Art in the ‘Wood

A new creative hub takes shape in Seattle at Greenwood and 85th.

A new creative hub takes shape.

Teri Hein is chopping a few radishes into a homemade salad at 826 Seattle, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center disguised as a Space Travel Supply Store. Finished, she walks me through a roomful of children, ages 7–12. They’re clutching stories they’ve written during a summer workshop, mostly about food, and they’re waiting their turns to read aloud. One boy shout-speaks his ode to a very juicy tomato.

Hein, an author and the founding executive director of 826 Seattle, leads me out onto the sidewalk at Greenwood Avenue and 85th Street, a corner that’s seen its share of flux in recent years. In the wake of considerable retail turnover, something unexpected has emerged: an arts community.

Within a block of this intersection lie several art galleries, including the underground, graffiti-chic Greenwood Collective and one of its offshoots, the Bherd Gallery. The Taproot Theatre, which landed here in 1996, is currently undergoing a sizable expansion, and 826 saw a major renovation two years ago. The School of Rock moved in a block away in June and a pair of dance academies are within five blocks of the central intersection. (City Arts headquarters is a block away, too.) Greenwood also hosts popular monthly art walks and, until last month, seasonal lit crawls.

826 is beginning its eighth year in this location. Standing on the corner, Hein points her salad fork to the north, noting the immigrant populations, low-income housing and “the interesting character of a diverse community” in that direction. Then she points her fork southward to Phinney Ridge, with its mountain views. Greenwood and 85th is a perfect combination, she says, for an organization looking to marry diversity with publicity, or lower-income resources with higher-income fundraising.

Cheap, copious space brought Bherd Studios co-founder John Osgood to the area. Many of his peers followed—especially after the closure of the 619 Western Building in 2011.

School of Rock left Lake City for a giant Greenwood space, full of soundproof rooms. Manager Kris K likens it to “a hangout space” for its crowd of teen students and families.

“I knew with absolute certainty that this was the neighborhood I wanted to be in,” K says, calling out Greenwood’s “amazing vibe and neighbors.”

Osgood loves the rockabilly-friendly tattoo shops down the street. Taproot co-founder Scott Nolte appreciates the dance academies. Hein gushes about School of Rock and Couth Buzzard Bookstore, who’ve welcomed 826 students for music lessons and poetry readings.

Neighborhoods like Georgetown and Capitol Hill have more apparent aesthetics, but the arts hub at Greenwood and 85th is built from a reputation of education. No city architect plotted it out; the venues for children and adults just showed up over time, and they have attracted frequent events, new businesses and friendly crowds, no matter how eclectic the venues are from block to block. Perhaps most telling: No one’s complaining about needing more space, more parking or a new crowd. This arts constellation isn’t going anywhere.

“The richness of the whole community includes those people, those people and those people,” Hein says. “Finding places for people to share their stories together—that’s what’s essential.”