by Ronnie Estoque
After nearly 15 years of planning, an old gas station in Georgetown has found new life as an arts community center. In the late 1990s, John Sutton, Ben Beres, and Zac Culler first met as art students at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts. They had worked in the Cornish sculpture lab and eventually began to collaborate on various installation projects. Since then, they formed an artist collective called SuttonBeresCuller (SBC), which recently finished developing the Mini Mart City Park (MMCP), a cultural space featuring local art that is located at 6525 Ellis Ave. S. in Georgetown — formerly the site of a gas station.
The group was able to identify the site and begin environmental assessment work in 2008 through close collaboration with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle and support from the Creative Capital Foundation and the King County Brownfields Program. In its earliest days, the project was meant to be a site-specific, temporary installation, according to Culler. It eventually evolved into a project with a permanent site.
“This was an idea we had … back in 2005. And we’ve all just kind of been chipping away at it for … almost 15 years,” Beres said.
Eventually, they settled on creating a pocket park and arts-focused community center. “We probably went through, I don’t know, 50 different plans in the early days … sketching out different buildings,” Culler said. “We wanted the building itself to have as many references to the old structure as we could, so kind of harkening back to that original gas station.”
But the former site did present difficulties. “This property in particular proved to be really problematic because of the land that it sits on, the industrialized neighborhood,” Sutton said.
The MMCP had initially been financially supported by the Georgetown Community Council. After the environmental assessments were completed, SBC formed a nonprofit for the Mini Mart City Park in 2013 to acquire the property and develop construction plans. In July 2018, they officially broke ground on the site, with the goal of creating an environmentally conscious building.
An air sparge and soil vapor extraction remediation system was integrated into the building design, literally cleaning the soil under the building, says Beres. The technology also is “actually actively removing legacy pollution and pollutants that have been there for a long time that are in the groundwater,” he said.
Since having its first opening event in November 2021, the MMCP is continuing to develop its identity as a community hub for the local Georgetown neighborhood.
“We’re really excited about building upon our existing partnerships, everybody that’s helped bring it to this point, developing new partnerships with community groups and other organizations,” Sutton said.
The main room of the MMCP is 750 square feet, with gallery space for rotating exhibits. The MMCP aims to be a venue that can be utilized by local artists for their live performances and shows in the community. Sutton also hopes the MMCP can be a model other local communities can follow to repurpose gas stations for community benefit through an artistic and cultural lens.
“We want people to show up and have a different experience every time. We want music, movies, choreography, dance … readings, writers,” Beres said.
The MMCP is continuing its fundraising efforts and submitting grant applications so it can eventually hire an executive director for its nonprofit. It is also continuing to raise money for a launch fund for the first two years of programming, operations, and staffing, so the MMCP’S board can focus on activating it for the future.
Sutton, Beres, and Culler hope hiring more staff will allow them to work on creating more art installations together in the space.
“We’ve been talking about turning a small area of our studio into an installation space where we can just kind of, like, experiment,” Sutton said.
And they are eager to see how community groups will utilize the space for meetings and events. “We’re hoping that over the course of us developing our programming and operations that this space really feels like the community has ownership in it,” Sutton said.
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: Artist collective SuttonBeresCuller (SBC) developed Georgetown’s Mini Mart City Park, a new art space made from a reclaimed gas station. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)
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