Crybaby musician’s grant carves out space for artists on Capitol Hill

Since 1999, Leigh Stone has witnessed the transformation of Capitol Hill as owner of Crybaby Studios, a subterranean warren of rehearsal spaces below 11th Ave between Pike and Pine. She has had a front row seat — or, more accurately, a view from the orchestra pit — to the accelerating gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood. Now she is carving out space for working class artists with the Crybaby Musician’s Grant, a program that will award three months’ access to a private studio and recording equipment for musicians who could not otherwise afford it.

“It’s important that spaces like this are centrally located and available to every demographic, not just people who have extra money.” Stone said. “We want to be known for having a music scene, but it’s gotten increasingly more difficult. Seattle is called ‘the City of Music’ — it’s been trademarked — and I’m fighting tooth and nail to keep facilities in the actual city.”

Stone built up the Crybaby space to full capacity over a period of years back when Seattle was still “sleepy,” as she describes it. Now there are no other spaces like it within the urban core and there’s a perpetual waitlist for existing rehearsal studios. In order to accommodate this philanthropic endeavor Stone parceled off a new space, a corner next to her office where there used to be pinball machines. She hired a friend to put up walls and a door and outfitted the space with a drum kit, PA, and recording equipment. “It’s an odd-shaped room,” she says, “but it doesn’t matter if you can be loud at all hours of the day and night.”

Stone assembled a panel to choose the winning grantees that includes KEXP DJ Sharlese Metcalf, Town Hall Seattle lecture curator Edward Wolcher, and musician Cody Burns. The undertaking is a product of her struggle to preserve the spirit of the neighborhood as a local business owner and arts community booster, paid for out of her own pocket.

“I don’t need to wait on institutional support to do what I believe in,” Stone said “I’m not a nonprofit; I’m not an organization. It’s something I can offer that strengthens the city as a whole, the music scene. It’s important for mental health and accessibility. It’s hard for me to see my city become so unaffordable for people.”

In addition to the physical space, the grant will give recipients access to the community of musicians who rehearse and collaborate at Crybaby, as well as the web of connections Stone has built up over the past 19 years in business. Once it is up and running — they’ve received about ten applications so far and hope for many more before this round’s May 1 deadline — Stone plans to throw benefit shows and fundraisers to build on the program.

Looking further into the future, she emphasizes the need to preserve Capitol Hill’s remaining art spaces through land trusts and other preservation efforts, and hopes that bigger institutional backing will follow her individual initiative to keep working class artists on the Hill.

“I don’t want my city to lose the leather-clad freaks walking out of Crybaby all the time, you know? It’s important!”

Crybaby Studios is located at 1514 11th Ave. You can learn more at crybabystudios.com.

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