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Entertainment space Fred Wildlife Refuge opens its doors for free art grazing


Art convener and Fred owner Chris Snell (Photo: Alex Garland)

If you’ve never been inside Fred Wildlife Refuge, here’s your chance to see this remarkably cavernous, two-story space tucked away in the heart of Capitol Hill. Fred is equal parts arts studio, performance space, private event venue, and non-profit headquarters (no wild animals — usually). What ties it all together is owner Chris Snell and his knack for throwing collaborative art events that mix any and all mediums.

Fred, located at Belmont and Olive, is holding a free open house tonight, Thursday, November 14 at 7 PM where the space will be showing off what it does best — music, dance, video, art installations, food, and drink all under one roof. Here’s a look at the performance line-up:

Vince Mira (solo voice and acoustic)
Buckaroos USA (male dance revue)
Prom Queen (band)
Jenny Penny (aerialist)
Tamara The Trapeze Lady (aerialist)
Caela Bailey (vocalist)
The Can Can Castaways (dance troupe)
Real Don Music (band)
Quynbi Innamorata (aerialist)
Heavenly Spies (dance troupe)

As artists and Fred staff hustled about to hang acrobatic ropes and finish paintings inside the 5,700 square foot space, Snell told CHS what makes Fred different from other venues is its mission to foster the creative process.

“At the end of the day we’re really a production house that holds events,” said Snell, who also owns the Can Can downtown. “My art is the development and creation of entertainment.” Fred quietly opened in 2010, operating exclusively as a production studio for a year before holding any public events. The space was the longtime studio of legendary Seattle photographer Fred Milkie, who was the official photographer of the Seattle World’s Fair. Thankfully, Snell has kept some of those swanky 1950s touches.IMG_0051

Last year Fred hired production manager Ruth Nesbitt. She told CHS she came to Fred to tackle, among other things, the big elephant in the studio: money. Since then Fred has started their own non-profit, opened for regular gallery hours, held more private events, and began regularly renting out the space for art shows.

The non-profit Fred Coalition of Collaborative Artists was launched to “foster multimedia collaborative art performances and installations in the Seattle arts community.” Last year’s Physical Graffiti event kicked off FCOCA and Fred’s renewed mission.

“We were really frustrated of seeing these artist work tirelessly on a production, getting no sleep, and at the end of the day they don’t even know if they’ll break even,” Nesbitt said. “It’s a gamble every single time.”

With that in mind, Fred launched a program to allow artists to hold shows at the space for a flat $500 fee — artists keep the ticket sales, and Fred keeps the bar. Nesbitt said the set-up allows artists to plan for all their event costs up front without having to worry about music, ticketing, bartenders, etc.IMG_0006Snell has spent most of his working life finding and cultivating performance artists, from promising opera stars in Chicago to punk bands in California to burlesque troupes in Seattle.

“The best education is doing everything wrong and I have a lot of education,” he said. “I have a master’s degree.”

Fred Wildlife Refuge is located at 128 Belmont Ave E. For more information visit

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