In 1999, the fledgling Sanctuary Art Center filled a small space on the second floor of University Lutheran Church with potting clay, paints, pastels and paper for any homeless teen or young adult to use.
It was simply a place for creative outlet.
While other nonprofits focused on housing, food and employment, the Sanctuary Art Center met the emotional needs of homeless youth. The organization’s name reflects that, said Jamie Lee, the center’s development director.
“We see ourselves as a sanctuary, a place to get a cup of coffee and do some art,” she said.
In 13 years, the organization has grown to the size of a small business. Next to the space teens still use for personal art projects, the center now operates a silk-screening shop that generates half of the art center’s revenue.
At the end of September, the shop produced 10,000 T-shirts for a single artist — its largest order ever.
But the center has other clients: If you see a T-shirt from the YMCA anywhere around King County, the Sanctuary Art Center staff and interns probably silk-screened it.
Everything’s waiting downtown
Last month, the organization known for serving street youth brought its product to street level. It opened a storefront at Second Avenue and Yesler Way. Walk-in customers can buy youth-designed prints on American Apparel T-shirts for $20 a piece or just take in the latest exhibit featuring work by Sanctuary Art Center youth and established community artists.
Called CMD-P (the keyboard hotkey combination that starts a print job on Apple computers), the store can serve customers Wednesday through Friday afternoons.
At CMD-P, Sanctuary Art Center youth will unveil new T-shirt designs every month and host rotating galleries. The store will likely sell more T-shirts than before, when Sanctuary Art Center sold its wares at street fairs and festivals. But that’s not the point, said Lee: “It’s about the exposure and getting into the art community.”
The downtown location puts the work of Sanctuary Art teens and young adults in the heart of Seattle’s art scene: Pioneer Square hosts dozens of galleries and holds the popular First Thursday Artwalk, when galleries stay open late and unveil their newest shows.
The city helped CMD-P move into the space through Storefronts Seattle, a city program that turns over empty and often undesirable storefronts to artists and arts organizations. The space at Second and Yesler was empty, and most businesses avoided it because homeless adults sit on rocks out in front.
That didn’t deter Sanctuary Art Center staff members who spend every day with homeless youth.
“[It’s] a pretty cool program,” said CMD-P’s Silk Screen Program Manager Lance Lobuzzetta. “The space in particular is pretty exemplary of the program.”
The owl and the jellyfish
Today, the narrow space with hardwood floors bursts with bright, contrasting colors. On one wall, next to a six-color silk-screening machine, the store features an array of paint jars in yellows, blues, reds, magentas and grays. Along another wall is a display of T-shirts designed by the students and Lobuzzetta, who owns the silk-screening company Efflux Creations.
One shirt shows a glimmering jellyfish flying through a starry sky. Another depicts an owl with bright blue and yellow eye shadow. There’s a beetle crawling along the shoulder of one shirt, and a record spinning on the phonograph of another.
And along the walls the staff displays the art of Sanctuary Art Center alumnus Rheannon Rice next to established painter and muralist Anna-Lisa Notter.
Rice created art at the University District space years ago and recently graduated from Evergreen State College.
Displaying work by young artists side-by-side with art by experienced artists is what the Sanctuary Art Center is all about, the director Lee said.
“Your art speaks for you, and you speak for yourself. You just need a place to say it,” she said.
For the last two years, the Sanctuary Art Center has helped two to four interns at a time learn graphic arts in a paid internship with Lobuzzetta. In the new downtown storefront, these students will bring out a new T-shirt design each month.
The students don’t have to be natural artists to benefit from the program. Design is more than drawing a picture, Lee said. Students learn how to work with design software and use existing images to create T-shirts, prints and other designed products.
In fact, one of the most popular
T-shirts CMD-P sells was created from a photograph of a squirrel riding a scooter.
That’s what makes screen printing such a great format, Lobuzzetta said. People from a wide background of skills can learn it and can reproduce art quickly and cheaply.
“It’s a great medium for reaching out and showing work in the community,”