Beacon Arts Guild: Supporting Working and Emerging Southeast Seattle Artists

by Betty Jean Williamson

Beacon Arts is the all-volunteer nonprofit arts council for Beacon Hill. We grew out of a small art-making studio called ROCKiT Space, founded in 2009 by Jessie and Marti McKenna, which was housed in the building that is now Tippe and Drague Alehouse. At that time, there were no galleries or venues for music on the Hill. ROCKiT Space partnered with Beacon Hill Music (Paul Ray and Betty Jean Wiliamson) to create Beacon Rocks, a monthly summer music and art event. ROCKiT Space grew into Beacon Arts after moving our office into the historic Garden House in 2011. 

Our mission is to create opportunities for Beacon Hill artists and audiences by activating under-utilized spaces such as Roberto Maestas Festival Street, Jefferson Park, Garden House, and the warehouse on the corner of 15th Avenue South and Beacon Avenue that became Dozer’s Warehouse. For over ten years, Beacon Arts volunteers have created and run various projects and programs including concerts, art installations and markets, poetry readings, public mural painting, and documentary screenings.

In 2019, our board began having conversations about slightly reinterpreting our mission to find a better way to support working artists. With the rapid redevelopment of North Beacon Hill, many artists we have worked with in the past are no longer able to find affordable housing and studio space in our neighborhood. We asked, “How can we help make it more viable for artists to stay and work in our community?” Then 2020 drove the point home even harder. Now that gatherings could not happen, how could performing artists work? What tools could we offer for support, and how could we inspire folks to join the effort?

These questions led Ashlee Staub, Beacon Arts board vice president, local teaching artist, activist, and owner of Rainbow Pirate Crafts, to propose a new program that would focus on connecting artists and making them more visible in our neighborhood. The Beacon Arts Guild, founded in the spring of 2020, is an interdisciplinary group of artists who share skills, knowledge, and vision. They use Beacon Arts resources to facilitate education and events, needs surveys to help their membership thrive, and an online artist directory to help the public find local artists for hire and commissions. The Guild is led by a steering committee whose current members are Ashlee Staub, Katrina Perekestenko (Creative Breath), and Therese “Tess” LeNoir (Day Moon Press).

When asked what inspires her involvement, Katrina said, “The reason I got involved with the Guild was also one of the main reasons I started volunteering with Beacon Arts: to find a community of artists to connect and collaborate with. I missed the energy, inspiration and learning that only happens when you meet with fellow artists. With the pandemic, staying connected and having a support system is more crucial than ever. We all need that pep talk, that encouragement, that push to keep creating even when the world is chaotic.”

Therese (Tess) LeNoir sets type (Photo: Darius X Studios)

To that end, Tess LeNoir is also hosting a weekly Zoom Meetup on Saturdays, 11 a.m.–1 p.m., for Guild members to discuss their current work and how they might work together in the future. Tess, for example, has recently inherited her mother’s letterpress business and is reenvisioning Day Moon Press for the next generation. “Artists have so much to share with one another. I have experience and resources from growing up in our shop that I would like to share, and I don’t know where to begin. I joined the Guild to find partners and guidance on how to teach and share these resources with the community.”

Once the pandemic recedes, the Guild will bring artists and performers to Beacon Arts events and create new opportunities that members will design to meet their own needs. Our Guild members are encouraged to make proposals for these or new events and programs that serve the Beacon Hill community. The feedback from over half the artists who have applied to join the Guild so far indicates they would like assistance in connecting to grant sources, promotion on-line and in print, an online platform for classes and sales, and technical training for on-line sales and classes. These and other efforts will be facilitated by and for Guild members using Beacon Arts connections and resources.

Ashlee Staub hopes for more than Meetups. “I see the Guild as more than a place to collaborate. I want it to be a place to build community and make new friends. I hope to grow old in the company of my Guild partners and enjoy the richness that a life of creating art can bring to us all.”

Ashlee Staub (Photo: Aiden Crane)

Artists and creative people are key to keeping our community livable. Cultural art is a window into the history and richness of our neighborhood. It is important to share this with all of the new folks joining our community so they can better understand the value of Beacon Hill’s diverse richness and help to maintain it, especially in the face of intense change. Beacon Arts is proud to invite local artists to join the Guild. Tell us how to best help you to succeed and remain part of the beautiful tapestry of our community. We are listening.

Anyone is welcome to stop in to learn more about the Guild and Beacon Arts. Please join our weekly Zoom Meetups, Saturday, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Email with ZOOM RSVP in the subject line to receive an invitation.

Betty Jean Williamson is a massage therapist, singer, and retired stage manager. She is a thirty year resident and business owner in the Beacon Hill Community, creator of the “Words of Wisdom Project” at Mercer Middle School, founding member of the Beaconettes, and co-founder and Board President of Beacon Arts.

Featured Image: Therese (Tess) LeNoir (Photo: Darius X Studio)

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