Remembering the TDO

Last month, the Vera Project featured an art exhibition called Dancing on Your Politics. It could’ve easily been mistaken for an elaborate fiction, the final project of one of the all-ages arts and music venue’s many classes for creative young people. The posters, framed quotes and news clippings that covered the walls told the story of activists who believed the right to gather and enjoy music belonged to people of all ages, and of their fight against a municipal government that thought otherwise. At the center of this made-for-film drama was something called the Teen Dance Ordinance.

It was no fiction. From 1985 to 2002, the TDO made hosting an all-ages concert in the City of Seattle nearly impossible. As recounted in Vera’s exhibit, and online at DancingOnYourPolitics.com, young Seattle activists fought against the law and failed each time. But along with each failure, a lesson was learned, and the next group of activists reasserted themselves with even more force and know-how.

Out of this atmosphere arose the seeds of Vera—and of Seattle’s future as a mecca for all-ages music.

In 2001, inspired by a club in the Netherlands, Vera’s founders sent a call out to the community to support all-ages music. “If the city supports every other form of art and entertainment,” the invitation read, “why not alternative music and art for everyone?”

Six months later, the Vera Project hosted its first show at Local 46, an electrical workers union hall in Belltown, featuring the Murder City Devils, Botch and the Blood Brothers. Soon afterward, Vera gained support from the Music and Youth Task Force, a City-created commission saddled with developing an alternative to the TDO. On Aug. 12, 2002, then-Mayor Greg Nickels finally abolished the TDO.

The Vera Project has since grown into a force in Seattle’s music and arts communities, with a permanent home at Seattle Center, 10 employees and a $550,000 annual budget ($50,000 of which comes from the city).

As if to punctuate the 10-year anniversary of the end of the TDO, the Vera Project was awarded a Mayor’s Arts Award last month. Reads the fine print: “Vera engages thousands in the arts, helps develop the future of the music industry and supports a vibrant Seattle culture.”

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