Later this year, Fremont Abbey Arts, the nonprofit that produces dozens of cultural events each month at the Fremont Abbey, celebrates its 10th anniversary. That’s 10 years of all-ages shows involving music, poetry and prose readings, comedy, theatre and visual art in Seattle’s quietest, most reverent venue. On March 7, Abbey Arts founding creative director Nathan Marion launches a new venture called Ballard Homestead, another space for all-ages community engagement in a former place of worship.
Is Ballard Homestead a house?
It’s a former church but it looks like a house. And it’s in a residential neighborhood.
Fremont Abbey is already successful. Were you looking for another venue to book?
Not when we first found it. One of the guys involved in the building had come to the Abbey and contacted me as a consultant, which I do for other buildings around the country. The owners contacted us based on what we did at the Abbey and I helped them for a couple years and as we decided we wanted to expand, the opportunity came up to help activate this new venue. So now we’re the nonprofit curator of the space that’s still owned by a church.
I didn’t realize you work outside Seattle.
Lonely Buildings takes the model of the Fremont Abbey and shows how it might work in other cities. I do design consulting to help people renovate their old buildings, usually old churches, to make them useful for the community. Taborspace has been going for five years in Portland, and another group in Birmingham, [Ala.], hired me to come down and work with them, and I worked with a group in Austin and a few other places in Seattle.
You’ve been with the Abbey since the start.
Yeah, I was the founding director of the nonprofit. The church that bought the Abbey in 2005, as they moved in, they brought me in to manage the renovation. We expanded and relaunched in 2008.
So Ballard Homestead just happened to come along at an opportune time.
We’re really happy with the Abbey; it’s definitely our home base. But with all the events we have, we’d like to do more and have more opportunities for putting on small shows that Seattle can really connect with. We started to do off-site events at St. Mark’s, the Cathedral Shows, and a few other events around town. I live close to Ballard so I thought it would be cool to do something there. There’s a need for more venues in the area; there are no all-ages venues that I know of on the north end.
And as far as programming in the new space?
It’ll be in the same vein [as the Abbey]—smaller concerts where people can be really close to the band. Seated shows, all-ages, low ticket prices to keep them accessible. Acoustic, mostly bluegrass and folk because it’s a residential neighborhood, and lots of early evening concerts and afternoon shows for families on the weekends. We’re making it a distraction-free zone, no video cameras or flash photos.
The Abbey is unique in its intimacy. Do you think the Homestead might bite into some of the same audience?
I think Seattle is growing so much that there’s plenty of people that wanna see music in this kind of respectful setting at a reasonable hour, where the performance is the focus and there aren’t a lot of drunk people wandering around. I don’t foresee competition. We’ll be careful how we book so we won’t have similar events in both venues. This past Saturday, Seattle Rock Orchestra sold out at the Abbey and we had a very small banjo show at the Homestead on the same night. Those were very different audiences.
The attentiveness at Abbey shows is special.
It’s been amazing how well that’s respected in Seattle. I was reading about the Largo in Los Angeles and how they’ll throw people out for talking on their phones. I think that’s funny—in Seattle as long as the setting is correct and it’s quiet, people get it.
Ballard is changing rapidly. It’s good to plant a cultural space in the neighborhood.
That’s part of what we’re hoping to continue, to create a space by renovating an old building, not tearing it down but repurposing it for the community. Costs will be low so we can host community events, fundraisers and small weddings, so people can have a venue where everyone can get together. It’ll hopefully have that old Ballard vibe.