Music Without Borders: All Everything at Northern

Culture Music News Nonprofits

by Tucker Petertil, 1/27/10

On Fourth Ave, a few doors down from the ghost of the legendary Tropicana music club, sits the Northern, a mixed media space that offers the kind of shows that might also become part of local lore.

This non-profit volunteer run organization is a gallery-like space with white walls for art shows, run by people who want it to be an all-around community resource. In it’s first year of operation it’s already hosted puppet shows, record collector swap meets, movie nights, kid-friendly matinees, potlucks, dances and art events, including the large scale photography show by Mt. Eerie/The Microphones’ Phil Elevrum, and Arrington Dionysus’ installation of huge charcoal creatures drawn right on the gallery’s walls.

Mariella Luz and Dirk Kinsey do the lion’s share of the work though they are helped by eight staff and 30+ volunteers, including T.E.S.C. art instructor Judith Bowman who curates the gallery’s monthly art shows. Mariella and Dirk met at a show at Seattle’s city-funded all-ages club The Vera Project and decided then and there to try a similar plan in Olympia.

I started Olympia All Ages, which is the organization that runs Northern, almost 2 years ago and Dirk helped me with it from the very beginning.” says Mariella.

After putting on shows by White Magic, Wolves in the Throne Room and many other acts in various venues and after The Black Front Gallery had just closed, she talked to Phil Elevrum about the difficulty of holding all ages shows in Olympia. “Somebody needed to open a space for art shows and all ages concerts in Olympia and I decided that someone would be me.” says Mariella, who books the bands and does office chores.

And she literally backed me into a corner” says Dirk who’s in charge of building and spends the rest of his time as a commercial fisherman, arborist and construction worker. “You were standing in a corner, I didn’t back you into a corner,” counters Mariella who is also general manager of K Records and knows her way around organizing.

The Northern (the name comes from a compromise between wanting to call it something nondescript and wanting to name it after Twin Peaks’ Great Northern Lodge) celebrates its first anniversary this February. Already they’ve hosted shows by the Oh Sees, Chain & the Gang, Miko Miko and Old Time Religion. “Polka Dot Dot Dot have played here a couple of times and they have an amazing audience-it was totally packed” says Mariella “and everyone one was sooo quiet”.

We’re trying to have a variety of events,” continues Mariella. A high school group books one performance a month and Dave Adelson of Phantom City Records holds a least one metal and hardcore show a month. “So far, we’ve never had a show that was more than $10.”

Dirk, who sees himself as a facilitator/booster says, “I would like to think that what we are doing here just pushes the whole scene further.” While many artists have come from Olympia, Mariella notes “We were at a point where there wasn’t that much going on and we wanted to put it back on the track.”

Honestly, we just lose a lot of musicians and artists to Portland, and we want to keep people here and keep people coming and make the art community here vibrant and thriving.” says Dirk.

To that point, they’ve also taken charge of managing the neighboring buildings and turning the empty office spaces into artist’s studios and practice spaces.

Asked who they would like to bring to the Northern, Dirk came up with Bonnie Prince Billy and Sunn O))) while Mariella chose Dirty Projectors and Deerhoof. Some of the other acts they hope to bring are video and music performers Tracy and the Plastics and Miranda July. They seem to be well enough connected to make those shows a distinct possibility but Dirk adds, “doing shows with local bands is still exciting and interesting… We’re sufficiently ambitious, not overly ambitious.” ◙

For more information on the Northern, visit www.northernolympia.org.

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