A brand new chapter for Hillman City’s historic space celebrates arts, music, and culture by Communities of Color.
by Lauryn Bray
On Saturday, Sept. 23, Hillman City’s Black & Tan Hall (B&TH) hosted its first public event with the celebration of the eighth anniversary of Dyme Designs, a jewelry line owned by Christina Chan. The event marks the beginning of the hall’s new existence as a shared space dedicated to preserving the arts, music, and culture of Seattle’s South End Communities of Color.
“This [building] is an incubator for all of us. We just want to be the place where folks can come bring their vision to life,” said Naudia Miller, general manager of B&TH.
A Long Time Coming
Miller has been managing B&TH since 2018, and in that time, the hall has never once been open to the public. Before B&TH entered the space, it was completely empty. The last business to occupy the building was a karaoke bar called Maxim’s which closed in 2015.
“When we started occupying this space and attempting to get it open, we found out that there were a lot of hurdles — specifically a quarter-million-dollar sprinkler system that needed to be installed before we could open support beams for the upstairs mezzanine level, which is another probably $100,000 project,” explained Miller. Because they were just renting the space at the time and couldn’t afford it anyway, the collective decided against making the repairs.
However in 2020, after applying for funding from the City to buy the building, the City of Seattle bought 5806 Rainier Ave. S. in the name of Black & Tan Hall. “So our name is on the deed, and instead of us having to pay a mortgage, we provide public benefits to the community at a little less than $3,000 a month,” said Miller.
According to their website, B&TH takes its name and purpose from “Black and Tan Fantasy,” a Grammy Hall of Fame song by Duke Ellington, and also the Black and Tan Club, which was once a Black-owned nightclub in the Central District. The club’s importance is rooted in segregation. In the mid-1920s, white Seattle musicians had unionized without Black musicians and forbade Black people from attending or performing at concerts north of the “Yesler color line.”
The original Black and Tan Club and other Black-owned nightclubs south of Yesler are not only responsible for incubating Seattle’s then up-and-coming jazz scene — they were also instrumental in providing Black Seattle residents with a space to be together in the presence of art and music.
Black & Tan Hall Today
Christina Chan is B&TH’s marketing strategist and owner of Dyme Designs, a jewelry company she started eight years ago. “Eight is a really lucky number in Chinese culture,” explained Chan. “That’s why I really wanted to go all out and celebrate my business.”
Chan invited eight other Asian woman-owned businesses to B&TH to celebrate with her, a decision she says was inspired by her belief in the importance of supporting other Women of Color business owners. “I really wanted to come together to be in a [public] place where we can uplift and support each other because, behind the scenes of our businesses, we support each other a lot,” said Chan. “I definitely think that as a community, we are stronger together. Also, this month is the mid-autumn festival, and so I really wanted to host an event where we can also celebrate [that], and celebrate Asian culture, and also celebrate woman-owned businesses. So all these vendors are also my personal friends.”
The eight other vendors in attendance were Only, Shishido Creative, Dreamy Moon Boutique, Lunaraya, Kela Wong, Urban Belle Designs, Puffy Pandy, and Naturally B. Also in attendance were the International Lion Dance and Martial Arts Team, who kicked off the festivities by performing a traditional lion dance.
In Chinese culture, the lion dance brings good luck by warding off evil spirits. It is usually done during the Lunar New Year or at auspicious occasions like weddings, community events, or business openings.
Chan is a Seattle native and has called the South End home her entire life. For people like Chan who identify with a nationality that is different from the nation in which they currently reside, it is easy to feel disconnected from culture. Chan says this disconnect has been a major motivation behind her style of jewelry.
“I really wanted to find what’s really connected to me as an Asian American growing up [in Seattle],” explained Chan. “My identity as an Asian woman, sometimes there’s been some disconnect. I felt like I didn’t know my culture as much growing up. And so being able to visit China, and being able to make, create, produce jewelry that is rooted in Chinese cultural designs, has helped me feel connected to my own culture.”
Strengthening cultural connections and bridging the gaps between communities is part of what B&TH stands to represent. “We want the community to tell us what to do with this space,” said Miller. “The space is extremely flexible. It’s all ages, so the whole family can do things here — classes, performances, parties, cooking during weddings, workshops, you name it.”
Miller says B&TH will be getting ready to accept submissions for events in 2024. “For the rest of the year, we’re just doing not even a handful of events that are being internally programmed. Then before the end of the year, we will be accepting inquiries for 2024,” said Miller.
Right now, Miller says, B&TH is looking for resources: “If you know somebody who is looking to redistribute their wealth to an organization that truly is for us by us and really understands how to make an impact in our community as folks with lived experiences, this is really the place to do it.”
Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.
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