The Time Has Come for Capitol Hill’s Art Scene to Embrace Growth

View of Capitol Hill from across Lake Union and the Eastlake neighborhood.

By Auria Horne

It’s been almost four years since I’ve moved to Capitol Hill to work on my degree at Seattle University. Over the years I’ve grown to love the community and the eclectic, open minded group of people that are in it. It definitely holds a stronger personality than the suburbs I grew up in. Just by walking down the streets you can catch a glimpse of the diversity the area provide, seeing tattooed twenty-somethings, parents carrying their baby’s in those uncomfortable looking carriers, and bar-hopping college students each collectively adding to the area’s air of individuality.

The things to do on Capitol Hill are quite extensive: in just the Pike & Pine corridor alone you can find anything from thrift shops and independent retailers to restaurants and gay bars. And down 12th avenue you can find places like local coffee shops, Velocity Dance center, Northwest Film Forum. There seems to be a place to fit for everyone’s interests, which is fantastic for those whom have found their niche among the Hill’s diverse offerings.

But for those who haven’t found their niche, exploring Capitol Hill can be a bit intimidating, especially when it comes to the arts. For a place that takes pride in its various offerings of the arts, there is not a whole lot of encouragement and direction for those of us who might be curious to try something new on our Friday nights, but don’t quite know where to start.

The various arts groups on Capitol Hill already have a strong sense of identity in their own special niches. But the problem lies in the fact that they place such a high importance on their identities that they fail to embrace new changes to attract new audiences. They have built themselves a stats quo for protecting their individuality by keeping themselves under wraps. The Capitol Hill art’s scene is quite exclusive. People already heavily involved in the arts probably don’t notice this, but for those of us who treat it more like a source of entertainment rather than an actual lifestyle, it’s hard for us to break into the scene.

Capitol Hill has had success in being one of Seattle’s most happening places. But for a community to continue to succeed and thrive, it is important for it to not only provide for the members it has managed to maintain over the years, but also branch out to people on the outskirts of the community. And one of the many ways this can be done is through the arts.

Although Capitol Hill does, in fact, have an arts scene in that there are numerous places for people to go to get their arts fix, they fail to exhibit any connectivity between them that reaches out and shows the community that there’s a strong, unified arts community for them to be a part of. Having a place we can seek out to get our fill of music, film, or theater is not enough to say that there is a strong arts scene on the hill. A strong arts scene does not need communities to seek it out. It thrusts itself into the forefront and integrates itself into what it means to be a member of that community

To do that, members of the arts community need to expand themselves out from behind their individual niches and take on a group of newcomers. It is important for Capitol Hill’s different arts groups to hold on to their audiences, and continue to provide them with quality performances. But, there is a definite value to marketing your theater or music venue to people who may not be their typical audience member. During my interview with Greg Carter from The Strawberry Theatre workshop for one of my previous installments, he mentioned one of the unfortunate struggles that theater groups face: “trying to get people to get off their sofas.” While this may, or may not, be something that all areas of the arts in Seattle face when trying to draw people in, it got me thinking that maybe it is something that should be considered when reaching out to new people.

A part of fully integrating the arts into the community is making it present to those that may not have known it was there before. But people aren’t easily drawn into the unknown, which is why I think the 12th Avenue Arts project is such an important one for Capitol Hill to take on. For this project, Capitol Hill Housing is working collaboratively with ArtPlace America, local community groups and businesses to create a new center for the arts right on 12th Avenue.  The 12th Avenue Arts project will create a unique space for housing, retail, community meetings, and theater performances.  Three local theater groups will be sharing the newly created theater space. By doing so, they hope to expand their reach by working together to expand from their normal audiences. By sharing the space, they are easily making their existence known to other theater audiences. So if you love the work of one group, frequenters of the 12th Avenue building can branch out and try out a different group utilizing the space.

Not only will these theater groups be able to expand out from their usual audiences, but the arts community as a whole will be able to define itself as a cohesive group. It’ll be pretty hard to deny Capitol Hill’s art community when there’s a building dedicated to it right smack on 12th Ave, and for those who are new to Capitol Hill’s art scene, we’ll have a better sense of where to go. During my research throughout this project, I’ve found that there has been a general belief that the 12th Avenue Arts project will be the binding that the arts community needs, and I think this will likely prove to be true.

When you’re constantly suggesting new ways for the community to explore the city and what it has to offer, you’re getting them excited and showing them that this is a place where they want to be and that this is a place where they can connect with the arts. Instead of embracing the hill’s standard air of individuality, this new project seems to be embracing an air of connectivity, which is exactly what we need to help Capitol Hill stand out as a place for the arts.

This is the fifth post in a series of installments about the 12th Avenue Arts project and how it’s using creative placemaking to  provide Capitol Hill with a center for the arts. The first three  posts can be found hereherehere and here.

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