Photo by Jean Sherrard

Town Hall Seattle Spreads Out

While Town Hall’s First Hill home is shuttered for renovations, its events will continue in four distinct corners of the city.

Since 1999, Town Hall Seattle has sourced much of its programming from the outside in. By partnering with dozens of organizations each year, the institution has successfully woven itself into the fabric of numerous Seattle communities. Each year, Town Hall offers more than 400 inclusive, community-fueled events that play a large role in enriching the city’s arts, culture, and civic-minded progress. And now that the institution has broken ground for its $25 million renovation and closed the venue’s doors for the year ahead, Town Hall is taking its programming outside of its First Hill home. Essentially, Town Hall is turning its programming “Inside/Out.”

“We decided to take our normal season and do a bit of a traveling road show throughout the city,” says Town Hall Director of Programming Ashley Toia.

During the renovation, Town Hall’s programming will be hosted in far-reaching venues including Seattle University, Phinney Neighborhood Association, Rainier Arts Center, The Royal Room, The Egyptian Theatre, PATH, Impact Hub Seattle, University Lutheran Church, and University Temple, to name a few. There, Town Hall’s core programs—such as Town Music and Global Rhythms—will continue, both introducing this programming to a broader audience and inviting Town Hall regulars into communities across the city.

“One goal is to maintain our programs so that our current audience base still gets their Town Hall fix,” says Toia. “But we’re also hoping to introduce Town Hall to a whole new level of community-based programming.”

One way Town Hall plans to make this introduction is through new programming ideas that are developed in concert with the surrounding community. In order to achieve this, Town Hall has assembled four regional steering committees to guide and shape community-sourced programming. Those serving on Neighborhood Steering Committees in University District/Ravenna, Phinney Ridge/Greenwood, Capitol Hill/Central District, and Columbia City/Hillman City will convene as formal advisers, ambassadors, and co-curators to help produce hyper-local events.

Each committee will focus on the issues that resonate most in the specific neighborhood, while working with Town Hall’s existing partners—organizations like Seattle Public Library, Forterra, ACLU of Washington, and Earshot Jazz—to engage with individuals and groups housed there.

Town Hall is also turning its Artist and Scholar in Residence program Inside/Out. This season, Town Hall will commission an Artist or Scholar in Community for each neighborhood, and instead of giving them the keys to a literal building, they’ll ask these creatives to embed themselves in the neighborhood they’re assigned to. With the help of each committee, the artists and scholars will draw on their unique creative interests and community ties to help curate a series of hyper-local events in the spring.

“Inside/Out is an opportunity for the organization to pivot and show people who we are, how we program, and how we respond to the community,” says Town Hall Seattle Advancement Director Kevin Malgesini.

Town Hall’s commitment to accessibility will expand in another major way as well. Beyond livestreams available on YouTube and audio recordings of Town Hall events posted at townhallseattle.org, the organization will broaden its digital presence to podcasting. Almost every Town Hall-produced program will be available in three separate feeds: Civics, Science, and Arts and Culture. And in August, the organization will launch a fourth podcast hosted by Steve Scher, longtime host of KUOW’s Weekday, and Town Hall’s Digital Producer Jini Palmer.

Taken as a whole, the Inside/Out program marks another step in Town Hall’s evolution to provide accessible, community-minded programming, and this next phase communicates the organization’s mission loud and clear. Even without a homebase, Town Hall plans to continue fostering an engaged community through civic, arts, and educational programs that reflect and inspire our region’s best impulses: creativity, empathy, and the belief that we all deserve a voice.

Its ability to do so is a testament to the idea that Town Hall has never been just a venue. Over the past 18 years, the institution has leveled the cultural playing field by providing small and midsized groups an affordable performance home and amplifying their message. Combined with its own programming, Town Hall has become a gathering place for people across diverse backgrounds and interests.

“If we do this right, Inside/Out will create lasting mechanisms to bring grassroots ideas and community-sourced solutions into broad public consideration,” says Executive Director Wier Harman, “and we’ll welcome a whole new slate of exciting voices back to our renovated home.”

Town Hall Seattle’s historic building is turning 100, and it needs some love. A top-to-bottom renovation will preserve the landmark’s historic look and feel while making critical infrastructure, seismic, and performance advances. With state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, a new downtown-facing entrance, and new multilevel restrooms, Town Hall will be more accessible, more comfortable, and more vibrant than ever. Learn more and get involved at townhallseattle.org.

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