Arts, Culture and Politics: Stay Happy Collective Jumps into a New Era

by Gui Jean-Paul Chevalier

When a founder of a movement or entity leaves their original city, often times what they built dies. But not for Simon Wolf and his music and arts initiative, Stay Happy Collective. As Wolf, the group’s founder, moves on to Oakland to expand the brand, Stay Happy Collective continues on here in its home base of Seattle, in the hands of four trusted producers: Holly Theriot, Michael Scheibe, Lymarie Perez and Enrique Bried-Fuentes.

Stay Happy Collective is best known for its blockbuster monthly showcase, Stay Happy Central, which takes place every first Thursday of the month at Central Saloon in Seattle’s iconic Pioneer Square. The program features visual arts in the First Thursday Art Walk starting at 6 PM and an eclectic line up of musical performers starting at 9 PM, concluding with a deejay-led after party. Example of past artists/performers?

Stay Happy Collective’s goal, at purest heart, is to build community and provide a platform for artists, especially to those who are interested in art but don’t have access to opportunities in the the fine arts world. Perhaps they were just born on the wrong side of arbitrary privilege. The Collective embodies its mission of overlapping artistic communities by booking artists from diverse scenes,while still operating from its original base of hip-hop. This allows the followers of those artists to commune with the artist and fans of different genres and networks.

I sat down with two of the Collective heads, Michael Sheibe and Holly Theriot, at a Bellevue Thai bar to discuss the collective, its reach, history, and philosophy. Theriot curates visual art, Sheibe manages the booking of performing arts, Perez manages venue booking, and Bried-Fuentes is the operations coordinator.

Simon Wolf started the Stay Happy Collective with a host a friends — Josephine Jardine, Jourdan Hinkle, Anna Sparks, Vlado Kovo, Julia Shure, Cooper Eaton and Michael Mcrae — in Bellingham in 2009.

In a statement, Wolf said, “We were all figuring out what it means to be artists and wanted to have the power to work together and big each other up whenever we had a chance … in those days it was a joke clique and our goodbye was always ‘stay happy, stay holy.’”

Wolf would later transfer institutions to finish college in San Francisco. With longtime collaborator VK in the area, the duo began participating in Oakland’s First Friday Art Walk, selling art of students studying at the San Francisco Art Institute. These mini markets would eventually accompany a series of pop-ups shows.

The group “always found a way to stay connected,” Simon adds, with an internal pact to inspire one another. In 2014, —with the support of the collective— Wolf and VK reunited in Seattle to create the first Stay Happy Central as a free monthly event. The showcase would feature musical performances, preceded by an art gallery featuring local visual artists and various collections.

“In the first year we couldn’t pay any artists anything, and wanted to keep the event free to get as many people as possible to witness the talent,” Wolf said. “Because of that, all the musicians who played in those beginning shows donated their time completely and we couldn’t have created this without them. For that, thank you: Donormaal, Raven Hollywood (Formerly Raven Mathews), Diogenis, Sendai Mike, Era, Jamel Moxie and Kayne O, Guayaba, Bug Bus, BobCatt and so many more!”

As Simon worked to broaden the collective in Oakland, he left the producers a note, highlighting the message and soul of the project. Though the work has been hard, Simon states it’s in the work that he “realizes the worth of every monthly event.” And the team now takes on that same heart, at full force.

I asked the Producers what Stay Happy Collective is to them, and stands to be. Theriot stated that Stay Happy marries various forms of art and performance that allows everyone to come and “experience all of it at the same place.”

Sheibe started by saying Stay Happy Collective is a safe place to put yourself out there. He knows that artists want and need to feel supported, and that’s just the feel you get, whether you are there as a performing artist, or as someone there to partake in the party. Thinking of his own performance at Stay Happy, he spoke of how striking the fervent reception was, the sheer joy of performing there, and the grounded confidence of knowing that the heart you put into your music is going to be safely honored and admired. He stated “that’s the same feeling I want to give to others”.

As artists and veterans of the series themselves, Holly, vocalist in the poet-ly ethereal dream-hop band, The Brodcast, and Michael, the clever lyricist behind the smooth sounds of Gifted Youngstaz, talk from real experience of creating a show and a party that feels like the best they have ever gone to. They root the planning in the idea of making the party that you want to go to: fun, memorable, inclusive, and full of love. Part of its core, in supporting artists, is that all of the funds gathered at the show for admission from its $5-10 sliding scale go directly to the artist — 100 percent.

For Holly, Michael, and the team, Stay Happy Collective is a labor of love, with all volunteering to lead for the cause of the arts and inspired community. With the contact in Oakland, Stay Happy Collective is planning an exciting new endeavor to build a pipeline, if you will, for artists to perform in multiple major cities, furthering opportunities for touring, events, and access to major stage crowds.

In addition to Stay Happy Central, Stay Happy is planning a series of events in Seattle. This November, get your dancing shoes ready for a partnership event with Fremont Arts Council, which is taking over three venues in the city. Feel free to dip into musical performances, face painting, art merchandise, and more. To follow, Stay Happy is planning an event with Distinction Music Management and another with The Vera Project this December.

As you shuffle through your week, check out Stay Happy Central, Every first Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. at Central Saloon, located at 207 First Ave. S. The collective continues to seek out artists and performers.

As in the words of the founder, Simon Wolf: Stay Happy. Stay Hydrated. Stay Humble.

Featured Image: A scene from Stay Happy Central. (Photo: Brodie Peterson)

Follow Stay Happy Collective on Facebook and Instagram. Stay Happy Central will take place Thursday, Oct. 4, at 6 p.m. with music at 9 p.m.