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Open Space reshapes the artistic landscape
It’s an oft-quoted line from a movie about baseball, but as it turns out, it also applies to a cavernous former coffee warehouse on Vashon: “If you build it, they will come.”
This month marks the first anniversary of the inauguration of Open Space for Arts and Community — a 15,000-square-foot Vashon venue, tucked among warehouses on 103rd Avenue S.W., that has established itself as the go-to spot for a wide range of cultural and community events.
For David Godsey, who founded Open Space along with his wife Janet McAlpin, it’s all part of a dream come true.
“It’s been satisfying and exhilarating, keeping track of who’s coming and going,” Godsey said as he reeled off a list of organizations that have used the building in the past year.
Godsey is also excited about the space’s burgeoning roster of upcoming events, which will include UMO Ensemble’s 20th anniversary production, “El Dorado,” a choral performance by the Seattle Men’s Chorus group Captain Smartypants, a gallery installation being mounted to benefit Vashon Maury Community Food Bank and a touring production of “Red Ranger Came Calling,” produced by Seattle’s Book-It Theatre.
According to Godsey, almost 6,000 people have passed through Open Space’s doors since last September, attending auctions and benefits for groups, including the Backbone Campaign, Islewilde, PTSA and Vashon Island Pet Protectors.
The public has also streamed into the space to attend flea markets, clothes swaps, poetry nights, theater rehearsals and classes.
And that’s not all.
“The last year has had surprises we could have never planned for, yet they happened,” Godsey explained, as he recounted a March appearance at the space by the Slaughter County Roller Vixens.
“Having a roller derby was just one of those right things at the right time,” he said. “And it turned out to be something a lot of people on the Island wanted to see.”
Many Islanders first became aware of Open Space on Election Day 2008, when they came to the space in droves to attend an election night party thrown by the Backbone Campaign.
More than 500 people gathered that evening to celebrate Barack Obama’s historic victory, and for Godsey, the night provided an affirmation of his hopes for the building.
“‘Yes we can’ became a mantra for me about the space,” he said. “It set a tone for the possibility, hope, for celebration and diverse elements coming together for a common purpose. That’s what we’re looking for all the time.”
Open Space’s story began in 2005, when Godsey and McAlpin — who are both founding members of UMO, a nationally celebrated physical theater group — purchased the former Seattle’s Best Coffee warehouse and packaging plant with money McAlpin inherited after a relative passed away.
The couple’s vision for the building included renovations that would allow them to practice and present circus arts, including trapeze, acrobatics and aerial work. But they also wanted to make the facility available to other Islanders — a place, said Godsey, where people could “realize a dream.”
For many Island organizations crimped for space, Open Space is already on its way to fulfilling that goal.
Godsey said that according to his calculations, Island groups have raised a total of $233,000 at Open Space in the past year.
“We’re really happy there is a venue like that on the Island,” said Elaine Summers, a Vashon Island Pet Protectors volunteer who helped organize the group’s 2009 Fur Ball, held at Open Space. “It was a great step up for us, because it was big enough to accommodate everybody.”
Bill Moyer, executive director of the Backbone Campaign, concurred.
“It’s awesome to have a space that could handle the scale of spectacle that we are expert in,” Moyer said.
Godsey credits Open Space’s staff and a growing list of consultants for helping define the space in its first year, despite unexpected challenges, including the rocky economy.
Private investments he and McAlpin were using to keep the space afloat have diminished considerably in the past year, he said. Despite that setback, changes and improvement to the space are still under way.
“We’re finding ways to keep our costs down, to be fleet of foot and thrifty and responsible,” he said, adding that he and McAlpin don’t anticipate breaking even financially on the building for the first five years.
Godsey said he has been able to outfit the space with used items, including theater seats, lighting instruments, curtains and even a sound system.
“Open Space is homemade, and so it has all of those idiosyncrasies,” he said. “We’re working in Island mode.”
That’s a quality that suits many community members just fine.
Martin Koenig, who has an extensive background in arts presentation both on the Island and in New York City, had high praise for Open Space — and Godsey and McAlpin.
“They are community-minded, they have high artistic values, they are filling a void on the Island ... and they’re doing it without millions of dollars,” Koenig said. “They’ve made a gift to the community.”