Real history brings real benefits and a real future for the local music scene thanks to the recent opening of the new and all-ages venue Real Art Tacoma.
As an 80’s child, access to my favorite musicians and their music was more limited than today’s Spotify streaming. That’s why, in the mid 90’s, I piled into my girlfriend’s mom’s station wagon on a school night and we drove from Gig Harbor all the way to the big city and navigated our pre-pubescent 7th-grade selves into Seattle’s famous Paramount Theater to watch Beck perform live on stage.
The thrill of a live show energized me and, although I didn’t know it at the time, left a lasting impression on me. Unfortunately, the drive was long, I was young, and limited access to foster similar experiences made it difficult for regular indulgence. So when I found myself standing with my two little girls more than 20 years later at Real Art Tacoma the night before Halloween, I became overwhelmed with the realization of the impact this establishment offers everyone in our community.
New life and revival touch almost every corner of Downtown Tacoma and our city is seeing an exciting shift as younger people begin to move, work, and play in the newly renovated buildings, restaurants and spaces now commonplace in our once forgotten gritty city. Could the (in)famous Tacoma music scene follow footstep and make a similar comeback?
Thanks to the shadow of the Space Needle, Tacoma isn’t that well-known to people outside of its own residents, but the history of musical origins from our South Sound neighborhoods is one worth rivaling Seattle and other big cities.
Countless Tacoma locals influenced musical history and helped shape major movements in the music industry. One of the first punk bands originated within our city limits, and although not a household name, The Sonics are credited as influencing many popular bands from The Beatles to Kurt Cobain. And let’s not forget The Wailers who, some say, are the very first American Rock Band, also native to the City of Destiny.
Real history isn’t complete without historical landmarks, and the Community World Theater, albeit short lived, more than fills this gap with fame thanks to its pivotal role launching Nirvana and other grunge bands in the late 1980s, long before Seattle became the grunge capitol and purveyor of plaid-everything.
Over the years, several venues of this kind have found their homes in Tacoma. Unfortunately, in 2010, access to all ages music in our area went extinct when the last of its kind, The Viaduct, closed shop, and local youth lost their access to live music in the 253.
Tacoma is a city of survivors and hard workers. We are built with the mentality to overcome, so when a group of local musicians met in the same space almost exactly five years later, it’s no surprise what would evolve. Tacoma helped shape the history of music, and with a newly revived and vibrant local scene, the opportunity for real engagement arrived for the Real Art dream.
“Local bands have been waiting for this for a while,” says Ahren Lanfor, assistant live sound Tech for Real Art Tacoma. “It’s an outlet for any local band to reach an all-ages audience at a legit venue with great sound,” adds Lanfor, who is also a member of the Tacoma band Quieter.
This need resonates with Najamoniq Todd, vocalist for local Tacoma band Mirrorgloss and tress tamer at the popular Embellish Salon. “I love Tacoma with my whole heart and in my youth it nurtured my love for music and live shows,” Todd says. “In the past decade, I’ve seen those opportunities whittled down to the few good venues we still have. It’s nice to see that being built back up.”
When Real Art Tacoma opened its doors for its first show earlier this year, it did more than open for entertainment, it bridged the gap for touring and local bands to our youth and community. “It’s a shame that because of neglect we have a shortage of venues for local and traveling bands,” Todd reflects. “We have a town full of music lovers but few places to experience good music.”
Creative impact does much more for a community. It transcends the leading industry and leaves a profound social and economic mark with real benefit to everything. Music is known to help increase the understanding of math and science, and an active appreciation of music proves also to raise a person’s self-esteem. It provides a positive outlet for those suffering from mental disorders like ADHD and creates a safe space that everyone in the community deserves having access to.
Bass player for the Tacoma band Deathbed Confessions and bartender at 1111, Josh DomBek, says, “We need a place for all ages in Tacoma, where kids can feel safe and enjoy music. It’s the best way to come together, meet like-minded people and build as a community.”
But the benefits grow beyond local youth. A vibrant music economy also fuels job creation and economic growth. In 2011, Pierce County saw an increase job growth of 7.74 percent, as our local creative industry added 565 new jobs to the community (Creative Vitality Influence). Revenue from arts-related non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses totaled $1.84 billion in Washington alone, affecting more than our cities bottom line, but also increasing the quality of life for all surrounding.
Real Art is a real labor of love that transcends all ages. Lanfor says, “The venue was put together on an all-volunteer basis — just overall a positive experience after years of trying to build an all-ages venue that can sustain itself and grow with Tacoma.”
All-ages and all-inclusive, it’s no surprise Real Art surpassed its initial fundraising goal in a few months and is shaking up the scene since its recent October opening. “We just had a great experience there.” Recalls Todd, “The staff was attentive, the sound guys made us sound amazing, and I’m just glad that my friends started a business that’s going to build our community.”