by Gus Marshall
Non-profit music education program JazzED has partnered with Capitol Hill Housing in an effort to support low income residents, artists, and educators hoping to remain in Seattle. A soon-to-be constructed jazz education center, located in Rainier Valley (the site of the now defunct Imperial Lanes), has been purchased to develop JazzED’s new campus.
The Co-Founder and Executive Director of JazzED Laurie de Koch spoke with the South Seattle Emerald about the need for affordable housing and their plans to engage the community.
Gus Marshall: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and the background of JazzED?
Laurie de Koch: I am the Co-Founder of JazzED, (along with) Clarence Acox and Shirish Mulherkar. Shirish and I were both parents of kids at Garfield, and our kids had gone through the Washington Middle School to Garfield (High School) jazz band trajectory. I was super impressed with the education my kids were getting, as well as with how music education can be so transformative, even if you’re a kid who isn’t going to be a musician down the road. The experience they had in the classroom with these great teachers was really impressive to me.
And the thing that was concerning, that made me feel more uncomfortable, was that in these very urban diverse schools, the bands were made up of primarily white kids and primarily kids with resources. The more my kids benefitted, the more uncomfortable I felt, (that) other kids weren’t getting access to these kinds of really great opportunities.
It is kind of what opened my eyes to the existence of institutionalized racism and how that operates and how that oppresses people. That’s kind of the darker side of the story, but it was great because that discomfort challenged me to think about ways I could make a difference. I started to talk to parents and talked to Clarence Acox, and we decided to start this organization to address the opportunity gap that exists in the city, where some kids get it and some kids don’t, and to figure out how to close that gap. We started JazzED back in 2010 when we began to operate, and we’ve been growing exponentially since then.
GM: Speaking of exponential growth, I read on your website that you started with 56 students, and now you’re around 900?
LK: Yes, and I’m actually sure we’ll surpass 1,000 (students) this year. Every year we get bigger, and we are adding programming and making it all work in one classroom that’s about 900 square feet. Which is the impetus for this project.
GM: How has JazzED grown so rapidly? What are some of the particular reasons why JazzED has taken off and become so popular?
LK: Seattle has such a music education ecosystem where people are interested in kids getting arts education. So that existed already. I think word of mouth is really powerful; as we’ve grown, the word has spread. We attract excellent educators, artists, and professional musicians (to) work with us. We’re really committed to creating opportunities for the musicians that are professionals to come in and work, so that we’re helping the economy that way. By bringing in these high-quality people, we attract a lot of students. We are really committed to access and equity, so we are always very thoughtful about our outreach, and how we recruit kids and make sure that every kid is hearing about us and joining in.
GM: What are the age ranges of your JazzED students?
LK: Primarily fourth through 12th grade. We also have a program called WeBop, which does music education for nine month olds to four year olds. That program (WeBop) is in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, and we are licensed to do it here.
GM: How did JazzED get involved with Capitol Hill Housing?
LK: Exactly two years ago, we began to face the growth, and the fact that we needed to start working on the issue, because we knew we were gonna hit this point where we couldn’t accommodate more kids. So we formed a facilities committee to start looking at the issue. During that time, about a year and a half ago, we were approached by two independent schools. On behalf of them, a benefactor had purchased the (former) Imperial Lanes Bowling Alley site and was holding it for them. They were going to co-develop a co-campus for both of their schools. Currently, both of those schools are located in the Central District: Lake Washington Girls Middle School and Giddens School. They determined that they only wanted to develop two-thirds of the site, and so they subplatted it. They decided to parcel it, and they approached us and asked us if we would be interested in purchasing that one-third of the property.
We were really excited about the idea, but also a little overwhelmed by it: we’re a small non-profit, and where do you come up with $2.4 million to buy a piece of property? And so we began to think creatively about what we could do. The property is zoned mixed-use residential-commercial, and thinking of the town we live in, there’s gotta be somebody who might be interested in working with us. So we immediately thought about affordable housing developers, because a lot of the families we serve are impacted by the affordability crisis in this city, and we’re losing families because they have to move out. Our music educators are impacted, they are also leaving town. It seemed like a really great way to address that issue, and partner with an organization that was going to work on affordability.
We started interviewing affordable housing developers, and landed on Capitol Hill Housing for a variety of reasons. They’ve been a great partner so far. They’ve been in the city doing this work for a long time, they’ve never developed any properties in Rainier Valley, so they were excited about the idea of doing that. Even though their name is Capitol Hill Housing, they are actually all over the city, and their work is impressive. They’re in the middle of developing the Liberty Bank building in the Central District: historically it was a bank that was Black-owned, so they’re in partnership with Africatown (who developed that project), and are really focused on Black-owned businesses. It was a challenging and contentious project for them in many ways, but they also really worked at growing as an organization, to better understand the issues around racial equity. I was really impressed with their effort to do that work, and their connections in the community. It felt good to us to work with an organization that was working along the same lines as we were, with regards to equity. So that’s how we landed with them.
GM: How was the location of the old Imperial Lanes chosen?
LK: When we started to think about property, I was driving around just thinking about location. I was really interested in being in the South End: that felt philosophically and logistically a smart place to be. It’s right where the interstates intersect, and while we serve a lot of kids in the city, we also serve a lot of kids in the region, so being right on the interstates makes it very accessible. So it seemed like a really good location. However, we didn’t choose that property, because the two schools had already owned it, and they just came to us. I saw that it was for sale and I thought that would be the perfect location for JazzED, and then I saw that it had been purchased, and then later they reached out to us. It was like it was meant to be.
