This is a place where you can make a lot of noise and set things on fire,” says Sam Farrazaino, as he leads a tour of Equinox Studios, located in five old industrial buildings in west Georgetown and housing more than 125 top local artists and artisans. One of these is Burning Specialties Inc., which does custom flame cutting of 8-inch steel for Boeing, Safeco Field and others. You’ve probably seen a dumpster it built. But Burning Specialties has started doing more creative work, influenced by the artists around it—now the company also makes outdoor sculptures, fences and gates.
That’s one of the big ideas behind Equinox: giving creative types an environment where they naturally influence each other in practical and imaginative ways. “Woodworkers build stretchers for painters, and the more established tenants mentor newcomers,” says Farrazaino, a sculptor and cultural entrepreneur. “We’ve got ceramists, poetry, jewelry, bands, a satellite campus of Gage Academy, bike refinishers, carnival-mask makers, a guy spending three years making a movie with life-size papier-mâché figures interacting with real people, Dayna Hanson’s 2,000-square-foot performance space Base. It’s all about the community and collaborations.”
Sculpture by Mary Enslow
In an era when famous artist spaces like 619 Western have closed, driving artists to despair (and lonesome basement studios), Equinox is in growth mode. It recently expanded from less than 30,000 square feet of space to nearly 100,000 square feet. Farrazaino hopes to eventually grow to 1 million square feet.
Equinox signifies a shift of Seattle’s art-world power southward as development squeezes Pioneer Square and the International District. Tastemaker and art maker Mary Ann Peters, a Pollock-Krasner Fellow and Stranger Genius and Neddy Award winner, just moved to Equinox after Noodleworks, her celebrated old space near CenturyLink stadium, closed. “While I will miss the camaraderie I helped create at Noodleworks, I am trusting the energy of this new community and location will offset that loss. I feel lucky to be there,” says Peters, who cofounded the influential Center on Contemporary Art—which also has a residency studio at Equinox.
Equinox is further shaking things up with its financial structure. “Sam has done more than simply increase the number of square feet dedicated to artist studios in town,” says Seattle Office of Arts & Culture cultural space liaison Matt Richter. “He’s changing the way we think about the structure of generative, creative artist space, who owns it and who controls it.” He’s referring to Farrazaino’s business model for Equinox, which involves a less-ruthless-than-usual expectation of profit. “We cap profit at 8 percent, and we’ll turn it around to lower rents,” he says. “Just by paying rent, you get one share of stock [in Equinox] for each $1. At the end of the year, you get annual dividends.” Eventually, the tenant gets a sweet little slice of the cash that development inexorably will generate, a landlord actively interested in growing art careers and a vote on Equinox’s future. “You get liquidity and equity—leverage,” says Farrazaino, “So we’re long-term affordable when SoDo becomes the next SLU.”
“Seattle is at a tipping point,” he adds. “We can do anything we want at Equinox. It’s the Wild West.”