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Community Arts Roundtable delves into Olympia’s indie identity

MARIELLA LUZ: She was featured in the Weekly Volcano’s Best of Olympia issue, and she’ll also be part of Monday’s Community Arts Roundtable. Photo by Devin True

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Olympia is known for its alternative, indie, do-it-yourself arts scene.

"To me, that's one of the beautiful things about Olympia," says Devon Damonte, an experimental filmmaker and artist. "It's a very welcoming arts community, and that fosters people pursuing their dreams, regardless of how well their dreams might not pay."

Yet often the Olympia Arts Commission's programs seem targeted more toward the business side of making art, says arts commissioner Kelsey Smith.

Smith is offering a look at a different segment of the arts community at Monday's Community Arts Roundtable, which she organized.

"There's a really rich culture in Olympia of people who just make art because that is what they do," Smith says. "They are not necessarily hoping to make a living out of it. That's the part of the arts scene that I'm the most interested in, and that's why I wanted to join the arts commission. I wanted to support some of the more independent and alternative artists."

Smith, a librarian at the Olympia Timberland Library who chooses zines for the library and organizes programs like the recent workshop by Michelle Tea, is an artist herself when time permits, focusing on printmaking.

The roundtable puts a focus on artists who might or might not make their living at art - and who are heavily involved not only in their own work but also in the community.

On the panel: Damonte, who works at the library in addition to his many artistic pursuits; Mariella Luz, of the Olympia All Ages Project and K Records; Judith Baumann, who teaches printmaking at The Evergreen State College and runs the gallery at Northern, the All Ages Project's venue; graphic artist and painter Sarah Utter, she of the "Reading Is Sexy" t-shirt; sign painter and Olympia Film Society gallery curator Ira Coyne; and filmmaker Bridget Irish, who often hosts local events and whose work graces one of the artist-decorated benches downtown.

"I just wanted to provide a different view," Smith says. "Some of these artists don't get enough recognition."

"Come prepared to ask questions and be challenged on your perceptions of the local arts scene," the press material for the roundtable suggests, adding sweetly, "There will be cookies."

The typical roundtable draws anywhere from 12 to 40 people, says Stephanie Johnson, the city's arts and events manager.

Smith, who sees many of the attendees arrive while she's at work at the library on a typical Monday night, says most of those are people interested in making a living - not that there's anything wrong with that.

"It's an important service for artists. They are struggling right now, just like everybody else," she says. "I just wanted to do something a little different."

Damonte definitely fits into that category.

"I do this weird thing called direct animation where I'm working directly on film leaders with no computer, no cameras, no labs," he says. "I'm painting and scratching and sticking stuff directly onto film and projecting that. It's largely abstract, with lots of color and rhythm and texture."

He also teaches workshops and hosts a weekly group he calls Crackpot Crafters at his downtown studio. "Somebody once described it as ‘a quilting bee for film freaks,'" he says. "That's pretty accurate, but some people don't like film at all, and they come and they knit. It's halfway in between a social event and a crafty thing."

Since October, he's been curating a monthly film series at Northern. He says the ease with which he launched that project shows him how great the city's arts community is.

"Organizing this film series has been wonderful," he says. "I didn't have any kind of organization backing me. It was just asking a couple of people, and everybody said yes."

Community Arts Roundtable: Arts Beat Olympia

Monday, April 11, at 6 p.m., free,
Olympia Timberland Library meeting room, 313 Eighth Ave. SE, Olympia

Northern Flickers Film screenings

Organized by panelist Devon Damonte
Monday, April 11, at 8 p.m., free
Northern, 321 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

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