Becoming a Central Home for Totem Star, Red Eagle Soaring, The Rhapsody Project, Whipsmart, and Jackson Street Music Program
by Vee Hua 華婷婷
On the border of Pioneer Square and the Chinatown-International District sits King Street Station, a historic train station constructed between 1904 and 1906. Yet prior to colonization and the forced regrading of Seattle, the location was known to local Native American tribes as dzee-dzee-LAH-letch in Lushootseed, or the “little crossing-over place.” It was a tidal marsh — plentiful with flounder — adjacent to Coast Salish longhouses on Yesler Way and surrounded by trails where Native Americans from numerous thougvillages fished and intersected with one another.
Today, King Street Station houses the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture, and soon, Station Space, an interdisciplinary hub for five local arts nonprofits that are primarily POC-led and POC-serving: Totem Star, Red Eagle Soaring, The Rhapsody Project, Whipsmart, and the Jackson Street Music Program. Stewarded by the Cultural Space Agency, a mission-driven real estate development company, the $3.5 million capital campaign project officially celebrated its campaign launch in October 2022, but fundraising efforts continue.
“This site sits on the original lands of Coast Salish friends and relatives here, their longhouses that were right here,” explains Russell Brooks (Southern Cheyenne), executive director of Red Eagle Soaring. Red Eagle Soaring, which serves at-risk Native youth through traditional and contemporary performance art, has been an organization since 1991. Yet despite 32 years of history and over 180 productions to date, it has never had a creative home to call its own; up until this point, it has been forced to bounce around from space to space.
“[For] this site to be able to kind of reclaim space for our Native youth, our Native community, and to be able to come together in community and do healthy and empowering things to help them on their life journey and career pathways … it’s really huge for us,” says Brooks. “As Native people, we’re very place-oriented, so what is to happen here is really going to be so impactful for … our Native youth, both now and into the future.”
“[Station Space] was an attempt to align the work the City and the cultural sector were doing to support youth arts education, cultural space control, and access to the creative economy,” explains Matthew Richter, interim executive director of the Cultural Space Agency, who came to lead Cultural Space Agency after a long tenure working at the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture.
“Through the first half of the 20th century, King Street Station was the entryway to Seattle for every major artist, musician, and performer who came to this town,” says Richter. “And for the past 50 years, this significant and very present space has been absent, abandoned, for long stretches literally boarded up. This is an opportunity to reintroduce Seattle to one of its central but dormant public spaces, and to use the arts as the instrument of that rebirth.”
Station Space has enlisted the services of Sellen Construction and SKL Architects, who are known for their skill in adaptive reuse and have worked on projects like Wing Luke Museum, Hing Hay CoWorks, and Chophouse Row. As with any cultural space acquisition project, however, the learning curve is steep; the tenant organizations rely greatly on the expertise of the Cultural Space Agency to help with the brass tacks of the project.
“We’ll execute a 60-year Mutually Offsetting Benefits lease, meaning that the value that these POC-led arts nonprofits bring to the space will offset almost all of the occupancy costs,” explains Richter.
The Cultural Space Agency will essentially serve as the property manager and sign the long-term lease with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), on behalf of the anchor organizations. The Space Agency will also pay for “warm shell” improvements such as basic installation of walls, doors, heating, ventilation, and electrical, which then creates the framework for anchor partners to customize their programming spaces and turn them into classrooms, theaters, recording studios, or whatever else they may need individually.
“On the construction [and] design side … we feel really, really supported,” shares Daniel Pak, executive director and cofounder of Totem Star, which helps young recording artists build life skills through music production and performance. “Of course, the fundraising part is the hardest part … the greatest end-of-year gift would be to complete this fundraising to get the full $3.5 million.”
Collectively and individually, the tenant organizations have raised $2.2 million, which leaves a remaining $1.3 million to complete the construction. Funding has come through a number of sources, such as local and national grants, foundations, and private investments. More recently, they hope for City budget funds following their campaign of advocacy to the Seattle City Council.
“We prepped [our young people] to show up and testify at those budget public hearings … They learned so much about how advocacy is done,” shares Pak. “[We’re] just really, really proud of them for showing up and taking the time to go through that process with us. And hopefully, it just is the education that they’ll take on for years to come.”
For organizations like Totem Star and Red Eagle Soaring, who work with underserved youth traveling in from all across the county, King Street Station’s central location is vital in terms of accessibility to public transit. Pak cites a Totem Star community member, Kiddus Fecto, as a perfect example of why such accessibility will be a game changer.
“Kiddus Fecto used to catch three buses — two hours each way — to get from Federal Way to Youngstown Cultural Arts Center [in Delridge],” says Pak. “He would do it multiple times a week, because that’s how much he needed to come to the studio and make music and build that community, build his music, and thrive.”
“Once King Street Station opens, [Totem Star is] going to be so much more accessible to him,” Pak continues. “Accessibility is everything, and we’re tired of seeing our artists get pushed to the fringes of the city.”
Station Space is a victory not only because it shows artists that they are vital to Seattle in a time of great displacement, but because it creates a road map which can be replicated and expanded upon for future developments.
“What message does that tell our artists when we just send them to the fringes, year after year? We want to bring them to the heart of the city,” says Pak. “We want to give them something iconic, that they can say, wow, our city really believes in us … [so] I got to go even further beyond the bar and do my best work and bring my best self out.”
Looking back on the history of King Street Station, Pak cites the importance of the jazz greats who passed through its hallways, and looking further back, notes the tragedy of the longhouses which no longer exist due to divide and conquer mentalities. He muses, “What does that mean now to bring young people together from all different backgrounds, all different self-identities, to build this family, this heart, this core, this star, this core of a constellation that could grow out of this?”
The anchor organizations at Station Space are still fundraising for the remaining $1.3 million of their capital campaign! Please visit each of their websites to contribute or find out about upcoming fundraising events: Totem Star, Red Eagle Soaring, The Rhapsody Project, Whipsmart, and the Jackson Street Music Program.
Editors’ Note: This article has been updated on 11/02/2022 to more accurately reflect Cultural Space Agency’s role in signing the lease with the Seattle Department of Transportation. It has also been updated on 11/03/2022 to change a reference of $1.3 billion to $1.3 million.
Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/she) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the interim managing editor of the South Seattle Emerald, editor-in-chief of REDEFINE, and co-chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the executive director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences. Their latest short film, Reckless Spirits, is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy, and will be released in late 2022. Follow them at @hellomynameisvee or over at veehua.com
📸 Featured Image: Youth served by programs from Station Space’s anchor organizations and Deputy Mayor Greg Wong during the campaign launch event at King Street Station on Oct. 13, 2022. Wong said, “Accessible arts and cultural spaces create vibrant communities and shape the social character of our neighborhoods. This new hub at King Street Station in the heart of our city will give aspiring young artists a place to learn, grow, and thrive.” (Photo: Vee Hua)
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