Alma Mater offers up an artist-led entertainment and dining venue

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What once was the Carpenter’s Union building at 1322 Fawcett Ave. in Tacoma will now be home to an artists’ paradise called Alma Mater, featuring a concert venue seating 500; a visual arts gallery; a recording studio; shared artist workspaces and an artist incubator; a brunch and coffee café called Honey; and a nighttime restaurant specializing in cocktails and small plates called the Matriarch Lounge.

“The utopian artist idea isn’t anything new,” said Jason Heminger, who began thinking of a concept of an artist space that was artist-led and met the needs of developing artists several years ago after working in education in Colorado.

In 2015, Heminger brought on his friends, Rachel Ervin and Aaron Spiro, to help him flesh out his idea and make it a reality. Heminger, who grew up in the Tacoma area, said when he returned home from Colorado he was finding it difficult to discover the arts scene.

“Tacoma had a lot of holes in serving artists and the community,” Heminger said.

The creative team is hoping for all the spaces in the two-story building to be fully activated by April. Already, Honey has opened, serving up brunch until 4 p.m., seven days a week.

Ervin said that what is exciting about Honey is that after 4 p.m. the venue will be a host to a lot of community events, workshops, and open mikes.

“We’re opening it to the community so that they have ownership,” Ervin said. “The hope is to have that available seven days a week.”

Alma Mater will host its Homecoming celebration from Sunday, April 15-Saturday, April 21. Starting Sunday, April 15, the gallery space on the ground floor located at the entryway will feature 13 Northwest artists and nine collaborative installations exploring the concept of home.

From 2-7 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, Alma Mater will close off the street in front of the building to make way for the public to come and make noise and celebrate. The concert hall seating 500 will feature bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. For event details and ticket information, visit Alma Mater Tacoma on Facebook.

Heminger said shared artist workspaces on the second floor will accommodate about 20 artists. Artists will also have access to a lounge and kitchenette, a comprehensive meeting room, and a quiet computer center. Alma Mater offers a monthly fee and an adjusted-fee model to artists. Heminger said he plans to roll out an artist incubator program that will accept about a dozen artists for a six-month course. The first six-month series will focus on music-industry know-how. An artist’s culminating project will be the development of an EP at Alma Mater’s Mothership Studios. More information on shared work spaces and the incubator is available by e-mailing info@almamatertacoma.com.

Mothership Studios on the second floor of Alma Mater is where local bands and individual artists will soon be able to book time to record their next full-length album or EP. Large windows bring in a lot of natural light, which offers a refreshing experience compared to more traditional studios that are often found in basements with hardly any windows. An open floor plan invites the free-flow of creative ideas.

“We wanted it to feel collaborative,” Spiro said. “The workflow of information between artists, engineers, and producers streamlines the process and hearing the interaction of instruments – you feel that energy.”

A green room fronts the back of the studio and connects to the 800-square-foot performance stage in the concert hall on the first floor. Another exciting feature is the concert hall and many of the other art spaces are wired directly to Mothership Studios, enabling seamless live recording capabilities.

Heminger, Ervin, and Spiro said they want to be able to pay artists well. Though technically considered a for-profit, Ervin said Alma Mater will be more like a slim-profit.

“We’ll be taking our profit margins and funneling them back to artists that come through our doors,” Ervin said.

Heminger said Alma Mater’s structure is an odd one, but if it can work, he said it will change the paradigm on how artists are paid other than through grants and other means.

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