In an era when independent theaters are struggling to compete with the internet (and your couch) as well as national movie theater chains, and when art in general is sidelined in favor of tech, two local arts institutions merit a round of applause.
This year, Ballard’s Majestic Bay Theatres turns 20, and across town on Capitol Hill, Gage Academy of Art enters its third decade.
Majestic Bay, with its state-of-the-art sound, comfy high-backed seats, and decorative touches in the lobby, like mahogany wainscoting and marble counter tops, would fit right into Hollywood’s Golden Age. But the theater is a relatively new building, thoughtfully created by entrepreneur-philanthropists Kenny and Marleen Alhadeff on the site of a 1914 movie house with the same name. The old Majestic Bay was the longest-running movie house in the Pacific Northwest when it closed in 1997, but it was too dilapidated to be renovated. To the tune of $5 million, the Alhadeffs constructed a new theater, believing it would not just be a place to catch flicks but also a community-minded “cinema with soul.”
Majestic Bay president Aaron Alhadeff, Ken’s son and Malene’s stepson, is proud that the theater frequently hosts fundraisers and supports neighborhood causes. It has sponsored the Ballard Little League throughout its operation, and it also hosts student groups from local elementary schools. It recently held a benefit for the Ballard Pea Patch community garden.
“The role we play is to bring people together and provide a reasonably priced entertainment option away from home,” Alhadeff says. “What makes us unique is our deep roots and care for our city.”
Like the Majestic Bay, Gage Academy of Art was founded by a married couple with a passion for culture and community. Gary Faigin and Pamela Belyea knew Seattle was already home to important fine arts schools — including Cornish College of the Arts and Pratt Fine Arts Center — as well as colleges and universities with strong visual art programs. But the couple adopted a different educational model based on European art education.
Gage employs a philosophy of atelier apprenticeship training. Students can choose to study in one of numerous specialized “ateliers” (studios), in intensive, immersive programs lasting for a year or more. Each program emphasizes learning particular skills as well as the history and principles of a particular genre — be it modernist, imaginative, or classical in approach. Gage also offers shorter-term classes, such as weekend workshops and evening programs, that offer everything from pet portraits to printmaking.
Anyone who signs up is welcome regardless of previous experience or lack of it, thanks to Faigin’s staunch belief that “artists are made, not born.”
Lately, the school has branched out to serve more children and adults with summer camps, satellite studios in Georgetown, and three Teen Art Studios locations — on Capitol Hill, in Bellevue, and in South Park.
Working with young people is an important element in the school’s current and future plan, according to Gage Executive Director Stefano Catalani. “We will continue empowering youth by helping them develop creativity and problem-solving skills, all 21st-century crucial abilities,” he says. Catalani stresses that through the Teen Art Studios, Gage is providing a weekly free safe space for at-risk kids to find a creative outlet.
Looking to stay relevant in the changing world, Catalani notes that in 2020, Gage “will launch a new digital ecosystem that will transform the way art schools do business as we continue to invest in the relevance of our programs.” This, in addition to staying the course. “We will continue to provide access to artists and instructors who, through their teaching, share with our community their vision for personal growth, self-expression, courage, and empathy,” Catalani says.
Like Catalani, Alhadeff recognizes the challenge of maintaining the Majestic Bay in the changing media climate. “I would say we currently plan to keep this family business going for generations to come, but I understand things can change fast,” he says. On an optimistic note, he adds, “I think the future is bright as long as we stay focused on providing an excellent experience to the customers and keep reinvesting in the business.”
Majestic Bay Theatres
2044 NW Market St., Seattle
Gage Academy of Art
1501 10th Ave. E, Seattle