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Sylla-Bye

SOTA and Urban Grace Split.

When class starts for the Tacoma School of the Arts music program this month, the song might remain the same, but the classroom will not. In late July, SOTA moved out of the Urban Grace Building that housed the school’s songwriting and audio recording program for the last four years. As of press time, the school had yet to determine a new space out of which to operate.

“I’m having conversations with a couple of different groups to build something long-term,” says songwriting and audio recording teacher Zach Varnell. “There is a chance we will be building out a new 10,000-square-foot facility with another group in Tacoma, and a chance we’ll be purchasing a building in the next two years. For now, we’re looking for temporary space to work out of until we have a plan in place.”

The reason for the move is a rent increase at the 90-year-old downtown building that also leases space to MLKBallet, the Tacoma Youth Symphony and 20 other non-profit and com- munity organizations. The congregation that has maintained the building since it was reincor- porated as an interdenominational church in 2005 has had to make some difficult decisions regarding the building’s future, says Urban Grace pastor Tad Monroe. Most of the tenants have managed to absorb what he calls a “substantial increase” in rent. SOTA was not one of them.

“It’s a total bummer to not have them in the building,” he says. “The reality is that for the first four years it’s just been about getting whoever we can in there just to survive the cost of the facility and to build some energy around the space. But in the last six months we’ve transitioned into more of a long-term, sustainable plan.” When the building housed a congrega- tion of 2,300 back in 1930, the church alone could keep up the building. With a current congregation of 175, Monroe says, the church must count on its tenants to foot the bill. “We’ve got these four values around the building: the arts, worship and spirituality, teaching, and service to the poor and mar- ginalized,” Monroe says. “We will maintain those, but the truth is that we also need to maintain the building.

Photography by Paul Sableman