“I am terrible at keeping a secret. I want to live in this place”
At Large in Ballard: Creative Energy
By Peggy Sturdivant
One day last summer I noticed a new tenant on Market St in the spot that had been occupied by the Quilting Loft before it moved next to Firehouse Coffee. “Seattle Creative Arts Center,” I read on the glass, before I dared to jaywalk across the four lanes of traffic to go to Limback’s.
I puzzled over this new entity, assuming since they had Seattle in their name they must have moved from an earlier location. The space looked fairly empty, like a gallery. Signage said Music & Art Education, Workshops, Performance Events. Who are they, I wondered? Why haven’t I heard of them?
Last week I filled out an online form requesting more information about the space. Meleah Gibson responded almost immediately. That’s when I learned this isn’t an organization or a cooperative. Seattle Creative Arts Center is the lovechild of Chris and Meleah Gibson. Although conceived perhaps slightly earlier, the birth of the business happened to coincide with the birth of their eight-month old daughter Charlie.
Chris and Meleah Gibson offer combined experience in music, composition, dance, lighting, art, live performance, sound recording and teaching. They also share their two offspring, Charlie and the Market Street space that they hope will become home to all genres of creativity, even beyond their areas of experience.
A Cornish graduate Chris teaches guitar, bass and piano, as well as songwriting and music theory. Meleah studied ballet, tap, jazz and modern at the British Academy of Dance. They met as part of a local musical production called Tuning the Air, during its eight-year run. Chris was performing as one of the ten guitarists in the round. Meleah had discovered a passion for lighting. Then both of their jobs ended and they decided to put their life savings into their shared dream of a creative center.
It was months into their search for just the right space for months when they went further west on Market Street than in the past. Once they saw the former Quilting Loft space it became the place. Meleah said, “I thought, if we don’t get this space I don’t think I can go on.” In order to create a space that could accommodate music lessons, a photography studio, catered events, performances, art shows and classes they had to do, “a ton of remodeling.”
The result is a location with fantastic lighting, in-house sound system, small kitchen, and stage area, that is both visible and invisible. It is a space that can become anything you want it to be. A practice space for a chorus, seating for an audience, a meeting place, a place for workshops in writing, painting, sewing…who knows? Meleah’s dream is for the space to one day be in use from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week. It’s already home to one photographer, Ingrid Pape-Sheldon, and would be ideal for additional shared studio space. Roll-away mirrors that could transform it into a dance studio are on the wish list.
Perhaps it was baby Charlie beaming at me as well as her parent’s vision. Suddenly I wanted to make the space part of my life too. I wished there was a Ballard writer trying to write a novel in the month of November while in the storefront window. I thought longingly of a space for writers, with the coffee, but without the barista’s choice of music. I could imagine people stepping to the microphone on the stage. Artwork on the walls, a tableau in the windows to provide better clues to what would be possible inside this space.
Although it took me five months to investigate SCAC others have been more proactive. Groups practice there on Monday and Tuesday nights. Chris has been receiving music students, although he welcomes more. The venue has had monthly art installations. After opening the doors last June, “The events side of it just happened.” Birthday parties, teenage bands; they receive inquiries from quite a few teenagers; unlike clubs the venue can be for all ages.
There have been parties, book launches, belly-dancing, weddings and events that mixed art and wine. and on November 16th a woman is hosting an event there called “A Beautiful Mess.” Cynthia Sherris Johnson found the site on Yelp when looking for a place to share the photo essay she created following a personal loss and divorce. On November 23 the SCAC hosts “The Taste of Health & Inspiration” with Dena-Marie.
So the space is being found. “We’re getting into the veins of Ballard,” Meleah said. “We knew it would take a while.” The Gibsons also want to keep the space relatively affordable so that it can be home to artists. They offer non-profits a $35/hour rate for classes, $20/hour for use of a rehearsal room and the event space for $125/hour.
Thinking back on what led them to open a place that could provide a community for artists, Meleah said, “We didn’t want to waste our creativity.” Applying their energy and life savings to build that dream, the Gibsons have opened the door to the creativity in everyone. SCAC is not an organization; it is Chris, Meleah, Charlie, you and me. Because I don’t want to waste my creativity either.
Seattle Creative Arts Center, 206.297-6001. www.seattlecreativearts.com. 2601 NW Market St., Seattle 98107