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Capitol Hill Arts District gets a push with ideas for promotion, preservation — and helping artists make rent

Tuesday's panel (Image: Capitol Hill Housing)

Tuesday’s panel included, from the left, Matthew Richter (City of Seattle), Tonya Lockyer (Velocity Dance), Jason Plourde (Three Dollar Bill Cinema), Seth Garrison ‘Mo-Wave!), Cathryn Vandenbrink (ArtsSpace USA), and Lesley Bain (Frameworks). SIFF’s Carl Spence was also part of the talk but had to run to make a 7 PM screening at the nearby Egyptian.
You can weigh in here on the question “What do you want the Capitol Hill Arts District to accomplish?
(Image: Capitol Hill Housing)

Over the past few years, the heart of Capitol Hill’s art scene has experienced a near-constant barrage of development. Where once was cheap studio space, there is now a mixed-use apartment building with $1,500 studio apartments. Where once was a stage, there is… well, a mixed-use apartment building with $1,500 studio apartments. Anyway, you get the idea. The City of Seattle — perhaps late in the game — has decided to start figuring out how to keep Capitol Hill the art epicenter of the city. Ideas on how to do it were pushed further ahead at Tuesday night’s annual Capitol Hill Housing forum.

The Capitol Hill Arts District is still just an idea. City Council member Nick Licata said it is up to the community to pressure government to act. “Every mayor I have talked to has said it is a good idea,” Licata said Tuesday night. “But they never got around to establishing it.”

They’ve been talking about a Capitol Hill district since a community forum in 2008. Fast-forward six years and dozens of art venues and cultural space closures later, the idea for a Capitol Hill Arts District seems to be finally gathering meaningful momentum.

Tuesday’s panel of representatives from arts organizations had a few ideas on how to keep it moving forward:

  • Tourism/ Promotion: As the Capitol Hill Arts District will be the first official district of its kind in the city, the groups behind the idea hope it will bring even more people to our neck of the woods with simple strategies like signs, banners and designation in mapping systems available on mobile phones.
  • Preservation: The formation of the district will bring about incentives for developers, in which they will be encouraged to provide art space in new building projects. During the forum, City of Seattle Cultural Space Liaison Matthew Richter said the city could consider granting Cultural Development Certification to developers that are willing to preserve older buildings and/or provide art/ cultural spaces in their new developments, in much the same way that developers are granted Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
  • Affordable Housing: Along with a commitment to arts and culture, the community groups also hope that the formation of the district will lead to more affordable housing in the areas around it. The idea is to not only keep arts on the Hill, but to also keep the artists on the Hill as well.

The district idea will also get a boost later this year. Capitol Hill Housing’s CEO Chris Persons told the crowd the 12th Ave Arts mixed-use, theater and affordable housing development will open in early November.

CHH’s Michael Seiwerath said his organization and community groups are ramping up support for the idea, with the hopes that it will at least become a pilot project. “This city loves pilot projects,” Seiwerath said, drawing a few laughs from the Odd Fellows West Hall audience.

Seiwerath also said the unofficial boundaries for the Capitol Hill Arts District will be mainly focused between 12th Ave and Harvard Ave and the Pike/ Pine Corridor.

The forum was held in the Odd Fellows building, one of the inspirations for the creation of the district, Seiwerath pointed out to the audience. Up until 2007, the Odd Fellows building provided numerous affordable art studio spaces. The building was sold and many of the studio spaces were gutted and the ones that remained had raised to the point where the building was soon home to no artists.

“We want to make sure that never happens again,” Seiwerath told the audience at the forum Tuesday. “Capitol Hill is one of the only places in the city where you can walk any direction in a three-block radius and find just about any kind of art form.”

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Scott Souchock
Scott Souchock
8 years ago

I was luke-warm to the idea of a Capitol Hill Arts District but I’m warming to the idea after this forum.

Two ideas I’d like to throw into the idea hopper are:

1. Upon a formal launch of the district (CHAD), create an annual or semi-annual event that has all of the arts — performance, visual, audible, and so forth — celebrating over a three-day period. I propose the name “Capitol Hill Arts Unleashed”.

2. Somehow work into this a regular event that takes inspiration from the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta, the Italian Passagiata, or other plaza gathering places in great cities around the world. My initial thought is an event at Cal Anderson on an appropriate night that features food, arts, music, crafts for sale, and so forth. The idea would be to get people out of their houses and out and about on regular basis, meet their neighbors near (and perhaps far), and continue building community.

Both of these ideas have huge and real challenges but I offer them into the idea hopper.

And welcome to the neighborhood, CHAD.

8 years ago

Great ideas, Scott. Other people have suggested a district-wide celebration of the arts. We’ll make sure the idea is discussed.

The Italian Passeggiata could be a good model as well. I’ll be in Rome next month, and will make a point of visiting some of them.

8 years ago

How about we make a capitol hill tech district?


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