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Alma Mater rises

An enormous multimedia artists' space and venue is set to enhance Tacoma's scene

The spacious Alma Mater has been gestating for three years. Photo credit: Alma-Mater-rises

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Having the kind of mid-sized venues that cities like Seattle and Portland enjoy has typically been something that's eluded Tacoma. Sure, we have a number of smaller places for your workaday touring bands to play, and we've got enormous institutions like the Broadway Center and the Tacoma Dome, where your internationally renowned acts can show up, but we've been missing a spot to accommodate bigger bands that don't necessarily demand a lofty cover charge.

Nearing its grand opening is a multimedia arts space that will hopefully go a long way toward correcting this problem: it's called Alma Mater, and its construction and formation has been a colossal undertaking for co-founders Jason Heminger, Aaron Spiro and Rachel Ervin. A project three years in the making, Alma Mater is a sprawling beast of a building, featuring a gallery, a café, spaces for bars, a recording studio, studios for artists, and something along the lines of five music venues -- including space outdoors for summer concerts. A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to tour the facility, and it was astonishing to behold.

"The hope is for Alma Mater to be a connection point for Tacoma's artist communities," says co-director Ervin. "We have enormous talent here, and we want to be a central space where people can connect and collaborate and drink and eat tasty food and see cool s#$%. As for what compelled me to come onboard -- it was too compelling of an idea to resist. How could anyone say no to being asked to help build something so ridiculously ambitious?"

Ervin says "ambitious" with a wink, since that's been a word that's been frequently attached to Alma Mater. But that doesn't necessarily make it wrong. Located in the old Carpenters Building on S. 13th and Fawcett, Alma Mater has big plans for events in the coming months -- the first of which has started, with the opening of Honey, their café and brunch spot on the first floor. Though this is the only aspect of Alma Mater that will be open at the time of this writing, their grand opening is a doozy, and it's set to start April 19.

Over the course of that weekend, some remarkable shows will be taking place in Fawcett Hall, Alma Mater's 500-person centerpiece of a venue. The event starts with an all-ages dance show Thursday, featuring Sassyblack and Eddie Bermuda. Friday, April 20, Seattle indie rock heavyweights Deep Sea Diver, SISTERS, and Smokey Brights will take the Fawcett Hall stage for another all-ages show. Saturday, April 21, has the shows that have made me the most excited I've been in years: an early show and a late one, both featuring the alluring combination of burlesque and Mexican wrestling.

This is all without really getting into the gallery that they'll have running -- the first showing of which will coincide with the week of Alma Mater's grand opening -- as well as the other services the space will be providing for artists.

"Later this year, we will launch our six-month incubator program for emerging artists," says Ervin. "Our first few cohorts will center around music. It's a blend of a traditional curriculum approach to the craft (theory, history, music surveys, etc.) and an apprenticeship. Our workshop will also be a great place where artists can pay a flat monthly fee to use the space or apply for a discounted rate through work trade."

Alma Mater is proposing a big, positive change to the arts landscape of Tacoma. This is the kind of venue that has been sorely needed, in these parts, and I'm optimistic about their ability to affect that change.

ALMA MATER HOMECOMING, April 15-19, 1322 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, follow for updates and links to event tickets

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