Graphite – AKA the building with the cow
I was recently given the opportunity to walk through the new Graphite building on the corner of 2nd and Main in downtown Edmonds. Like many others, I have watched this building come to fruition, watched the cow move from a vacant lot to standing guard in front of a beautiful and modern building with large windows and enticing artwork starting to be visible as you peak in through the construction. I had a lot of questions as I started this tour, like “What is Graphite?”, “Who is this for?”, “What is with the cow?” and of course, “When will it open?”
The answers weren’t quite as cut and dried as I was initially expecting, but instead painted a creative and evolving concept that invites everyone into this new multi-use art community space.
What is Graphite?
The concept of Graphite started with local artist Mary Olsen. A long-time artist, art educator and supporter of arts in our schools. Olsen had a dream to open a space that would breakdown the mystery of the artist life, that could invite others into the world of art and to create a bridge for the aspiring artist who might not have the traditional path or resources to learn their medium.
Mary Olsen and Tracy Felix, artist and owner of ArtSpot, have been working on this concept for the last several years. Having met as moms of children at the Maplewood School, their collaborations have grown over the years, fueled by their shared a passion for bringing art to kids in all communities.
Olsen started a nonprofit called Art Start Northwest. The organization has provided art supplies and resources to art programs in the area and will be the hub of Graphite. The concept of Art Start Northwest has evolved and is at the root of the new Graphite space, a community hub for artists and a way to spread the love of the arts in an inviting and sharing way.
The concept of Graphite becomes clear as you walk through the new building. After entering the front doors (found on Main Street between the entrance to the new Charcoal restaurant and the corner where the cow stands), you will see a meet-and-greet area. To your immediate left, as you look through the window next to the front door, is Mary Olsen’s nook — a fully open and visible nook where Olsen will be painting. (During my visit it looked like this was already happening.)
Looking toward the restaurant, Charcoal, on the left when you walk in, you will see a featured artist gallery. During my visit, this space was getting ready for the very first featured artist installation by Donna Leavitt. Donna’s work is done by pencil — a perfect fit for a space called Graphite.
Sneak peek of Donna Leavitt’s art installation
A unique feature in this space is the long, tall window installment where restaurant patrons are treated to a first look at this space. My visit had an extra treat as the director of operations for Cascadia Art Museum, Nate Hegerberg, was assisting with the setup of the newest installation. My tour guide Tracy Felix noted how much the art community in Edmonds supports the growth of arts and helps each other out, and I was able to see it firsthand.
To the right, against the windows facing Main Street, will be a resource center that will be part “library” for individuals to hang out and get inspiration. Not your typical library, as you won’t be able to check anything out, but an area where anyone can come and enjoy some inspiration through the space, the resources and the individuals who will be there each day.
The pieces in each area are being created by local artists, and each piece that has been put in place so far has a unique and interesting story. For example, when you move into the wide-open space (moving towards the 2nd Avenue side of the building) there are several well-worn painted tables in the middle. These tables came from artist Matt Jones’ studio, where he recently moved and as a result needed a place for these pieces, which have 25 years’ worth of art history each.
This open area is for creating and will be used for a variety of activities. It’s a place for artists to work, an area to capture the great natural light that comes in through the large skylights, and a place where a projector will be available to do art lectures and art movie nights.
To the right of this open space are several studios. There will be five open studios for full-time artists to rent. These spaces have not been taken yet as it is going to be a process to find the right fit. The studios have beautiful windows along one wall to allow the public walking along the street to get a glimpse into the daily life of the artist. The open doors will allow the artists to work freely in their space but also have an opportunity to converse with the public that will be in the building. The ideal artist rentals will be for individuals who are highly in tune with the concept of Graphite and want to be part of the evolution of demystifying a full-time artist’s day-to-day work.
Past the studios, there is a classroom space that is already filling with art supplies. These classes will be for all ages and abilities, changing based on the artists providing the education and the interest of the participants. There is a goal to offer teacher training for art curriculum as well.
Going a little further, you get to peek into a full-time working ceramic studio. Artists Mike O’Dayand Julie Perrine have moved into the ceramic studio at Graphite, which is fully equipped with a kiln room and a place to sell their creations. They have been participating with some of the artistry touches to the building during construction, creating tiles that will be used in finishing the space.
From here, there is a utility area with a sink for cleaning up, restrooms and a special treat as you come back to the main area: A working darkroom that will be available to artists.
Next to the darkroom is a special artist studio that is going to be reserved for internships and/or residency artists. There is a desire to bring in diverse and up-and-coming artists. The concept of creating an artist space that invites in all types of artists at all stages in their journey truly comes to life at each step on this tour, the concept is one that is felt and seen as an individual walks through the space.
The final spot I visited was the locker room. Full of vintage lockers from the University of Washington, it provides artists who aren’t in need of, or ready for, an entire studio the ability to rent a locker. They can keep their supplies for when they come in to create, collaborate and enjoy the inspiration from being around other creative individuals.
Before leaving, I noticed that art was already being hung in the shared space. A large canvas was donated by Art for All, an organization that represents local programs for special art. It was a bright display of color to inspire and send the message home: We are all welcome at Graphite, even those of us who still haven’t embraced the concept that we might be artists.
Who is Graphite for?
It’s my hope that you have learned what I have — this new space is really for everyone. Each person will find their way to be connected here, whether as an artist, a student, an enjoyer of the art, a supporter of the concept, a patron at the restaurant next door or as a passerby.
How is it funded?
For those who want to know more about Graphite’s funding, the space houses the nonprofit Art Start Northwest and will have rental options for artist studios. There will also be a variety of fundraising events happening throughout the year — interactive and unique opportunities for the community to engage and participate in without large annual asks that might not be accessible to all. In addition, there was a recent grant from the City of Edmonds to provide funding to Graphite.
What is with the cow?
The cow’s name is Greta. She is a long-time piece of Mary Olsen’s collection (a story for a future article). She has become a much-loved member of the community and despite a broken ear (Mike O’Day is currently fabricating a new one for her), she has become a new favorite place for pictures for many.
When will it open?
There isn’t a set date yet. As I walked through and experienced the details of the new location, — things like the pieces of siding that were saved from the construction and hammered into unique art pieces that are now being put up next to the meet-and-greet section — it started to make sense to me. The concept, the space and everything about Graphite is still in its creative process.
While an official opening date is not scheduled, things are happening. For those who are wanting to see it first, the new restaurant Charcoal will be opening in early November and looks directly into the new space. I promise it will be worth the wait to experience it yourself.
My favorite part of writing Art Beat for My Edmonds News is getting to highlight the incredibly talented individuals in our community and all the opportunities to enjoy art in all its forms. I am so excited to get to experience this new space that Mary Olsen and her team have brought to Edmonds, and I hope to see you all there soon. For specific questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— By Rachel Gardner
Rachel Gardner has a heartfelt appreciation for art in all forms and believes everyone is an artist, some just don’t know it yet. A dedicated and involved Edmonds resident, she can often be spotted onstage cracking jokes between sets or in the audience enjoying local live performances. She enjoys being playful with her art and finding unique ways of expression, like forming a boho-grunge-folk ukulele trio with local Edmonds moms.