Odd Fellows: Can art still own a chunk of Capitol Hill?

The Century Ballroom (Image: Kathryn Jonina via Flickr)

The Century Ballroom (Image: Kathryn Jonina via Flickr)

The under-construction 12th Ave Arts looms (Image: CHS)

The under-construction 12th Ave Arts looms (Image: CHS)

When the Odd Fellows building changed hands for $8.5 million in 2007, it became the perfect vignette for an old story: The artists that helped make an urban neighborhood desirable to developers and building owners were forced out by those very developers and owners who raised rents by 300%.

“Everybody who got dispersed was one of the reasons why Capitol Hill was great,” said Hallie Kuperman, owner of The Tin Table and Century Ballroom, the only arts organization to remain in the 100-year-old space after the exodus of 2008.

The 10th and Pine building is now at the geographic (and figurative) heart of a proposed arts district on Capitol Hill. Artists and arts leaders will converge at the building on Tuesday to discuss the practical steps towards creating such a district at Capitol Hill Housing’s annual neighborhood forum.

Velocity Dance, Freehold Theatre, Reel Grrls, Annex Theatre, and the Seattle Mime Theatre were among the varied arts organizations that once called Odd Fellows home. Annex and Velocity landed on their feet just a few blocks away, although the dance studio owners report they’re in a constant struggle to pay rent. Reel Grrls moved to the Central Cinema building at 20th and Union, and Freehold relocated to Belltown (if you know what happened to Seattle Mime, let us know). Representatives of some of those organizations will be returning to their old stomping grounds for Tuesday’s event.

“What’s so great about an arts neighborhood is you feed off each other’s energy, you support each other,” Kuperman said. “I miss that energy for sure.”

While arts organizations may have suffered from the Odd Fellows changes, the new owners have hardly ostracized themselves from the neighborhood, as tenants like Oddfellows Cafe and Molly Moon’s have become neighborhood defining independent businesses. The popular businesses also likely helped prevent serious neighborhood “frontlash” — the term Mayor Mike McGinn coined to describe to the anger towards changes yet to come. But with light rail coming online in 2016 and no signs of slowing development in the neighborhood, Kuperman said there are still plenty of challenges ahead for her, remaining Capitol Hill’s artists and the next generation of arts-based organizations that could call the neighborhood home.

Arts and culture districts are essentially small zones where special rules exist for right of ways, art history markers, zoning/building code exemptions, protections for landmark structures, and anything else that may encourage creative people to do their thing. Leading the effort from the city is Matthew Richter, the Cultural Space Liaison in the Office of Art and Culture. “Part of my job is to look at this body of law to make things easier for arts and culture to thrive,” Richter told CHS in November. Here’s how CHH explains it:

Creating an arts district will bring attention to the many arts companies and venues on Capitol Hill, and will help build a case for tools to preserve them. Building on successful arts districts in other cities, a Capitol Hill Arts District could bring shared marketing plans, pole banners and wayfinding, and developer’s tools for preserving and creating arts spaces.

CHS wrote here about a possible Capitol Hill arts district in late 2013. Tuesday’s forum follows the city’s day-long symposium last year that featured lots of brainstorming on what could be done to get arts district legislation in Seattle. It precedes Capitol Hill Housing’s planned fall debut of its 12th Ave Arts mixed-use, arts and nonprofit office space project.

While an arts district may help preserve and even create artistic space, Kuperman said what organizations really need to do in the long term is figure out ways to buy space for themselves.

“We don’t own anything,” she said. “We’re at the mercy of people who have money and can buy property.”

Capitol Hill Housing’s Community Forum: Launching a Capitol Hill Arts District will be held Tuesday, May 20th, at 5 PM in Oddfellows West Hall. Register here.

11 thoughts on “Odd Fellows: Can art still own a chunk of Capitol Hill?

  1. Affordable housing for the increasingly displaced artists who helped make Capitol Hill the cool and lovely district it is today. With appropriate rehearsal space would be good. We’d reward the city nicely with our successes ;-)

  2. how is it possible for struggling arts groups and non profits to get space on capitol hill when it is so expensive and so much competition from rich developers? Its gonna be hard to shore up spaces just for art when a building wants to maximize its income potential

  3. It’s not just the artists that made cap hill great. It was also the derelicte – It was a fashion, a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.

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