Community Roots Grows from Fire Recovery

September 28, 2023
Community Roots Grows from Fire Recovery

Dear Friends,

It’s been almost two years since our community rallied to support Window Seat after we lost our space to the devastating fire in downtown Olympia. One hundred and sixteen people both locally and from afar collectively gave approximately $13,000 to help us get us back on our feet within less than 30 days. The outpouring of support, not just for us but for the community of artists, organizations, and small businesses who inhabited that space, is a testament to the deep value of collective care that our community embodies. 

Our latest oral history project at Window Seat, Community Roots, has grown during this time of recovery and explores the roots of collective care in our community and its relationship to access to affordable space. It’s a story that is not unique to our community at this moment, but one that ties our collective experiences together across time and space in the United States. I wanted to share this story with you, and ask for your support to bring it into our community and online. 

I drive past our old building on my way to bring my youngest child to soccer at Percival Landing. The new apartment building that was going up at the time of the fire–which we later learned was the target of the arson that then spread to our building–is now complete. Its footprint is significantly bigger than before, now spanning both its original lot and the lot where our building once stood. 

I know that change is a constant, and I deeply believe that communities need to continually evolve and change to stay healthy and responsive. I also know that our city, like most cities across the U.S., desperately needs more housing, especially housing that more people can afford. At the same time, I mourn the loss of yet another space that housed so many entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, and organizers. There were 10 of us in that small block. We were web designers, hair stylists and barbers, tattoo artists, motorcycle mechanics, baristas, and analog audio repair technicians. We ran letterpress studios, alternative presses, and oral history projects. We’ve all since dispersed and found new spaces and have continued on with our work. Humans are resilient and we find our way forward after a disaster with the help of equitable systems, and the support of our families and communities. It would have been much harder for us to bounce back without the care we received from the United Way (who supported loss of pay for those impacted) and all of the individuals who donated!

The City of Olympia capitalizes on our storied history as a creative and innovative city that is deeply committed to public service and social justice. This identity is an important tool for the City’s current economic development efforts. But what happens when there isn’t affordable space for artists, innovators, and organizers to inhabit? How can we ensure that everyone in our community has access to space and a voice in shaping the future of the place where we’re living?

These questions and ideas are not unique to our community. Cities–both small and large across the country–are grappling with the same challenges of growth without displacing. Community Roots engages these questions through exploring three local organizing efforts–Camp Quixote, Driftwood Daycare, and the Liberation Cafe–that focus on the importance of access to space and the possibilities that happen when we make room for people who otherwise may not have access. Research ideas came to us from our community cohort, who had personal interest and connections to these stories. During weekly meetings, our cohort learned oral history interviewing and recording skills, interviewed people in the community, and then edited those stories into short audio stories. 

We're eager to share these stories through an interactive community exhibit, event series, and podcast this winter, and engage our community in a dialogue about these timely ideas. Can you help us make this happen? 

(Community Roots cohort, Mindy Chambers, Kristina Cannon, Kelsey Smith, Rowen Ling, and Elaine Vradenburgh. Not pictured, Meg Rosenberg and Bryce Black.)

You can give online to our Indiegogo campaign and receive some cool perks! We welcome and honor donations of all amounts! You can also help by sharing the campaign with others who you feel would like to contribute or share. 

Thank you for your care and support. We hope to see you at our exhibit and event series this winter! 

With gratitude,

Elaine Vradenburgh

Window Seat Founder + Memory Activist