hicks made her cry as he managed to pressure her into having sex without a condom.
In an interview last week, Hicks denied those sexual assault allegations but acknowledged a pattern of “lying,” “manipulating,” and acting in a “horrible” way toward a few of the women he dated during that time period.
Starting in 2022, Hicks, his girlfriend Julianne Johnson, and the pair’s business partner, Joe Zaczyk, ran the “roving curatorial practice” called XO Seattle. Hicks and Johnson acted as professional vibe-creators, renting underused spaces, putting up art installations, bringing in performers, and creating group shows that touched multiple silos of the Seattle arts community. Earlier this year, XO Seattle leased The Coliseum Theater downtown as a semi-permanent venue for their shows. The budding company seemed poised for success and influence.
Then, less than two weeks after Hicks and Johnson held the space’s grand opening, Bonow shared the accusations on Instagram. Bonow told The Stranger she personally knew someone who Hicks allegedly assaulted, and she’d watched that person struggle to navigate the Seattle arts community as Hicks began to amass social recognition and power through XO Seattle. After Bonow’s post, multiple women shared their own stories on social media of past interactions with Hicks.
The day Bonow posted about Hicks, Sarah reshared the post and alluded to an “experience” with him. In an interview with The Stranger, she said she met Hicks on Capitol Hill in 2014, had consensual sex once, and then agreed to meet up a second time. She claims he came to her apartment and the two got physical, but before having sex, Sarah asked Hicks to put on a condom. At that point, Sarah said, he put his face very close to hers and started arguing with her about the request. She described him as “aggressive and intimidating” as he allegedly tried to get her to agree to have unprotected sex.
“The tone of the interaction was, ‘I’m a lot bigger than you, and I’m on top of you, and you’re naked,’” Sarah said.
At that moment, she said she started to cry. She claimed he acknowledged her tears in some way, but she couldn’t remember the specifics. He then allegedly had unprotected sex with her against her will. Though she recognized he probably saw her agreeing to sex as gaining her consent, she described feeling cornered and forced. Even at the time it didn’t just feel like bad sex, it felt like a violation, she said.
Hicks told me he couldn’t remember the incident and had never heard the specific accusation before, but he didn’t want to say it didn’t happen. He apologized to the woman.
“That’s not something I immediately remember, or not something that I think I had a pattern of doing, but that’s not up for me to define at this point,” Hicks said.
Sarah told a friend about the alleged assault in the weeks after it happened. That friend told The Stranger that Sarah described the incident the same way at the time. I also spoke with Sarah’s therapist, who said Sarah had shared what happened between her and Hicks about a year ago.
Another woman, Madison, did not share her story on social media, but she did tell The Stranger about a night in 2012 when Hicks allegedly assaulted her. (She requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.) At that time, she was in her early twenties, had just moved back to Seattle, and was working at a local bar. As she tells it, one afternoon Hicks came in and began hitting on her. She said he “insisted” she take off from her job early and let him take her on a date. After Hicks spent some time convincing her, she said, she agreed to leave work with him. The two spent the afternoon drinking, and he took her back to an apartment. She claimed Hicks told her she could sleep in another room in a bed, and he would sleep on the couch. She made it clear she wanted to sleep in another room and did not want to have sex with him, she said.
She said she then went to bed, closed her eyes, and an unclear amount of time passed before she woke up to Hicks on top of her, initiating penetrative sex. She remembers saying “No,” but he allegedly ignored her and had sex with her. She said she remembers thinking, “I can’t believe he is doing this.”
When I described this incident to Hicks, he said he didn’t remember that moment at all.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten on top of anybody that was asleep, you know?” Hicks said. “But, yeah, I’m here to hear this stuff.”
The next morning, Madison returned to her apartment to find a friend who was staying with her at the time. That friend told The Stranger he remembered her coming home and saying she hadn’t wanted to have sex with the person she’d had sex with the night before. He felt as if she was still processing what had happened.
Later that summer, Madison told another friend that Hicks had assaulted her, that friend confirmed to The Stranger. Madison showed me text messages of her discussing the assault with that friend several years later, in 2019.
Madison said Hicks continued to contact her after that night, often sending multiple texts in a day, demanding she visit him at his work and getting angry when she did not respond to his messages. A third friend of Madison’s confirmed seeing texts from Hicks around this time in which Hicks called Madison a “whore.” This person also remembered seeing a lot of texts in all capital letters from Hicks.
Through proxies, both women also separately shared their concerns about Hicks with local artist and entrepreneur Greg Lundgren in 2019, back when Hicks worked for him. Madison showed The Stranger text messages from 2019 where her proxy referred to Hicks as a “rapist” as they discussed what information to relay to Lundgren.
“I’ve always wondered if other women had stories about him–I would be shocked if my experience with him was an isolated incident,” Madison wrote in the 2019 text exchange to her friend. She went on to say she wished she still had screenshots of “his year of harassing me via text.”
“I still hide when I see his truck,” she added.
As for Sarah, one of her friends confirmed she told him about Hicks allegedly assaulting her, and that friend told Lundgren, who in turn asked Hicks for a response.
In his reply to Lundgren, Hicks wrote: “Being someone who has the label of an abuser, bully, or sexual assaulter is something I never thought I would be. As much as I want to make amends and loosen that reputation off me, it’s more important to me that possibly, through communication, apology, and listening, the person who feels victimized can release some of the fear and anxiety over what happened between us.”
This year, before Bonow decided to make a public statement about Hicks, she emailed Johnson to ask for Hicks’s removal from XO Seattle. In response, Johnson shared a statement from Hicks that mirrored what he wrote to Lundgren in 2019, including the section about him never thinking he’d be labeled “a sexual assaulter.”
When speaking with The Stranger, Hicks acknowledged he’d heard murmurs about his reputation for years. Looking back on the 2019 letter, which he repurposed as a response to Bonow, he pointed out moments of what he described as the defensive language of the statement, where he characterized the situation as making someone “feel victimized, assaulted.”
In our interview, Hicks waffled between taking responsibility for any harm he caused and trying to set the terms of the consequences. He called for healing rather than punishment.
“Don’t just say burn in hell or die, you know? For those who wanted to experience impact from this, you have impacted me, it has been incredibly destabilizing, so, you got me,” Hicks said.
Since the accusations went public, Hicks stepped down from XO Seattle and Johnson took him off the payroll. The two still need to work out the details regarding ownership of the LLC. Even so, a cascade of artists chose to cancel upcoming performances. Babe Night, an independent event created by Isabela Garcia, opted to move to a new venue. Four-piece punk band Chastity Belt canceled a party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their debut album, No Regrets. Experience Research Lab pulled out from installing all new work in the space.
XO leased The Coliseum through the end of the year, but Johnson hasn’t decided yet how to use the space. She expects to liquidate the business. She also wanted to make it clear that, to the best of her knowledge, none of the accusations against Hicks involved XO Seattle or his role in the business.
She ended her professional relationship with Hicks, but she remains his girlfriend, not wanting to “flatten the fullness of a person to their worst deeds,” she said.