by Ellis Simani
This Friday evening welcomes the beginning of another month of open-air cinema in what’s become tradition for those who live and work in the area, and others who come out to the event in appreciation of the community. Neighbors, parents and children will sit on blankets, in laps or chairs as they watch Disney PIXAR’s Inside Out, though the real magic will not just be on the screen, but among all in attendance.
Skyway is a scrappy community. This was among the adjectives Devin Chicras used to describe the neighborhood that’s been at the center of her work, home and livelihood for years now. Skyway is nestled within the West Hill community, which includes the neighborhoods of Skyway, Lakeridge, Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill, Earlington, Hilltop, Panorama View, and Skycrest
Chicras volunteers as the treasurer for the West Hill Community Association (WHCA) and has been co-leading efforts to organize Skyway Outdoor Cinema (SOC) for the past few years on behalf of WHCA, working alongside Mary Goebel and a strong contingent community volunteers that work around the clock to ensure that SOC is thriving. (Chicras also serves as the board president of the South Seattle Emerald.)
As she describes in detail the history behind the event’s conception, fruition and revival, it’s evident to see just how much of the tenaciousness found in the community is embedded within both her own personality and this event itself.
Chicras describes sleepless nights spent reaching out to donors, eliciting community feedback on how the organization can better address their needs, and always brainstorming new ideas for collaborations with local businesses.
“Everybody is bringing their skills to the table and everybody has something to contribute,” Chicras pointed out as she described the collaborative community efforts behind the SOC. She highlighted the symbiotic relationship that the cinema series plays within the larger community as the support of local business helps them as organizers keep the lights on, while also funneling valuable attention back to the business owners themselves, who are then put center stage in front of community members.
It makes sense that community has played such a strong role in the work that Chicras does to keep SOC going. In recent years Skyway has seen resources dwindle from the community and financial support through grants is becoming harder and harder to come by.
When we originally reported on SOC two years ago, the community was still feeling the rippling effects of King County’s decision to dissolve Unincorporated Area Councils in 2011, which effectively stripped the community of a reliable source of grant funds for valuable community initiatives like SOC.
The organization had previously been guaranteed $10,000 of support from the County until the change in funding structure which forced unincorporated areas within King County to apply for funding through a collective pot of money from which grants were then distributed.
Since then, SOC has continued to thrive despite the loss of consistent grants, successfully organizing a Kickstarter campaign, eliciting more support from a variety of donors at the micro level (the maximum gifts they’ve received are $250), and continually benefiting from the unwavering support of local businesses in the area.
The funding model of the event is directly related to both the ethos of the community it serves, and those who live and work in it–everybody chips in what they can. Whether donating $10 or the maximum of $250, everyone’s support is equally appreciated and important. SOC is truly the product of the time, money and energy of many individuals rather than any sole corporate or individual donor.
One of the best elements of SOC is that it is truly driven by and organized for the community. From the food served at the concession stands (popcorn is only 50 cents!), to the movies shown, everything is done intentionally and chosen directly based on input from attendees. This doesn’t come as a surprise, either; serving the community lies at the heart of the event itself.
This methodology certainly seems to be appreciated. Numbers continue to increase every year, with attendance regularly in the hundreds for the past couple years and will likely continue to rise throughout this month.
The event also serves an extremely personal role for many community members who attend SOC regularly. Chicras mentioned that for many, “this is the only time of year that they get to see other families that they meet through the event. [Skyway Outdoor Cinema] is the annual event that people look forward to the most. It brings together the most truly representative collection of community members in this neighborhood.”
The magic will continue for each of the four Fridays in August this month. This Friday’s (August 5th) kickoff showing will feature Inside Out, The following week (August 12th) will feature a showing of Labyrinth, and the final two Fridays (August 19th & 26th) will feature Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, respectively.
For more details on future events, be sure to stay tuned to SOC’s Facebook page where information is updated regularly.
Featured image by Jordan Nicholson