by Kirby LindsayAccording to Nathan Marion, “November is our birthday month,” for the Fremont Abbey Arts Center. On November 17th, at 5p.m., the community arts center will have its big birthday bash to mark a fifth anniversary – that day in 2005 when the doors opened for the first public event.
“We’ve developed and grown in these past five years,” said Marion, who has served as the Center’s Director from the start, “and we have even more potential.” On the 17th, the celebration will acknowledge all the work accomplished. The original mission to serve the community by providing space and opportunities for public activities, classes and gatherings has successfully been achieved.
The celebration will also focus on the future, and how the Abbey can realize its potential. Attendee donations - $25 will be asked – will help achieve a goal to have the Abbey be financially sustainable in 2011. This donation covers entrance into what Marion described as, “a birthday party with lots of food and drink and song!” Two caterers – Upper Crust and Brett’s – will provide food while Two Beers Brewing offers some adult beverages. A small auction, raffle, door prizes, and a City Arts trivia contest will be offered, along with face painting and musical performances. Most of all, as is the case in any Abbey event, expect the crowd of friends and neighbors gathered to create a strong spirit of community.
A Short, Stellar History, So Far
The Abbey began as an ideal and, according to Marion, it came from the community. “We are appreciative of Church of the Apostles,” (COTA), explained Marion, “who own the building and wanted it to be used by the community.” The building, located at 4272 Fremont Ave N and originally built in 1914 as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, had more space than the new church needed – and thus was born the Abbey.
The Arts Center turnout started low. A grant from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, in 2007, helped build awareness of the Center, as did the celebration of the 50th Round in 2008 – a music, poetry, and art gathering that happens monthly at the Abbey.
In late 2007, the building underwent an extensive renovation. “We rebuilt it and repurposed it for community use,” Marion explained, “through my work, and the volunteer teams, and coordinating with the contractor, we got $50,000 worth of donated time and materials.” After the grand re-opening in March 2008, attendance at Abbey events jumped from approximately 3,000 in 2007 to 15,000 in 2008. Attendance at its arts events this year – including those hosted at the Zoo, Bumbershoot and the Fremont Fair – is projected to be over 25,000.
Lessons from the Past Help Plans for the Future
The Center offers much to the community today – free performances, art shows, classes throughout the week, including those of the Fremont Music School, and a home for Karin Stevens Dance, including for the company’s professional performances held on November 12 & 13th in the Abbey Grand Hall.
The Abbey also hosts benefits for local schools – public and private – including a fundraiser last spring for the B.F. Day Elementary School art program. Marion wants to grow the offering of youth programs at the Abbey. In fact, one difficulty he mentioned from the last five years, “we did not expect it to be such a struggle to get the kids’ program going.”
Simple demographics, Marion admitted, work against them. After opening, they discovered only 4% of Fremont’s population is under 18 years old. Still, the staff have responded by increasing outreach (the Wallingford neighborhood has 20-25%) and developing a scholarship program to help parents. “At least two seats in any group class,” Marion reported, go to a scholarship student.
In addition to building on their youth offerings, over the next three years the goals of the Abbey include fundraising to pay for health care and a living wage for the small staff in 2011. The list also mentions a further increase of daytime activities - for seniors, homeschoolers and the self-employed – and additional visual arts classes. The building needs upgrades to accommodate higher-quality productions – with lights, sound equipment and acoustical improvements - plus efficiency improvements involving insulation and lighting.
The motto, “community driven, volunteer powered,” allows the Abbey to adapt to a variety of uses, and open to a wide audience. “The growth rate has been phenomenal,” admitted Marion, and deserves celebration by all of Fremont. Room exists for improvement, but the birthday bash can honestly mark five years of effective hard work. To attend, R.S.V.P. through Facebook, or show up at the door on November 17th at 5pm, to support the Abbey as the ideal has become reality!
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.