This week, Velocity Dance Center—one of the arts organizations displaced after the sale of Capitol Hill's Odd Fellows Hall in 2007—is taking over the main floor of what used to be the Capitol Hills Art Center (CHAC). The changes the space has gone through are pretty amazing (see video, below the jump), and their story is cool as hell—it's a perfect example of Seattleites pulling together to make something happen for artists in our city.

(In 2007, Odd Fellows Hall was sold to a developer who kicked out many of the arts organizations that were its tenants, prompting the city to create a cultural overlay district to implement new regulations that, in theory, would help protect the arts. That group came up with recommendations earlier that year, and is currently meeting with the mayor's office of Arts and Culture to decide what to do with the recommendations.)

Dancer-choreographers Michele Miller and KT Niehoff started Velocity in 1996 to give dancers a reason to stay in Seattle.

"We have these great dance programs at Cornish and UW," says Shannon Stewart, dancer and Development Director for Velocity, "but everyone was moving away" after graduation, she says.


In its early years, Velocity set up regular, affordable space at Odd Fellows for classes and rehearsals, and created programs for dancers, including the popular Strictly Seattle Summer Dance Intensive and a national touring program. Now, 14 years later, Stewart estimates that about 100 artists use Velocity's spaces every day, and they anticipate even more traffic with the new center.

To make the move to CHAC's old space possible, Stewart brought her experience as one of the founders of the Vera Project to the Velocity capital campaign, which—in the midst of what's supposed to be a horrible time for fundraising—raised $420,000. That's still just half their goal, but it's enough to get them set up with the basics (walls, floors, etc.) to open their doors.

They also had a lot of help. The City's Office of Economic Development worked with Velocity on lease and permitting negotiations. According to Stewart, they were also lucky to have a landlord, Betty Linke, who's dedicated to promoting the arts on Capitol Hill and kicked in with improvements to bring the building up to code.

In this walking tour (embedded video below), Stewart shows off some of the shinier features of the new space—the curtain-on-rails set-up, skylights, and a badly needed HVAC system.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So2fQvGBYsI&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Near the end of the tour, Stewart has some interesting observations about Odd Fellows and some of the events that led to a loss of affordable space for artists on Capitol Hill.

"It's not good enough to say that we'll just keep artists practicing in their living rooms and on the fringes of our cities," says Stewart. "They're generally what help the neighborhood to be attractive to developers in the first place, and a lot of developers in this neighborhood have benefited by how many arts organizations and artists have worked to create a unique community here."

Velocity Dance Center kicks off their big grand opening celebration this Saturday with a victory parade from Odd Fellows, up Pine Street to the new center lead by Mayor McGinn starting at 5:45 p.m. A Three Ring Circus performance and dance party follows at 7 p.m.

(photo by Tim Summers)
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