An historic Pioneer Square building becomes an arts hub.
“It would be a good thing for artists to not feel like their situation is always temporary, like they’re perpetual nomads,” says Jane Richlovsky. In mid-December, she and a small group of partners signed papers to close the sale on the historic Scheuerman Building at 1st and Cherry in the heart of Pioneer Square.
Richlovsky began leasing the second floor of the building in 2011, when she and 120 other artists were evicted from their studios at 619 Western Avenue. Like so many properties, 619—an abandoned warehouse filled with artist studios for 30 years—had been slated for demolition, leaving a substantial community without a place to work. During her time there, Richlovsky had stumbled into the position of leaseholder and studio manager. As soon as she caught wind of the ensuing evacuation, she started hunting for a new space.
“I saw it as an opportunity,” she says. “In the course of managing [619 Western], I realized that creating a community of artists was a really interesting thing to do and didn’t have to be a random situation that just arises from the need to cover rent.”
She came across the vacancy on the second floor at 1st and Cherry in a building that has housed many memorable businesses, most recently Café Bengodi and Metsker Maps. A fringe theatre occupied the basement in the ’80s, a jazz club in the ’40s. The building’s earliest tenants were seedier, Richlovsky says, hinting at a brothel.
Richlovsky struck a deal with the owners: lower rent in exchange for construction improvements to the space. She and 10 of her studio mates from 619 pooled their WSDOT-provided relocation benefits to fund the remodel. Since then, 13 studios—collectively known as ’57 Biscayne—have been fully restored, including their hardwood floors, 14-foot ceilings and original, exposed brick walls. These studios are home to painters, designers, a tintype photographer, a mapmaker and a boutique video game console designer. If someone moves out, studio vacancies usually last less than an hour.
Richlovsky was wary of ’57 Biscayne going the way of 619 Western, so for years she haunted every neighborhood meeting and committee she could. That’s where she met Greg Smith of Urban Visions Real Estate and Ali Ghambari of Cherry Street Coffee, who were sympathetic about keeping artists in the area and eager to help facilitate Richlovsky’s dream of an artist space without an expiration date. The alliance is paying off. Together, Smith, Ghambari, Richlovsky and ACT Theatre technical director Steve Coulter formed Good Arts LLC, and on Dec. 15 they took over the building at 1st and Cherry.
Richlovsky and partners are in talks with a commercial gallery to occupy the street-level storefront. They also plan to restore the basement to a performance space, and Ghambari will open Cherry Street Public House in the former Café Bengodi, which will stay open in the evenings and serve wine and beer.
Beyond Richlovsky’s artistic vision, her partnership with business owners like Ghambari shifts the way artists define their role in their neighborhoods and, she hopes, offers a new model for artists combatting development.
“We didn’t want to run ’57 Biscayne like a charity case,” she says. “We want to run it as a for-profit space, a business. We’re trying to look at the big picture: If businesses are benefitting so much from the arts in their neighborhood, how can we make that mutually beneficial? For too long the bigger conversation has been stuck on ‘Oh these poor artists, look how they’ve been priced out’ and artists see themselves as victims. But if we get out of our comfort zone—artists, businesses, property owners—we can learn a lot from each other and make things happen that have never happened before.”