GM: How has JazzED engaged the community at their current location, and how do you plan to do this in the South end?
LK: The community engagement piece is really important to me. In our current location, we’re in a building that is owned by First AME Church. It’s the (former) MLK Elementary School in Madison Valley. We came into it as a partner with First AME Church, and they’ve helped us really connect with their community. But other than that we kinda just plopped in there: it was affordable, and it felt somewhat central to everybody we served. There wasn’t much specific intention around the community. But this time, with this building, we’re excited to be much more intentional.
Right now I’m forming a community engagement task force with people from all over the community. Ms. Melba from Northwest Tap Connection, a representative from Treehouse (nonprofit), and Tim Lennon (the executive director of Langston, the nonprofit which programs Langston Hughes Arts Center) are all on the committee. We’ve been really focused on making sure that we have a task force that represents many aspects of the South End, and that the purpose of this task force is to help us map out a community engagement plan for the next year. What that looks like, I don’t know yet, because I’m hoping that these experts are going to guide me in that.
GM: Its good to be intentional about where you are. That’s a lot of the problem with gentrification now, is that people come in with supposed “good ideas” for arts and so on, but don’t take into account the existing community. They don’t know what is inviting and what is seeming to be exclusive.
LK: I agree with you. I live in the Central District, and its been so painful to watch what’s happened in that neighborhood. I’ve seen a lot of change. So my hope is that we can do a really good job with this, and I feel like we’ve brought on a lot of good people who are really invested in the community.
GM: Why did JazzED want to combine housing and the arts?
LK: JazzED exists to impact kids lives, and I love the idea that we can be a part of the bigger picture. I’m concerned about our city and the direction it’s going, in terms of becoming less and less affordable for people. To be able to be part of a bigger solution was really exciting to me. To be able to partner strategically with like-minded organizations was really exciting to me. I think there’s a lot of power in the arts and housing coming together, to address one of our biggest problems in the city, and I’m excited to see what comes of it. We’re just only diving into it, but I’m hoping that we can be an inspiration and a model for how to get things done.
GM: What do you feel happens when you link affordable housing and music education?
LK: JazzED has done a good job of building (its own) community. We have a really great community that is very diverse and very nurturing. I’m hoping that having the housing component will help to solidify that even more.
GM: There have been other places, like the Mount Baker Lofts: they have all sorts of programs going, like a bilingual preschool, capoeira center, and artist residencies. It’s really created these pocket communities which do spread out and engage the rest of the community. I think it’s great what you’re doing.
LK: Thank you. I think we’re going to learn a lot. I don’t know all the outcomes, but I think only good things can come from it.
It’s like you’re at this intersection. It’s a neighborhood that’s primarily industrial, and I feel like we’re coming in and we’ll have an opportunity to pioneer what’s happens there. It is all getting bought up, and it’s gonna all get developed. And so if we can come in and set the tone, that’s pretty exciting. Kids playing music is such a great, vibrant thing that can only be good for a community. I’m hoping everybody will get behind it and feel good about it.
GM: I read a little bit about a $10 million capital campaign. What does that entail?
LK: There are going to be two condos: JazzED will own the commercial condo, which will be the two bottom floors. Capitol Hill Housing will own the residential condo, which will be four to five floors of housing, 90 to 100 units. For our portion of land ownership, building envelope and then all the buildout of our space, that will cost us $10 million. So we have to raise that money, and we are in the very early stages of doing that. It will probably take us a couple of years to get it done. But we’re excited; we feel confident that we will be able to do it. Our goal is to be debt-free. There are ways to finance these kinds of things, and nonprofits do that. My hope is to go into it with a solid operations reserve, and not owe any money.
GM: How are you planning to raise the funds?
LK: There’s sort of a traditional way to run a capital campaign. We have a lot of relationships with donors, and we’re going to have to work to grow those relationships and get people committed to the concept. I think because we’re doing something that’s sort of bigger than jazz, that’s sort of a solution for the city, we’re hoping to attract people outside of the music community, people who are interested in urban revitalization, people who are interested in land conservancy, and things like that. We’re hoping to get their attention.
GM: Such as through grants, donations, and fundraising?
LK: We imagine that a good portion will come from individual donors. There is also public funding: the Department of Commerce has a Building for the Arts Fund. It’s a little early for it now, but their next round is in two years, and that will be good timing, because they want to see that we already have done some significant fundraising. They fund up to 20 percent of a capital project, so we feel like we’ll be a perfect opportunity for them, and that it’ll be a project they’ll be interested in. Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture has a capital fund that they can support buildings and equipment with, as does King County. We’ll be looking at all of those different options. There are also private foundations that support capital projects. It’s going to be a combination of all of that.
GM: When would doors finally open?
LK: My hope, if all things go well, is three and a half years from now, in the middle of 2021.
GM: Does JazzED plan to incorporate South Seattle’s rich musical traditions and culture into its curriculum?
LK: Yes, we absolutely do. We are in the process of growing, from essentially 1,500 square feet right now into potentially 15-17,000 square feet. We know that our programs need to expand, and we’re excited about exploring what that looks like. This community engagement work that we’re doing might open our eyes to other opportunities and ways of teaching things.
Photos Courtesy JazzED.