Photo of two individuals (on the right a small youth/toddler) dressed as Marvel's Black Panther.

Skyway Outdoor Cinema Adjusts to Bring Community Together

by M. Anthony Davis

The West Hill Community Association has an extensive history of advocacy and community service in the communities of Skyway and Unincorporated King County. Their weekly event, Skyway Outdoor Cinema, which hosts outdoor movies on a 20-foot screen every Friday in August, has been a staple in Skyway every summer since 2003.

Devin Chicras, a West Hill Community Association board member since 2014 (and president of the South Seattle Emerald board), has been actively involved in the Skyway Outdoor Cinema since 2013. At that time, the organization was discussing whether to shut the cinema down due to lack of volunteers and declining community attendance. Knowing how valuable the event was to the community, Chicras stepped up to ensure the outdoor cinema continued. 

“Myself and my partner, Mary Goebel, decided that it was something too valuable to the community to just let it just discontinue,” Chicras says. “So we jumped in and, having no real event-planning experience, learned everything from the ground up, from getting vendors to buying AV equipment. We bought all of our own equipment after doing an Indiegogo campaign.”

Chicras’ and Goebel’s efforts not only saved the outdoor cinema, they revitalized it. Under their leadership and partnership with the West Hill Community Association, additional community partners, and a few sponsors, the Skyway Outdoor Cinema was better than ever. 

For seven years, the event saw steady growth. When Chicras and Goebel stepped in back in 2013, expected attendance was under 100 people for each showing. By 2019, the events would draw over 500 people. They added food trucks, people in costume to entertain kids, balloon twisters, and face painters. The event was a huge draw in the Skyway community, and Chicras and Goebel spent a series of successful summers running the event until the 2020 shutdown. 

“In 2020 we were like every other organization, trying to figure out what we were going to do,” Chicras explains. “It was so uncertain for so long. Normally, the community votes on their movies in April. And at that time, we were just kind of learning about the shutdown and everybody thought it was only going to last [a] couple weeks.”

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, the Skyway Outdoor Cinema was faced with the possibility of not hosting an event for the first time since 2003. Shutting the event down was hard for Chicras to imagine. Besides playing movies for neighbors and entertainment for children, the event was also a place where community organizations met to discuss important issues and people living in the community connected with each other, and the organizers often provided valuable education on voting. The importance of this event led Chicras to another option — a virtual version of the outdoor cinema that would partner with the library. 

“We partnered with Skyway Library, [via] their teen services librarian, Maggie Block,” Chicras says. “Maggie helped us figure out how to use the library’s free streaming resources and to let folks know they could stream movies from home without having to purchase, like, a subscription to Netflix or something like that.”

While the 2020 event was a success in providing access to movies, delivering valuable information on how libraries can be used to stream movies for free, and allowing the outdoor cinema to continue without skipping a year, there was still a vital element missing — community engagement. 

“This is one of my favorite things that I get to do in Seattle,” said Block. “It’s beautiful and it brings people together. Everything from the food trucks to the affordable snacks to trivia games and fun prizes. It’s a great community celebration.”

This year, the event will still be virtual, but Chicras has found a way to bring back some of the elements of community engagement. “We’re going to be posting up every Thursday night from 5:30 to 7:30 giving out bags full of treats, candy, popcorn, and surprises. People will have something to take home with them while they watch their movies on Friday.”

Chicras feels it is important to maintain the physical connection to the community even though people can’t watch the films together. The pick-up station will be festive, provide quick community connections, and may include someone in a dinosaur costume. 

“It’s still not the same … We are a volunteer organization, and we are taking on a lot. … and we’re like everyone else just trying to figure out how to adapt … This is Skyway. There’s not a lot of resources for folks — even before the pandemic there [were] not a lot of places for people to gather. So we kind of feel a responsibility to fill that gap.”

Skyway Outdoor Cinema has showings every Friday during the month of August. To register for movies, visit the event’s website. Note: You must register in advance to view movies. Once registered, movies are available for 72 hours.

To pick up snacks on Thursdays 5:30–7:30 p.m. visit the 7-11 in the old U.S. Bank Parking lot.

2021 Skyway Virtual Cinema Lineup:

Friday, August 6: Sister Act (1992) 
Friday, August 13: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) 
Friday, August 20: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Friday, August 27: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

📸 Featured Image: Black Panther fans at the 2019 Skyway Outdoor Cinema. Photo: Susan Fried.

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