12 Ave Arts: Home is Where the Art is


Jessie Koon

Jessie Koon • The Spectator

Jessie Koon • The Spectator
Jessie Koon • The Spectator

The new 12th Ave Arts building is located at the corner of 12th and Pine in Capitol Hill. The goal of the space is to provide affordable housing and a place for the community to enjoy.

The giant orange marquee sign makes the 12 Ave Arts building impossible to miss as you walk across the corner of 12th Avenue and Pine St. At night, the word “ARTS” lights up—fitting, considering Capitol Hill has been officially recognized as an arts district in the city of Seattle.

The new building, which sits on top of what used to be a parking lot for police vehicles, has many different features, including housing units, retail shops, restaurants, two theater spaces and an underground parking garage for the Seattle Police Department.

It took many years to build because of the large number of groups involved with the project. The City of Seattle, the state of Washington, even the Seattle Police Department and the managing company, Capitol Hill Housing Foundation, all helped in making the project come to life.

“It was a long time in the making,” said Capitol Hill Housing Foundation communications manager Amy Allsopp. “There was some interest in the community…in doing more with this space.”

The two main goals with this project are to provide affordable housing and to expand the accessibility of Seattle’s vibrant arts community. Capitol Hill Housing Foundation manages the affordable housing while their contract company, Blackbox Operations, works with the arts in the building.

The idea behind the affordable housing is to “keep people in communities where they can live close to where they work or close to where they go to school” at a reasonable rent price, Allsopp said. In addition to affordable housing, the building also features two theater spaces: one 149-seat main stage theater and a smaller 80-seat studio.

Residents include small families, artists of several disciplines and people who work in the neighborhood. The affordable housing is available to residents based on their income.

Since Capitol Hill is already a strong art community—Hugo House, Velocity Dance Center and Artist Trust are just a few art organizations in the neighborhood—the idea was brought up to incorporate arts into the
new building.

“The three resident companies, Strawberry Theatre Workshop, New Century Theatre Company and Washington Ensemble Theatre made…a proposal to Capitol Hill Housing…to take on the responsibility of managing theaters, and in order to do that, they formed a business called Blackbox Operations,” said the organization’s administrative director Kaitlin McCarthy.

The three companies primarily use the 12 Ave Arts theater spaces. For the building’s first production, Washington Ensemble Theatre is presenting “Sprawl” Jan. 16 through Feb. 2. Written by Cornish alumnus Josh Conkel, “Sprawl” is a campy comedy about a suburban town whose tranquil existence is suddenly interrupted by the end of the world.

“12 Ave Arts is a huge factor in establishing us more,” said Rachel Liuzzi, marketing director for Washington Ensemble Theatre and Seattle U alumna.

Later this year, Strawberry Theatre Workshop will be producing “Our Town” on the main stage.

When the three local theater companies are not using the building’s theater spaces for half of the year, they are available to be rented out. This was something they felt was lacking in the community, as the Erickson Theatre, owned by Seattle Central College, recently closed its doors to public theater companies so that they could use the space for classes and college-affiliated productions.

In putting together the 12 Ave Arts building, “there [were] a lot of consultations with different theater experts to figure out what was the best thing and the missing niche,” said McCarthy.

They decided to create two black box theaters, one main stage and one smaller space, which the public could rent out. Black box theaters are flexible spaces that can be easily manipulated to accommodate many different types of productions.

While most spaces rent out by night, 12 Ave Arts rents out by the week to allow companies 24 hour access, giving artists creative freedom and plenty of time to put their productions together within the space.

“They could paint the space yellow, and as long as they paint it back, it’s fine with us,” McCarthy said.

It doesn’t stop at just affordable housing and arts, though. The 12 Ave Arts building will also provide retail and restaurants on the ground level of the building. Udon, Pel Meni Dumplings and Rachel’s Ginger Beer are scheduled to open up in the commercial space soon.

“We are very excited about this project,” Allsopp said.

The building also provides affordable housing and meeting spaces for individual or for organizational events. Parking during events is provided by the Seattle Police Department, which uses the building’s basement parking for their vehicles.

“Everyone involved is really about the arts,” McCarthy said.

Peter may reached at [email protected]

Siri may be reached at [email protected]