What KEXP Wants With Seattle Center's Fun Forest: Bigger Studios, Public Studios, And For You To Be In the Big, Public Studios

KEXP's on the move. No, not to another city. Their New York expansion, they say, is keeping them busy enough. But when the listener-supported indie radio station rallied the troops to decide how they could leverage a new home into something more constructive than a black box to broadcast from, Seattle Center came to mind.

Now KEXP is one if nine bidders--from Dale Chihuly's glass exhibit to a Native American cultural center--who wish to take control over the Center's Fun Forest site, a disappearing collection of carnival rides and a pavilion of video games. Yesterday, KEXP station manager Tom Mara walked me through what the proposed move would mean for the station, its listeners, its donors, and the Seattle Center:

KEXP wants to open up their in-studio performances -- 400 at their Seattle studio last year -- to the public. On nice days, this could mean opening up barn doors on the side of the building, revealing a stage for artists to perform. On rainy day, it would mean listeners watching the performances from a new gallery space, likely accomodating between 50 and 100 people. (See related post: Would KEXP's Public In-Studio Performances Take a Bite Out of In-Store Sets at Local Shops Like Easy Street and Sonic Boom?)

"Part of the public service vision here is taking a can opener to KEXP, open it up, and letting many more people be the beneficiary of the live music these artists are creating in our studio," Mara says. "We're not in the concert business. This is not about public radio trying to get into charging people to experience the artists that we b ring on the air. This is all about free, no charge to the public, a way to extend what we do on the air in a very real sense, in front of many more people."

KEXP would take advantage of the close proximity to the Mural Amphitheater to more closely align the station and DJs with performances there.

"It certainly opens up all kinds of possibilities," Mara says. "We envision to a very small platform where DJs can interview artists before they go on stage at Mural Amphitheater. The possibilities are really enchanting in my view. Everything from enabling people to come into the facility to witness live music, to the larger concerts that you could enjoy at the mural amphitheater."

If they don't win the Fun Forest bid, they're still gonna look for a new, public home.

"We have to build a new home," Mara says. "We've been working on that the past couple of years, most actively this past year. Hired a firm to help go through a visioning process and how could we enable a new home to generate more public service. We knew that we didn't just want to build another black box. We were challenging ourselves to figure out: How do we enable more people to experience music via the new home."

They plan to pay for the expansion the old fashioned way.

"The funds for the new facility would come from sort of the traditional arts, non-profit approach," Mara says. "And that is the capital campaign where we go to our donors, our listeners and raise the funds. And also through tax-free bonds, and financing that's pulled together to support the capital campaign. It's a pretty traditional approach."

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