Recently Tacoma, Washington was voted as one of the top "hipster" cities in the entire U.S., number 6 out of 150 to be exact. (Vancouver, WA was number 1 and Spokane, WA ranked 7 which meant that Washington state had three in the top 10). According to a Seattle Times article written in December, a company called MoveHub looked at rent inflation, gentrification, microbreweries, vegan stores, tattoo parlors and thrift shops per 100,000 residents. With the recent redevelopment of the Thea Foss Waterway, the Tacoma Light Rail system known as the Link, and the state's highest concentration of art and history museums, Tacoma is seeing a boom in popularity, and with popularity comes more development. Lucky for us one of the city's newest addition caters to the creatives in T-Town in the form of an artist-driven, performance, and gathering space called Alma Mater.
Alma Mater is the vision of three creative risk takers named Rachel Ervin, Jason Heminger and Aaron Spiro, who for the last three years have spent their lives swirling around ideas and concepts to turn the old Carpenters Building - a 23,000 square foot complex originally built to house unions - into an "incubator, a place to orchestrate connections, offer up resources, and generate mentoring opportunities." In other words, an artist's hub, but we're talking on a grand scale. Not only can artists gather, display, connect with other artists, and find studio space, there is a recording studio, two restaurants, a rooftop space, a community room, an outdoor green space, and a concert area that holds up to 500 people.
I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a photographer friend at Alma Mater where we enjoyed the new cafe/restaurant at Alma Mater called Honey Coffee + Kitchen. The space was modern, the aesthetic was light and industrial, and artistic touches gleaned the walls and shelves. The coffee is the big deal here, and if anyone knows anything about coffee they'll be pleased to know that Portland-based Heart Coffee Roasters is the bean provider. I tried their signature coffee, the honey latte, and it was heavenly. Their menu is innovative, and people will understand why; Kyle Wnuk is the executive chef. He was formally the owner and chef at Marrow, on 6th Ave., which sadly closed. So when you see choices like Ebelskivers or Marrakesh Market Hash on the all-day breakfast menu, you shouldn't be surprised. He's set to open the Matriarch Lounge this month, which will appeal to the 21-and-older cocktail crowd, and will offer small, shareable plates. You'll for sure find me there on a Friday night when it opens!
Starting today and running through the weekend Alma Mater is finally opening it's doors to the public. Tonight will start with it's soft opening, which includes a ribbon cutting ceremony, access to it's 10 artist's installations, and performances by Sassy Black and Eddie Bermuda. Doors open at 7:00 and tickets sell for $10 and $15 dollars. Friday's show includes Smokey Brights, SISTERS, and Deep Sea Diver. Saturday, the event's only 21 and older evening, hosts Lucha Volcanica, Gritty City Sirens, and Filthy FemCorps. The three-day celebration will be a mix of performance artists, DJ's, and young new artists. Tickets can be purchased at ticketfly.com. VIP tickets, 3 day passes, and single tickets available now! I have a feeling it's going to be the start of something Tacoma has been yearning for, for years.
"The developmental path of typical artists can be ambiguous and confusing," says Heminger. Hopefully with the vision and direction of the three principles of Alma Mater, more and more artists will have an easier way to connect, create, and find their inspiration. Tacoma has always been about building community connections, and if you know anything about how it got it's nick name, "Grit City", you'll understand that Alma Mater is modern day version of building from the bottom up and offering sustenance and nourishment along the way for everyone... with a lot of groove and a killer vibe.
All Photos by the amazing Winsome Bye. You can find her on IG @winsomesincerity or go to www.winsome-photography.com